The smell of fresh toast fills the air in the open kitchen in Lubbock’s newest hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn. Chef Antonio (Tony) Piña is whipping up breakfast for the hotel’s 90 guests. But this is no ordinary hotel breakfast. Piña is using local produce to create a Texas-made culinary experience.
Built on Hard Work
Piña grew up in a small Texas town, where everything revolved around agriculture. He spent most of his days with his father in the field, and he would come home to his mother cooking remarkable dishes. He says he believes his background was what put him to work in the restaurant industry.
Piña said his childhood revolved around family and food. He found his comfort zone in the kitchen alongside his family members. Growing up until now, he has utilized his imagination and turned it into creativity. He has developed this skill throughout his life and applied it to culinary art.
Since Piña was young, he has learned to work hard to earn what he wants in life. Instead of getting a bachelor’s degree, Piña only took the Restaurant and Hotel Management courses he needed to learn how to become more successful in his career. The rest of his education came from mentors and experience.
“I love the challenges I am given every day,” Piña said. “Challenges keep life spicy.”
Piña was asked to help open a hotel and be the top chef. Three hotels later, he settled at one of the newest hotels in Lubbock: the Hilton Garden Inn. Because of his passion for cooking, Piña decided to partner up with the Texas Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) GO TEXAN products to use in his recipes. He believes using local products is an important part of making his recipes one of a kind.
“I have always worked in the restaurant and the food industry,” Piña said. “Where there can be ups and downs.”
Piña’s partnership with GO TEXAN products allows him to meet new people. His favorite part of his job is the hospitality. He makes an effort to meet every guest who he cooks for, and then he describes the significance of the GO TEXAN products to them.
“I want the guests who visit here and eat here, I want them to think of my kitchen as a hidden gem,” Piña says, “I want everyone to remember their experience in Lubbock to be great, and to remember the uniquely made food.”
Piña enjoys building relationships with the producers of the GO TEXAN products. He keeps the producers informed with the new recipes he implements when using their products so they can share with their audience. Most consumers know about the GO TEXAN products by word of mouth. The Hilton Garden Inn in Lubbock includes the GO TEXAN products on the menu along with other important factors of each item on the menu.
“Tony Piña and I have worked with each other for many years,” Matt Williams, a field representative for the TDA GO TEXAN program, said. “He is as passionate about GO TEXAN products as he is about his job.”
Piña is also involved in GO TEXAN events, such as The Kitchen Crawl, Uncorked, March of Dimes and a few others he crafts together at the hotel. Piña hosts events at the hotel to create fun consumer engagement in order to promote specific GO TEXAN products. Occasionally, he implements a single product in multiple dishes so he can feature it as a special or a “product of the month” to the guests.
Piña has been selected to participate as a chef in many different events across Texas. One of the events, the Kitchen Crawl, is an event where a few Lubbock citizens open up their homes to the public and a select chef prepares food right in their kitchen. During the event, Piña created an ice sculpture and decorated it with shrimp straight from the gulf of Texas, also a product of GO TEXAN.
“The Kitchen Crawl is one of my favorite events to be a part of because it is fun to cook in someone else’s home and create something memorable for everyone involved,” Piña said.
Piña created a GO TEXAN menu for the second annual Uncorked event with the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce held in the spring of 2017. Red Raider Meats, a Texas Tech-based product and one of Piña’s favorite GO TEXAN clients, was included on the event’s menu.
After being involved with the local event for many years, Piña was finally rewarded the signature chef position for the March of Dimes event. The March of Dimes event is a signature chef’s event Piña participates in every year to help the community raise money for March of Dimes children in the local hospitals in Lubbock. March of Dimes is a foundation that focuses on helping prevent birth defects.
“The March of Dimes is an event I look forward to each year,” Piña says.
In Feb. 2017, Piña was invited to be a select chef at the J.W. Marriott in Houston, Texas for one of the Super Bowl celebrations. He did not incorporate his preference of GO TEXAN products, but he still emphasized this occasion as an opportunity of a lifetime. He helped cater to 750 individuals involved with the companies of Gatorade, AT&T, and Visa. Professional athletes and their families attended this dinner as well. Piña explains the large group was of all kinds; however, once all of the food was served, everyone connected with each other and the food.
“I believe food brings people together,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see when someone sits down and enjoys a meal while there’s a conversation going on.”
Piña hopes to continue utilizing his skills, creativity, and involvement in the GO TEXAN program to help local businesses. He enjoys incorporating Texas-made products in his dishes, and he plans to do so for years to come.
“Why not use local products?” Piña said. “Texas has so much to offer. Lubbock has so much to offer. Lubbock has cotton, wine, and other products right here in our backyard. I choose to use these local products to keep my money in my city.”