To get the inside story, we rounded up five local fathers who regularly cook for family and friends. What we found is that these men are in the kitchen (and behind the grill!) because they love it, not because they “have” to cook. They even shared some favorite recipes, so read on, and when you end up hungry, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
When Fred Thrower says he lived in “L.A.,” he’s talking lower Alabama, not California. Living on a farm “in the middle of nowhere,” Fred was in Alabama until age 5 when the family moved across the state line to Midland, Georgia. Fred was raised by Helen, the nanny and cook who’d also raised his mother.
“It was just like that movie, The Help. I spent a lot of time with Helen; she was my best friend,” recalls Fred, 49, a political consultant who works from home in Ocala but also has an office in Washington, D.C. “I learned to cook from watching her, and her husband, John, taught me how to barbeque.”
At age 16, Fred landed a job as a cook at Pridchett’s Fish Camp back before laws restricted a minor from working in a restaurant kitchen. He worked there through college.
“We used to cook about 1,200 pounds of catfish each night. When you’re cooking that much fish, you’re not using a thermometer to tell you when it’s done! When it starts to float, it’s almost ready,” says Fred.
The father of three sons, Fred Jr., 20, James, 18, and Sam, 15, Fred has lived in Ocala since 2005. He admits he started cooking at home regularly when he became a single dad that same year.
“I realized I couldn’t just feed them chicken nuggets every night… although they would have eaten them! I started making each boy pick a dish each night—that way I knew at least one of them would eat what I made.”
After Fred remarried in 2008 to Nancy, he continued to do much of the cooking, although she was more than willing to take on the task.
“I’m Mr. Mom since I work at home. I have a Green Egg and really love smoking meat; that’s my favorite thing to cook. I cook a lot of pork butts, whole chickens, chicken wings and seafood, like oysters,” notes Fred, who is also a youth baseball coach.
Fred’s two oldest boys both work in the restaurant industry at present, although he doesn’t think they’ll do it as a career. Sam, the youngest, however, definitely has caught the “bug.”
“He watches cooking shows; I don’t even do that!” laughs Fred.
Simple Cheese Grits
(Recipe courtesy Fred Thrower)
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheese
1/2 cup butter
1 tbsp bacon grease
1/3 cup milk
3 large eggs, well beaten
1/4 tsp black pepper
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 2-quart baking dish. Combine water and salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil, and add grits slowly. Stir grits, reduce heat to low and cover. Cook 7-10 minutes. Add 1 1/4 cups of cheese—Fred recommends shredding your own cheese as this makes a huge difference in taste—and butter, stirring until melted. Add milk, eggs, bacon grease and black pepper, and mix well. Pour into the baking dish, and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top. Bake 45-50 minutes. Set the oven to broil for the last 3 minutes to give the grits a little color.
A Serious Foodie
A “foodie” and proud of it, that’s Bert Savell. Thanks to his father’s military career, Bert was born in Germany, and his family history started his lifelong fascination with food.
“My mother was a German war bride and a fabulous cook, as were my grandmothers on both sides, so I got used to good cooking. My dad’s from Louisiana, so I had that food culture, too,” recalls Bert, 68.
Bert, who spent much of his life in California, got a job in a fine dining restaurant in Monterey while in college. He started out washing dishes and worked his way up to part-time prep cook.
“Living in the Monterey peninsula, I got a chance to experience many fine restaurants, good food and good wine,” he notes.
During his career as a sales manager for an orthopedic implant company, Bert traveled extensively. He made it a point to try different types of cuisine everywhere he went and routinely bought cookbooks. Today, his cookbook collection includes nearly 400 volumes. He puts those recipes to good use, cooking every night for himself, and often for friends.
“I’m a bachelor now, but not the kind who makes toasted cheese sandwiches,” he laughs. “Last night I made rack of lamb with risotto and a nice tossed salad.”
Since moving to Florida in 1996, Bert, who lives in Homosassa, enjoys incorporating the area’s fresh seafood into his dishes.
“My daughter, Heather, caught the ‘bug,’ and despite my advice not to, she became a professional chef,” adds Bert. “She lives in Nashville now, so when she comes to visit, I like to cook for her and make the special dishes she grew up with, such as Cajun dishes like seafood gumbo and Rouladen (a roasted flank steak). It’s fun for us to talk about food together; we compare and share recipes. My son, Scott, likes to eat but has virtually no interest in cooking.”
Through trial and error, Bert has taught himself to cook a variety of different styles, but his favorite remains Cajun/Creole. “They are really two different schools of cooking,” he notes, “but both are from Southern Louisiana.”
