After seven years in the military as a food service specialist, Johnny Pincay channeled the lessons he learned from the Army into a new career as executive chef of Hondeaux Southern Kitchen and Bar in Temple.
“The military taught me to work well under pressure,” Pincay said. “I fed 1,500 soldiers before you’ve even woken up.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Pincay was cooking long before he joined the service on Halloween 2005. His parents divorced when he was 13, and Pincay took on his mother’s role of cooking and cleaning for their family. He was inspired to learn to cook, growing more adventurous in the kitchen over the years.
Stationed at Fort Hood with 3rd Cavalry Regiment for all seven years of his service, Pincay spent 27 months in Iraq through two deployments. His role ranged from food preparation and proper food handling to cooking and plating and supervision.
“I put love into it,” he said.
He learned from both good and bad leadership in the military, inspiring him to use respect over fear in his own leadership style today.
He credits two noncommissioned officers in particular, Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Figueroa, of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, and Staff Sgt. Benjamin Dejesus, of the 1st Cavalry Division, with “giving me responsibility and freedom to help me spread my wings” while in the service. Pincay’s father-in-law, a 36-year military veteran, retired Sgt. Maj. Frank Beavers, served as additional inspiration in seeking a new career when he left the military.
MEETING OF MINDS
After exiting the military to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife and a total of nine children between them, Pincay enrolled in a culinary program at the Central Texas College Fort Hood campus. He was educated with chefs David Lazarus, Mark Murgia and Elke Jensen.
In August, Pincay auditioned for a chef job at the soon-to-be open Hondeaux, with little idea that his role would become so much more.
The three Texas A&M graduates who were starting the restaurant, T.J. Jones, Robert Coe and Byron Stewart, were already in the process of remodeling the space. Impressed by Pincay’s passion for food and experimental nature, they hired him as executive chef, though he now serves as de facto chief of operations.
“Not only are they bringing me along for the ride, but they’re letting me drive the car,” Pincay said.
He developed the Cajun/Creole menu that offers comfort food with a new-school feel. It contains traditional Cajun seafood poboys and gumbo, alongside a flank steak Cuban sandwich and a boudin spinach dip.
“We’re revolutionizing simple menu items and putting our chef’s flair to it,” Jones said.
While the dishes may seems simple, each will have an “exotic twist.” They plan to incorporate as much fresh produce as possible, Stewart said.
“There’s something about Creole comfort food,” Pincay said. “It’s a genre people aren’t too afraid to try, unlike sushi or ethnic food.”
In addition to his standard menu, Pincay will produce daily blackboardspecials to feed his desire for a challenge.
The restaurant will frequently feature live music, a variety of wine and food expos and guest chefs. The goal is to keep the feeling fresh, and Pincay’s been given the reigns to develop entertainment as he sees fit.
Hondeaux is at 20 E. Avenue A in Temple. A ribbon cutting ceremony is planned Friday.
Cristina Waits with FME News Service contributed to this story.