By Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
Every year for his birthday, the mother of the executive chef for Ike’s Grill always prepared shepherd’s pie, a combination of hamburger and vegetables topped with peaks of whipped potatoes.
It is a recipe he has failed to duplicate.
“I have not mastered her cooking,” he said with a grin.
J. Richard Hero III, however, has plenty of kudos to his credit for his culinary achievements, most recently taking the top spot in the National Restaurant Association’s Iron Chef competition in April in Chicago and first place on a three-member military team last year in Las Vegas for the People’s Choice Award at the Catersource Kitchen Contenders Iron Chef competition.
The food and beverage manager at the Eisenhower Golf Course cooks nearly every day.
“I guess I really do love food,” he said.
The certified culinary chef and member of the American Culinary Federation received his formal training at the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales University with a branch in Denver.
Chef Hero discovered his liking for the kitchen when the father of a girlfriend, himself a chef, introduced him to wild game cuisine which he found quite good. Since then, the Army veteran has continued to widen his culinary skills and experience, primarily in private dinner and country clubs, including serving as a sous chef at the Broadmoor and executive chef of the Plum Creek Golf and Country Club in Castle Rock before coming to the Academy.
“I take pride in this club,” he said of his Academy assignment. “I love coming here and want my guests to know I care about them.”
Chef Hero holds professional certifications in eight different cultures of food.
His personal palette and interest still favors wild game but he also enjoys shell fish and Mediterranean cuisine for its bright colors and wide array of flavors. And, of course, shepherd’s pie.
For the competition in Las Vegas he was challenged to prepare 3,000 hors d’oeuvres in five hours. He chose a scallop and ahi tobiko (a kind of tuna) with a ponzu sauce, or Mediterranean sweet dip, served on bed of greens and a rice noodle.
Chef Hero received the top prize, among 50 other contenders, and was judged on preparation, cooking, taste, texture, presentation and sanitization.
“It was a very high-profile competition,” he said and added it was but one level below the
Iron Chef competition featured on weekly television.
His personal notebook of photos of dishes he has prepared overflows with elegant desserts, main and side dishes and even ice sculptures.
“I love doing fine dining. It is something to take pride in,” the consummate chef said.
Fine dining, by his definition, comes though considerable thought and effort and results in high quality dishes and appearance.
“I want to knock their socks off,” he said of his customers.
Fine dining doesn’t necessarily mean large budgets, however.
“Food doesn’t have to be overpriced,” he said. “I want to make it work.”
Although he oversees the breakfast and lunch fare at the golf course, Chef Hero also directs catered events at the Academy club, which can include banquets, receptions, retirements, graduations, promotions and birthday parties, among others.
Besides wanting to be fully retired, he related with a chuckle, the dedicated husband and father is more than satisfied for today with food and family life.
“Now I am where I want to be,” Chef Hero said.
Outside of his club responsibilities and his own personal catering business, which he strictly separates from his club duties, the chef squeezes in time to help others by volunteering with schools and charities with food projects.
He is planning a picnic lunch, out of his own pocket, this summer for the residents of Marian House.
“People have helped me quite a bit,” he said. “It’s my turn to give back.”