He takes his cooking seriously. This spring, when friends suggested a crawfish boil, he drove all the way to Louisiana and picked up 90 pounds of fresh crawfish so he could pull it off in style. It was a success, of course, but no one who knows Bert would have expected any less.
Cajun Andouille Shrimp Pasta
(Recipe courtesy Bert Savell)
1 lb linguini noodles
2 lb peeled shrimp
1 stick sweet butter
3 cups white mushrooms, sliced
2 bell peppers, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
3 cups grated Parmesan cheese
4 green onions, chopped coarsely
1/8 cup sherry
3 cups heavy cream
1 lb. andouille sausage cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Mix cream and cheese in a saucepan; simmer over slow heat until cheese begins to incorporate with cream. Let stand, checking to see it stays well mixed to consistency of heavy sauce. Sauté andouille for about 10 minutes in oil. Add in onions, garlic and bell peppers until they just begin to soften. Add in shrimp for 10 minutes or until they just begin to turn pink. Set aside. Bring pasta water to boil. Add in 1 tablespoon salt. When vigorously boiling, put in pasta, turn off heat and cover. Sauté mushrooms in butter until they begin to soften. Add sherry, and set aside. Pasta should be “al dente.” Remove from pot, and drain well. Add in vegetables, andouille and shrimp mixture, stirring into pasta. Then, add in mushrooms and cheese/cream mix, which should be well incorporated first. Place in pre-heated oven at 250°F for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, mix well and serve.
Keepin’ It Fresh
For Florida native Mike Dean, fresh and local ingredients are the best culinary inspiration.
Born in Sarasota and raised in Ocala, Mike has called Marion County home since the mid-1970s. Married to Kristin Dean for 18 years this year, Mike, 44, is a civil attorney who has practiced law in Ocala since 1997. The couple have two boys, Jackson and Eric, and one daughter, Kendall.
“I learned a lot about cooking from watching my mom in the kitchen. When I was in high school, I started experimenting with lots of simple things,” says Mike. “I enjoy fine-tuning recipes, but it’s more about making sure it tastes great and using the freshest herbs and ingredients.”
Mike and Kristin share the cooking duties about 50/50. When it comes to having folks over, Mike usually handles the cooking, whether it’s outdoors on the grill or on the stovetop inside. Among his specialties are gumbo, chili and chicken cacciatore—but he’s known for his low country boils.
“We mainly do that for parties. It’s a fantastic way to entertain a group of anywhere from 15 to over 100 people,” says Mike. “It traditionally includes shrimp, corn, potatoes and sausage, but sometimes, we’ll switch it up and do a Louisiana-type boil where we add crawfish or maybe crab.”
The Deans live on a farm, and it’s tradition to sit down to family dinner most nights. On Sunday afternoons, extended family often drops by to enjoy a big meal together.
“In our family, one thing that’s evolved is that we all enjoy outdoor activities and saltwater fishing, in particular,” says Mike. “Whatever happens to be biting is what we’ll be cooking. Cooking and eating what you’ve caught that day is even better than buying it from the market.”
Mike and Kristin have taught by example, and their children appreciate good food.
“Their palates are pretty sophisticated now,” laughs Mike. “They enjoy things many kids don’t eat, like sushi and ceviche, made with whatever we’ve caught fresh that day, whether it’s scallops, trout or whatever. All three kids are interested in cooking. They’ll watch and ask what and why I’m doing things, but especially Eric. He’s my sous chef when I’m cooking and also likes to make pancakes for the family on weekends.”
(Recipe courtesy Mike Dean)
12 pieces chicken, both white and dark
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
3 oil-packed anchovy fillets
2 small red onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
4 fresh bay leaves
3/4 to 1 cup dry red wine
2 1/2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes with juice
1/2cup Kalamata olives, pitted
3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear chicken in olive oil on both sides until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove chicken to plate. Add anchovies and garlic to skillet, using a wooden spoon to break up anchovies. Sauté until garlic is fragrant and anchovies are melted. Add onions, carrots and celery; sauté until tender and just beginning to turn golden. Add wine, and stir well until the sharp smell of wine is cooked off, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice, along with olives, and stir well. Return chicken pieces to skillet, making sure they are covered by tomatoes, flipping to coat with sauce. Cover with a lid, and simmer on low for 35 to 40 minutes. Garnish with fresh parsley before serving.
