Top Chef

evt-chef Chef Ronald “Chip” Romig Jr. Kimberly Carrillo

Chip Romig juggles kitchen and office work at Wild Horse Pass

By Paul Maryniak
Photos by Kimberly Carrillo

Ronald “Chip” Romig Jr. is as comfortable with a spreadsheet and calculator as he is with a frying pan and spatula.
He has to be.
As executive chef for Wild Horse Pass Casino, he ultimately is responsible for all the gaming complex’s restaurants, from the high-end Shula’s Steak House to the food court.
One minute, he might be presiding over a menu-planning meeting; the next, tasting the latest dishes his team developed.
“For me, it’s really a 24-hour-a-day job,” he says. “The phone on my night stand rings all night long. There are closing reports every night… And if something happens like a power failure, God forbid, I get the call.”
“I just don’t spend time in the kitchen,” Romig notes. “I actually do have office work.”
Before he got his position in February 2014, Romig pretty much fed people in a wide variety of settings, gradually taking on the office work in addition to kitchen responsibilities.
He’s worked for East Coast small restaurants and boutique hotels from Florida to Philadelphia, served as chef for the Disney complex in Orlando and even oversaw meal preparation for the San Diego Chargers and their support personnel, from cheerleaders to sportswriters, and even fans who showed up at their stadium.
The Philadelphia native, who grew up next door to the late New Year’s Eve host and American Bandstand icon Dick Clark and near the home of TV personality Ed McMahon, didn’t start out in the kitchen.
The son of a surgeon and a physician whose brother and sister are also doctors, Romig for a time worked in a hospital operating room, taking care of instruments during surgeries.
Then, finally motivated by the memories of his grandmother’s cooking, he made the leap to culinary school and got his first job cracking string beans for a small restaurant and ended up at a restaurant outside Philly where he served stars like Robert Goulet, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway.
“I’ve been to a lot of great places,” he says.
Dover sole was one of his first dishes he prepared as a chef, though he recalls as a youngster how his grandfather gave him a box of Chef Boyardee pizza mix and told him to have at it.
Now he ensures Wild Horse visitors enjoy their lunches, dinners, brunches or meals.
“It’s all about time management,” the cheerful chef remarks. “My time is split up between this restaurant and that restaurant.”
His time is also split among a number of duties, both in the kitchen and the office.
“I am in charge of everything food,” he says. “I am involved with ordering, watching over production. I oversee each of the executive chefs at each restaurant. I have biweekly meetings to discuss menu development, special menus, events.”
Despite his busy schedule, Romig makes sure he spends time with all his staff, whether they be cooks, servers or food preparers.
“I’m in every single kitchen every single day, whether it’s to watch dinner or lunch service or graveyard in the cafe,” he explains. “I’m pretty hands-on. It shows my team members I am just not a figurehead. I’m also involved with their lives. It makes for great team work.”
His baby is Shula’s, an eight-year presence at Wild Horse that is part of the high-end chain started by Don Shula, the legendary Miami Dolphins coach who in 1972 guided the team to the only undefeated season in NFL history – a record the Dolphins still hold.
Though Shula’s corporate office dictates menus and recipes – and runs its own slaughterhouses – Romig still finds time to visit the slaughter operation in Las Vegas to watch how butchers cut meat to the exacting standards developed by the chain’s parent office.
He looks at meat in a variety of ways: “Vision, taste, texture.”
That attention to detail has paid off: For the sixth consecutive year, Shula’s at Wild Horse Pass has won the Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Awards.
It also has won a Readers’ Choice Award as one of the top 100 steak houses in the country – a big deal when you consider there are about 25,000 steak houses in the United States.
And he talks with enthusiasm about Shula’s entrees, but he tells dinner guests to expect an experience that properly should take about two hours and 15 minutes, allowing for cart presentations, adequate preparation of the meat and time for it to rest after being cooked.
Though he calls his job “a labor of love,” he cautions: “It’s not for the faint of heart.”
That’s a lesson the programs on the Food Network might not teach enough. “I interview young culinarians and they expect to be this Food Network star and make a million dollars,” he says. “This is a lot of work.”