12 questions with Hawthorn Grill chef who recently won chef showdown


Turn to us every Sunday in Life & Arts for the latest menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes, and culinary adventures brought to you by contributing writer Alexis Larsen. Bon appetite!

Want to go?

WHAT: Hawthorn Grill

WHERE: 1222 E. Stroop Rd., Kettering

MORE INFO: 937-298-2222 or http://hawthorngrill.com

HOURS: Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Open for dinner 5-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and for brunch on Sunday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

SPECIALS: The restaurant recently started Taco & Tequila Tuesdays featuring $3 tacos and $5 and $6 margaritas and Wine Wednesdays feturing wines by the glass for $3-5, $10 off all bottles and special appetizers.

SEATS: About 100 – 88 in the dining room and another 12 or so at the bar.

MENU HIGHLIGHTS: A savory wild mushroom soup ($6.50); white wine braised pork ($20) cooked overnight in homemade chicken stock, white wine, garlic and onions, served over homemade mashed potatoes with real butter and cream and mixed vegetables; grilled swordfish with a mango-bell pepper salad and spiced sweet potatoes ($23) and a stuffed chicken breast ($20) served with applewood smoked bacon mac-and-cheese and Fried Green Tomatoes that’s every bit as good as it sounds.

COCKTAILS: Blueberry bourbon lemonade, spicy grapefruit margarita or one of almost 50 bourbons to choose from as well as a martini list and full bar.

WINE AND BEER: The restaurants wine list has about 140 selections and a dozen by the glass. There are five rotating beers on tap and about 30 different bottled beers.

The competition last Saturday and Sunday between nine local chefs on the Kroger Chef ShowDown stage at the Dayton Home and Garden Show was impressive and intense.

The first time event saw three rounds of competition that were held last Saturday with chefs creating dishes on the fly centered around four mystery ingredients unveiled at the start of the timer.

Chef Candace Rinke of the Hawthorn Grill, Chef Mariah Gahagan of Lily’s Bistro and Chef Matt Hayden of Scratch Event Catering advanced to the final round. They had five mystery ingredients that had to be used to create an entree — shrimp, asparagus, black beans canned peaches and canned tomatoes. Overhead cameras and TV screens from Audio Etc … let the audience see up close what was happening with each of the dishes.

The judges had their work cut out for them during the final round. I can say that because I sat alongside local foodie Ann Roberts and Chef Don Warfe of Christopher’s Restaurant and Catering — who has appeared on Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” — and deliberated over the creations with a standing room-only crowd packed in the staging area.

The dishes were all impressive with the canned ingredients used to create fresh, flavorful dishes with flavors elevated beyond the items given to them. The dish that wowed us the most thanks to its beautiful presentation and fresh flavors that highlighted the mystery ingredients was a refreshing Italian-inspired bread salad by Chef Rinke.

In honor of her 2016 Chef Showdown Champion Title here’s a short Q&A with the talented Candace Rinke of Hawthorn Grill:

Q: How was it for you participating in the Chef ShowDown?

A: It was fun. It's always good to continue to learn, try new things and stretch yourself to become better.

Q: Why do you think you were successful?

A: My flavors were solid. I took time to make the plates as beautiful as possible — you eat with your eyes first — and I just tried to make the best dishes I could, given the constraints of the competition.

Q: What is your culinary background?

A: I spent three years in engineering school at the University of Michigan before I decided to transfer to culinary school at Oakland Community College on the north side of Detroit.

Q: What is the story of how Hawthorn Grill came to be?

A: I have always wanted to own a restaurant since I lived in Germany at the age of 10 and sat in a beautiful little café on the river eating cake with my sister and looking out the window I knew this was what I wanted. My husband and I moved to Ohio in 2010 and I started doing small-scale catering out of our kitchen. I then took some time off to have my son and when he turned two I started working with the Small Business Development Center in Dayton to complete a business plan. As I was looking for a space, I was introduced to the building we're currently in and there was no stopping me. I signed the paperwork to purchase the assets of the then-closed restaurant on May 18, 2010 and we opened 2 weeks later on June 2.

Q: Where did the name come from?

A: My husband and his brother both went to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and they are both in flight related fields. We moved from Michigan to Dayton to be close to the base. When I was trying to decide on a name, our neighbor, a life-long Daytonian, mentioned Hawthorn Hill and told us the history of the mansion, how the Wright Brothers built it and how close it was to the new restaurant. It seemed to be a perfect fit and the Hawthorn Grill was born.

Q: What has been the response been since opening?

A: We've been so fortunate to have a loyal following of regular guests since the doors opened almost six years ago. The people that came in to dine at first, in many instances, have become more like family members than simply acquaintances.

Q: What changes have you made since you opened?

A: We updated the entire space for our third anniversary — new paint, new art work, lighting, etc. As for the menu, about half of it changes seasonally — 6-10 times every year — and the rest, including our most popular dishes, stays the same year-round.

Q: Will you be introducing a new menu anytime soon?

A: We are always trying to introduce new and exciting reasons for guest to come visit. About half of the menu changes every 4-6 weeks. In addition to that, we run regular features like our chicken parmesan, spaghetti & meatballs and cabbage rolls. We also prepare two specials for lunch and two for dinner that change daily.

Q: What have been your favorite memories you have made since opening?

A: My grandma – she was in large part responsible for my love of food and desire to own a restaurant – was able to come from Michigan to see the restaurant about six months after we opened. She and my mom came to surprise me for my birthday. It was the one and only time my grandma got to eat here. And for the restaurant's fifth anniversary, my husband threw a surprise party for me with the entire staff and some of my closest friends to celebrate our amazing accomplishment.

Q: Describe the menu to someone not familiar with the restaurant?

A: American bistro would probably be the best way to describe our menu – nothing too fancy (you'll never find an immersion circulating heater, agar-agar, sperification kits or any other molecular gastronomy tools or tidbits!) and nothing too unusual. Just great American food with some European influence thrown in for good measure.

Q: Describe the approach the kitchen takes on food?

A: First and foremost we do this because we love it. If we didn't it would show in the food.

Second, I always tell my staff two things:

1) People don’t go to chains because they’re great; they go because they are consistent. If we can’t do the little things with consistency, we’ll never be able to do the really important things that way.

2) We’re not fast and we’re not cheap so we have to be great. If we don’t get that right, nothing else will matter because we won’t have anyone to cook for!

Q: What is unique about the food you are serving up?

A: It's all from scratch. We make our own bread from flour and yeast, bake our own desserts in house, roll out pasta for specials and we peel, chop, butcher, roast and prep every item that comes in the back door by hand because we love it!

Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at alexis.e.larsen@hotmail.com with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.

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