Living Their Dream

In small towns like ours, chefs usually go unnoticed. But look closely and you’ll find that some of the best chefs are cooking up a name for themselves right under our nose. Two local chefs, who never in their wildest dreams thought they would be standing in front of a stove, have made the kitchen their home. Executive Chef, Felipe Chavez and Chef, Anthony Tovar, are fusing new styles and creativity in the kitchen at the Sunset Grill on the Sonoma Ranch Golf Course.

Felipe Chavez, 37, was born and raised in Las Cruces and is a graduate of Las Cruces High School. At the age of 15, he started working as a dish washer at Mesilla Valley Kitchen. It was there that he first got a glimpse of the kitchen life. Within three months the former owner, Joseph Nevarez, moved him up from dish washer to cook. “I learned all the basics of the restaurant business from him,” says Felipe.

He stayed at Mesilla Valley Kitchen for 11 years and then worked opening Santa Fe Grill locations in the Santa Fe area. “I was in the kitchen every once in a while, but I was more of a manager than a cook,” says Felipe. After that, he started his own distribution company, leaving the restaurant business behind. “I’ve always liked to bake and do all that stuff but it wasn’t what I thought I wanted to do,” says Felipe.

It took two years of working outside the restaurant industry for Felipe to realize that the kitchen was where he wanted to be. He returned to the industry as a cook for the Sandia Resort and Casino in Albuquerque. Felipe has developed his technique of cooking by incorporating a little something from all the restaurants he has been at throughout the years. “I learned something different from each place,” he says. Finally, he moved back home to Las Cruces after his former boss asked him to be the chef at the restaurant on the Sonoma Ranch golf course. “The way I cook now, is more traditional and it’s more of what people want,” Felipe says. “We put a lot of time and effort into our food here at the Sunset Grill.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Anthony Tovar is an accomplished chef, but you would not be able to tell that by merely looking at him. At only 26 years old, Anthony is creative beyond his years. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that he comes from a long line of chefs. His great-grandfather was a chef in the military and after retiring became the chef at the Hilton in L.A. Both of his grandmothers are also well-known for their cooking and pastries. One of them even owned a restaurant in East L.A called Juanita’s. “I didn’t always know it, but cooking had always been there for me to fall back on,” says Anthony.

While in high school Anthony was a cook at an Italian restaurant. It is where he started and studied Italian cuisine for years before moving into French culinary. Eventually, he graduated from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, California. Anthony had the opportunity to do an externship in Tuscany, Italy where he continued to broaden his knowledge and fundamentals of impeccable food. While attending school and working, he accepted a job with Wolfgang Puck doing catering for many celebrity events such as the Grammy Awards and the Oscars. “I had prepped for him a couple of times before, which was very stressful, and he liked my work,” says Anthony.

Since transitioning from celebs to locals, becoming a chef at the Sunset Grill has got him developing creative pastries. “I like them really elegant and clean, with just enough to make a person want to order another one,” explains Tovar. Unlike most people his age, when Anthony isn’t in the kitchen, he is thinking up new dishes and figuring out how to make them. “I love working with food and coming up with new ideas, it’s like art to me,” says Anthony.

These two chefs may have two very different stories but they share one passion, cooking. At the Sunset Grill they have married their individual styles of cooking and their lifetime of experience to create a menu that gives the patrons a one-of-a-kind dining experience. From the subtle sophistication of the light-up menus to the elegant seating and breath taking views, the Sunset Grill offers more than meals prepared to order.

By Bridgett Facio-Pickering

Winter 2011
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