Top 5 Surprising Chef Facts

What do we really know about the chefs of restaurants we patronize? Usually, after reading an article or two, we learn where they grew up, went to school, where they buy their produce and what inspired them to start cooking in the first place. We dug a bit deeper and found some fun and intriguing details about several of our local chefs -- five, in fact. In no particular order, here are our Top 5 Surprising Chef Facts.

Ron Zimmerman
5. Ron Zimmerman, proprietor of The Herbfarm, was the first person to make and sell Gore-Tex products.

The Herbfarm, 14590 N.E. 145th St. Woodinville, 425-485-5300

"We sewed up (a tent) using this still-unnamed fabric and rushed out to test it. Eureka! It really worked," says Zimmerman, who started incorporating Gore-Tex into outdoor gear with a mountaineering buddy in the mid-70s. "We developed and grew the catalog business. Our company, Early Winters, went on to become one of the fastest growing companies in America by Inc. Magazine and we ultimately sold $100,000,000 worth of recreational equipment."

Zimmerman says in some ways, The Herbfarm is as different from typical restaurants as Gore-Tex was from ripstop nylon. "I no longer climb the big walls in Yosemite, but in my car is a lightweight Gore-Tex parka that I don with pleasure when foraging for mushrooms and wild plants for the restaurant."

4. Dalis Chea, chef/owner of Fresh Bistro, comes from a family of doughnut shop owners.

Fresh Bistro, 4725 42nd Ave. S.W., 935-3733

"I grew up spending the majority of my life at my parents' doughnut shop," says Chea. "It shaped my work ethic and was a big influence on how I have ended up at this point in my life. My wife grew up the same way, and my father-in-law owns and operates Ly's Doughnuts on 45th. Yes, I am a doughnut expert and snob. Favorites include Frost and Top Pot, but they're still not as good as my father-in-law's."

Chea's dad has since sold his South Everett doughnut shop, Western Co Donut, which has been around for more than 20 years.

Maria Hines getting back to nature.
3. Maria Hines, executive chef of Tilth, scaled El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

Tilth, 1411 N. 45th St., 633-0801

"Being on El Cap was awe-inspiring," says Hines. "It's very grounding to feel so connected to nature. It serves as a reminder as to how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. That in itself is very liberating."

"No, it really was THIS BIG."
2. Robin Leventhal, Top Chef Season 6 contestant, qualified for the Junior Olympics when she was 16-years old.

"Growing up in Sun Valley Idaho, it's probably no surprise that I was a competitive ski racer," says Leventhal, who actually started as an ice skater. "But in sixth grade, my instructor told me I was not graceful enough, so I started to focus more on skiing. From seventh grade through college, I was passionate about one thing, and that was being up on the slopes!"

"Slalom and down hill were my best events and I was once clocked was at 76 MPH... needless to say a few cuts and burns in the kitchen are just nicks when compared to wiping out at those speeds!"

Two weeks after securing a spot on the Junior Olympic team, Leventhal tore a ligament in her knee, ending her chances of becoming an Olympic skier.

"The thrill of the course and the thrill of the (kitchen) line are both near and dear to my heart. The adrenalin rush at the end of the night and the bottom of the course are exactly the same, just one is a lot hotter than the other!"

Dustin facing the reality of cooking.
1. Dustin Ronspies, chef/owner of Art of the Table, was on a short-lived reality series on ABC.

Art of the Table, 1054 N. 39th St., 282-0942

"The Family" aired in the summer of 2001. You probably don't remember it, but basically, the gist was that 10 family members would live together in a mansion and fight for a one-million dollar trust fund through a string of competitions. George Hamilton was the host. Dustin Ronspies was the sous chef.

"I was chosen by the French chef on the show, Franck, whom I had met a few times and who knew I worked privately for and exclusive family in Palm Beach," says Ronspies, who then had to go through various screenings with ABC, including background checks and personality tests before landing the gig.

"Filming the show was a blast. We got to see how reality shows ruin people and make families turn on and hate each other. Pretty crazy to learn how editing works, too -- how the editor can take one situation and totally make it another on film. This is why I would never be on Top Chef. I had a few good moments on national television, though."

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