While his co-workers are out driving 300 mph, Jimmy Sexton is at work in his own pressure-packed arena.
The 24-year-old chef is in charge of not only feeding all the teams of Don Schumacher Racing, which includes Tony Schumacher, Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Cory McClenathan, Jack Beckman and Matt Smith, but invited guests and sponsors as well.
On a race weekend, Sexton will feed around 1,300 to 1,500 people - the most of any team chef in the NHRA.
Chef Jimmy Sexton dished food from a buffet at the Schumacher Racing tent Friday afternoon. Sexton is responsible for preparing food for the racing team, sponsors and invited guests. On a weekend Chef Sexton may have to feed 1,300 people. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
What will those lucky guests be eating at Brainerd International Raceway for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals this weekend?
Pan-fried walleye with an apricot cream, grilled chicken breast with a pineapple salsa, red-skin potatoes, Cajun sweet corn, roasted turkey breasts, grilled filet mignon, garlic mashed potatoes and green beans are just some of what Sexton, a product of the Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Michigan, has in mind.
"I like to do a lot of fusions," he said. "I like to fuse together a little Italian with French and Asian with Spanish foods. That's what I tend to do pretty well. I like putting together flavors that I think mesh well together."
Sexton's culinary career began after a job shadow at the Radisson Grand Plaza Hotel in Kalamazoo, Mich. From there he was hired by Webster's Prime Steakhouse, a AAA Four-Diamond restaurant.
In the three years there he worked in the back pantry and on the line before heading off to culinary school.
Fresh out of the two-year program, Sexton traveled south to Grand Rapids, Mich., where he was hired at Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, which runs seven different food outlets. Sexton worked banquets from five to 10,000 people as well as in GP Sports and The 1913 Room, the only Five-Diamond restaurant in Michigan.
From Amway Sexton traveled south again to Indianapolis when he was hired by Schumacher racing.
"Honestly, it was the travel aspect of it," said Sexton on why he left the traditional chef lifestyle for life on the road. "Going to different cities 22 weekends out of the year appealed to me. It's definitely an experience. I like to try to do regional foods from wherever we are at."
Sexton has another cook who works the hot side and three or four people who handle salads, desserts and dinner rolls.
"I really didn't know what to expect," Sexton said. "It's not your standard kitchen. We're a mobile restaurant. There are things that in a normal kitchen you can't take on the road with you. It hasn't stopped me from producing quality food."
Just ask six-time Top Fuel season champion Tony Schumacher.
"I eat healthy and he brings a good meal to people that are on the road 230 days of the year," said the driver of the U.S. Army car. "It feels like you're having home-cooked food. If you had to eat the junk food we did in the old days, and I'm talking just five years ago, you couldn't do what we do now. He has an intense job. He makes all this good food for not only the teams, but 300 to 500 other people."
Sexton's specialty, the dish he gets complimented on the most, is a roasted beef tenderloin with a garlic demi-glace.
Because of his workload, Sexton has little time to watch his teams compete.
"I hardly get out of my kitchen," he said. "I'm in there preparing for the next day and making sure all the food is at the right temperature and checking food quality. If I do see a race, it's usually Friday night or Sunday's final round."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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