Five Questions with...French Lick Resort Chef Robbie Bellew

In our first installment of “Five Questions with”.... I would like to introduce you to Banquets/Catering Chef Robbie Bellew.

The Long Beach Mississippi native set out to get a degree in law enforcement but ended up trading handcuffs for kitchen shears after a class trip to the local jail. “I saw the faces of the people working there and they did not seem happy. That got me thinking what makes you happy? I, of course, was eating at the time."

A three -year culinary apprenticeship at Walt Disney World sealed the deal. “I experienced around 30 different venues while there. I worked everything from a hot dog cart to fine dining. It was truly a priceless experience.” Robbie also met his wife Carrie during his days at Disney. She was in the character department and would play Miss Piggy and Eeyore.

After Disney Robbie spent some time close to home at the Grand Casino in Gulfport, MS before moving to the Hoosier state to take a job with Caesars Indiana.

All it took was one trip to French Lick for Robbie to fall in love. “I made the drive out (one hour) and was very shocked when I arrived. It was amazing to see the caliber of this resort. I quickly fell in love with it. The decision was easy. I have been with the resort since July 2007.”

What’s your first culinary memory?
I am sure we all remember some of our first experiences with food. I fondly remember Christmas Eve at my Grandmother’s (I called her Amaw because I could not pronounce Grandma) house. Everyone would go to her house and celebrate the family Christmas. She would make her gumbo and divinity. This Gumbo was fantastic and truly heartwarming. The divinity was out of this world. She would make plain, pecan and peanut butter flavored. The recipe she used was passed along to me and I have yet to make it the same way she did. I guess I need that old General Electric hand mixer to do the job right.

Favorite thing to cook at home?
I love to cook outdoors. I have a smoker and a Weber grill. I guess it’s the primal caveman in me that loves cooking over hot coals. I have recently been getting to know several chefs in the competition BBQ world. This is quickly becoming a passion of mine. I just need to get the equipment to feed that passion, and the neighborhood!

Funniest culinary experience during your career?
I have several funny stories that could fill a book some day. I was working for the MGM Studios at WDW. This was 1991. The park was closed for the World Premier of Beauty and the Beast. We had the streets of the park set to resemble scenes from the movie. I was put on a carving station and they gave me Lamb to carve. The funny part was the carving station was placed in a barnyard scene with live animals placed all around me. I entered the station and had to shake my head as I was cutting a cooked lamb while looking at a live one. The cool thing is I was able to serve Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury and David Ogden Stiers (Major Charles Winchester from MASH)

What’s your favorite aspect of the job?
I love teaching others the craft of cooking. It used to be the stigma that chefs kept secrets. I have a belief that chefs should pass along everything they know so the strength of the culinary community grows.

Anything quirky/different/just plain weird you want to share???
I was also asked to prepare the food for Luciano Pavarotti. Before you start saying OOOOO and AHHHHH…He was on a very strict diet. I made the following:
• Steamed unseasoned chicken breast
• Steamed Broccoli- unseasoned
• Steamed white rice- unseasoned
• Sliced lemon

That’s it. I prepared the food and brought it to the backstage area. I handed it off to one of his managers and then joined my wife for the show. By the way he was incredible! I hope he got some nourishment from the food. I know he could not have enjoyed it.