World travels not only add memories to our lives, they can also forever influence our culinary tastes. For Dennis Groenenboom, a 22-year career in the Air Force took him to many different states and countries, exposing him along the way to a wide variety of dishes, some of which made a lasting impression.
“Of all those states and countries, Japan probably influenced my cooking interests the most. I liked their food, and once I got back to the States, I found if I wanted Japanese, I had to cook it myself,” says Dennis, 67.
One of his favorite dishes is Gyoza, a Japanese meat dumpling (also known as a “potsticker”), typically made with chicken or pork, along with shredded carrots, cabbage and ginger.
“Some people like to steam them, but I like mine fried better; you can go either way with it,” Dennis notes. “You don’t have to go to a specialty store to get the ingredients. You can buy wonton wrappers in the frozen section at the grocery store. I like to serve them with a dipping sauce made of rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil.”
After retiring from the Air Force in 1988, Dennis worked as a prison guard in the Florida Panhandle and then locally in Lowell, before retiring full time in 2000. He and his wife, Bobbie, live in northwestern Marion County near Williston.
When it’s Dennis’ turn to cook, you can bet he’ll be doing it outside.
“My dad always cooked when I was growing up. He often cooked the Sunday dinner after church,” Dennis recalls. “When I was just 6 years old, I was outside cooking over the grill with him. It’s always good when dads involve their kids with cooking. I let my son, Brian, help me when he was little. I think my love of cooking rubbed off on him.”
(Recipe courtesy Dennis Groenenboom)
1/4 pound ground beef OR pork OR chicken
1 cup grated Napa cabbage
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1tbsp ground ginger (or 2 tsp fresh minced)
2tbsp rice wine
2 tbsp sesame seed oil
4 green onions, chopped
3 tbsp soy sauce
Gyoza or wonton wrappers
Oil for frying
In large bowl, combine all ingredients except wrappers and oil for frying. Mix well. Place one spoonful of mix in center of each wonton wrapper. Fold corners of wrapper together to form a semicircle. Seal edges together with a paste made from a little flour and water. (You can use fork tines to help seal edges.) Continue until you’ve used up all filling. Heat oil in heavy frying pan over medium-high to high heat. Drop gyoza into hot oil, and cook several at a time for about two minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to dry. Continue until all are cooked. Serve with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, rice wine and sesame seed oil, mixed together to taste.
Hot From The Oven
Sometimes what you do for a living becomes a hobby. At least that’s how it happened for Ron Reddish… but not until he retired from two decades of restaurant management.
Georgia-born and -raised, Ron, 68, has lived in Marion County since 1982. He managed the former Bennigan’s, an Ocala mainstay on East Silver Springs Boulevard for many years, and before that, Morrison’s Cafeteria. During his 20-plus years in restaurant management, Ron got into the kitchen himself.
“In the training program with Morrison’s you go through every station, and that’s where I really learned to cook. I enjoyed the baking part of it the best, and the breads I bake today trace back to that,” says Ron.
After retiring from the restaurant industry, Ron worked for a time as a Realtor of both business and commercial real estate, as well as in foreclosure retention.
“Five or six years ago, a bone spur showed up on my neck and caused a problem with my left arm and hand. That limited the yard work I could do, so I was inside more, and that’s when I got into cooking and baking,” says Ron, who’s probably best known for his bread.
“We haven’t bought bread from the store for a year or more,” he admits. “I have a white yeast bread recipe that I can make into rolls, buns or loaves. I also make an old-fashioned tea cake that is plain and simple but really good.”
Ron and his wife, Debbie, have been married 29 years. Ron has two sons from a previous marriage, one grandson and three granddaughters, who live in Jacksonville and Atlanta. And while Ron and Debbie both cook at home, he tends to do more and likes it that way. In addition to baking his favorite bread recipe, he can often be found smoking pork, chicken and beef ribs.
“I have a homemade smoker that’s about 48 by 36 inches with three metal shelves inside that I had made by a welder. The smoker is wood and really looks like a small outhouse,” he laughs.
One of his favorite meals is a slow-cooker pot roast that he makes with “lots and lots of onions.” Then he uses the rich juice to make his homemade French Onion soup.
And, of course, the best thing to sop up that soup is a big chunk of warm bread, fresh from the oven.
Old-Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes
(Recipe courtesy Ron Reddish)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter, soft
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp milk
Sift flour, salt and baking powder together in separate bowl. Cream butter, sugar and eggs in mixing bowl. Add vanilla, milk and dry ingredients; blend well. Use small ice cream scoop and place batter on cookie sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375°F for 12 to 15 minutes.