Tom is the creator of my all time favorite WHBC food – the Shrimp and Grits. Seriously, you need to run your buns down here on a Sunday to get some. Best thing ever. I surprised him with his interview because of my lack of planning this week, but he took it like a champ.
Name: Thomas Owen
Position: Sous Chef
Birthplace: Baltimore, MD
Favorite WHBC Beer: Bell Ringer
Favorite WHBC Food: BBQ
Education: TCC Culinary Program
WHBC: Thanks for taking a a little while to sit and chat with me today! I know it was a surprise! So you were born in Baltimore; how did you get here to Smithfield?
T: My parents. Ha ha. We moved here when I was 2 or 3 months. My dad worked for Smithfield Foods and got transferred here.
WHBC: How long have you been a chef?
T: I am a culinary graduate from Tidewater Community College. I worked at The Grille, Reel Inn, and here. I’ve been cooking since I was about 15 years old; it just seems like second nature. I had chefs in my family, so I got into it and started doing my own thing.
WHBC: Do you remember the first thing you ever made and thought to yourself, “Self, this is good! I can do this!”
T: Hmmm. I can’t exactly remember, but it was probably BBQ – I’ve been around pork my whole life. It’s my favorite.
WHBC: So tell me, are there any cardinal sins of BBQ? I’ve heard some chefs get very offended if you do certain things to your BBQ (like put coleslaw right on top – sorry not sorry).
T: For people who cook it, it’s that they don’t let it cook long enough. They try to rush it, but you can’t rush good BBQ – you have to take time and have patience. As far as eating it, to each his own. I guess I could say try the meat before you drown it in sauce.
WHBC: You’ve worked here how long?
T: Since we opened. I grew up with Betty’s youngest daughter, so I knew their family. When Pam told me about Wharf opening, I came over. Betty, Pam, and I have been working together since we were all at The Grille.
WHBC: Your culinary education? What does that consist of?
T: I have two degrees actually. One in Culinary and the other in High Voltage Electricity.
WHBC: Ha! Do you ever use both degrees at the same time?!
T: I try not to…that’d be a little shocking.
WHBC: Do you have advice for someone who might want to be a chef one day?
T: Well, when I was a teachers aid at school, I told the students if you don’t have a passion for it, you won’t succeed. Whatever your passion, just do it. Working in a kitchen is hard and you have to be committed.
WHBC: Great advice! So even though it’s tough, what’s your favorite part about working here?
T: The people. Definitely. Dave is an amazing person to work for, and the rest of the guys all bust their butts. It’s a really great work environment. I’m impressed everyday at how hard everyone works to put out really great food.
WHBC: Do you have a favorite shift you like to work?
T: No. This isn’t a job, it’s my passion, so I work whenever I can.
T: We are always joking around. All the staff is serious about our jobs, but we have a good time. It’s always been my motto if you can’t have fun at work, why do it?
WHBC: Agreed! There are times I’m sure it’s less fun than others. What is your strategy for getting through those crazy busy times?
T: Just hunker down and get the job done. There’s no sense in worrying about things, just do it.
WHBC: So when you’re done working, what do you do to unwind?
T: Time off? Is there such a thing?! Well, I have a wife, an 8 year old daughter and a 4 year old son. I spend all my free time with them. We like to travel; we just came back from a vacation at the beach, we went to Disney a little while ago. Anything to get outside and hang out with them.
WHBC: Cool. So last question so you can get back to work. If you could have a superpower, what would you pick?
T: That’s a loaded question. Hmmm. I’d say the power to heal.
WHBC:Why that one?
T:My father has cancer, and I’d want to be able to heal him.
WHBC: That would be a great power to have…
Now that I’m crying into my beer, we’ll end the interview. If you see Tom emerge from the kitchen, be sure to say hello!