Fathers of Food: Feeding thousands to provide for a precious few

Published on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 20:52 - Written by BY CHRISTINE GARDNER food@tylerpaper.com

Talk to anyone who has made a career in the food industry and your probably talking to someone who is passionate about what they do, but also very tired.

And if that person also has become a successful food entrepreneur, they will have tireless tales of dedication, sacrifice, long hours and frustrated family members.

While providing for your family and putting a roof above their heads is a common responsibility for fathers, those who also make a living feeding thousands of people know that after a long day in the kitchen it can be difficult to duplicate those special meals you created for customers at your own dinner table.

But just like any dad, walking in the door and seeing the faces of those who support and love you, provides the energy boost necessary to provide one last special meal of the day.

Sam Greenberg, president of Greenberg Smoked Turkeys, Nick Pencis, owner of Stanley’s Famous Pit B-B-Q, Michael Brady, executive chef for FRESH by Brookshire’s and Cedric Fletcher, owner/chef of ZaZa’s Modern Italian Cuisine and Fat Catz Louisiana Kitchen are four Tyler area fathers who have found success in the food industry, but work just as hard to maintain a family balance.

Many of the children in these families are as excited about food and cooking as Dad and enjoy the family’s passion for creating memorable dining experiences.

“My girls love to get in the kitchen and make their own pizzas,” Fletcher said.

His three daughters Ashley, 9, Cameron, 7, and Madeline, 5, enjoy eating many different things and like that their father has a Cajun and Italian restaurant. Last week, Fletcher took pizzas from ZaZa’s to one of his daughter’s classes at Caldwell Elementary.

“From Fat Catz, they love the fried catfish, and from ZaZa’s, other than the pizza, it’s definitely the meatballs,” Fletcher said.

Time in the kitchen with Dad is fun and cooking is something the whole family enjoys.

For others like Sam Greenberg and Nick Pencis, the food industry was the family business.

Greenberg remembers getting in trouble with his dad, at a very young age, for playing on top of the famous red and white Greenberg boxes. The smokehouse was another favorite childhood hangout.

“I was about 9 or 10 years old and climbing around on the stacks of unmade boxes in the back. One of the ladies told me to get down because I was going to get hurt. She went and told my dad and he got really mad at me,” Greenberg said laughing. “I turned to the lady and said, ‘one of these days I am going to fire you.’ She retired from here about four or five years ago.”

The Greenberg Turkey tradition is a family business that began in the 1930s when Sam Greenberg’s grandfather, Samuel Isaac Greenberg, started smoking the turkeys and shipping them on trains to Dallas.

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Greenberg and his crew will smoke and ship more than 200,000 turkeys.

But if you ask Greenberg to smoke just one, at home, that’s another story.

“I can tell you how to do thousands of them here at the smokehouse, but when it comes to doing one at home, it’s entirely different,” Greenberg said.

Instead, he’ll just bring one home for the family, and it also is the food of choice whenever the Greenberg family is traveling.

Nick Pencis, who also is well-known for his smoked creations, is proudly carrying on the Stanley family legacy that was created more than 60 years ago.

After being encouraged by his wife, Jen, he assumed management of the establishment in 2000 and has developed Stanley’s food and atmosphere into a nationally recognized favorite among barbecue aficionados.

Most recently Stanley’s was named for the second year in a row in Food & Wine magazine’s list of best BBQ cities. They also are part of a new book published last month by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and written by Texas Monthly BBQ editor, Daniel Vaughn.

“The Prophets of Smoked Meat” features Pencis and a recipe for his famous ribs. The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target and Wal-Mart.

“It made me so happy to find out we were in this book. Barbecue is quite a journey, whether you’re cooking it or just in search of the best. And this book offers a great glimpse into the world of Texas barbecue,” Pencis said. “This is a huge honor and shows the world that Tyler isn’t just known for roses anymore. Stop and smell the ribs, too.”

As a family-operated business, Nick and Jen Pencis proudly call themselves a mom-and-pop joint. For Nick, the restaurant business is in his blood and he grew up with his parents in a commercial kitchen.

“My father was a chef in country clubs, and I would sit in the kitchen and watch him cook. My mother was working with him too, and when things would get crazy in the kitchen they would take me to the stage and have me sit with the band,” Pencis said. “Even though he was a chef, he didn’t share a whole lot of secrets or recipes with me. But he did love preparing and sharing a meal together as a family, and I love sharing that time with my family too.”

“It sure is a lot easier and faster cooking at home compared to the time, labor, and wait involved with smoking barbecue at work. If I had to start cooking dinner five hours before dinnertime or even the day before, like with brisket, we would have some big problems at home,” Pencis said.

For Michael Brady, after he’s created hundreds of meals for FRESH customers, he can’t wait to get home and gather around the table with his wife Kristen and two sons, Liam, 4, and Ollie, 2.

“The big thing that I got from my Dad was that meals were more than putting food in your stomach. It’s a time of joy, comfort, enjoying your family and friends and enjoying the fruits of Mother Nature,” Brady said. “My Dad worked out of town a lot during my childhood, and I remember how he would get so excited when the aroma of Mom’s cooking started traveling through the house. I remember it being a very comfortable and relaxing time for me. To see my Mom go out of her way to do something nice for my Dad and to see how my Dad would relax and unwind the more the smells ran through the house is a very fond memory of my childhood.”

It was this upbringing that made Brady love cooking and have such a passion for what he does each day as a chef.

“It really reminds me how groovy life is, but you have to stop and enjoy it while it’s flying by,” Brady said. “Plus to me, it’s the small things in life that are most enjoyable and important.”

He and his wife try to instill these ideals in their boys and encourage them to embrace and enjoy all types of food.

“We always tell them it’s fine if you don’t like it, but you gotta try it,” Brady said. “We also tell them, ‘You didn’t know that you liked ice cream till you what? Tried it.’”

“Can’t is a word that is not allowed in our household. You must keep trying and making an effort,” Brady said. “And, oh yeah, ice cream sandwiches are really good forms of bribery.”

Michael Brady’s Pork or Beef Stroganoff

FRESH by Brookshire’s executive chef Michael Brady likes to make this for his two boys and also uses this recipe as a good way to introduce kids to cooking.


1 pound ground pork (or beef or any ground game that you have such as venison, etc.)

1/2 pound bacon (small chop)

2 yellow onions, chopped

1 bundle green onions, chopped

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced. (Let your kids begin helping by teaching them how to hold a butter knife and slice.)

2 green bell peppers, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

8 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 gallon whole milk

1/2 gallon chicken stock

Kosher salt, to taste

Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup sour cream

2 pounds pasta, (whatever variety your kids choose), boil to al dente and hold warm


You will need two pots. In the first one, pour milk and stock and place on low heat. In the second pot, place on high heat and add bacon to render out fat and then add your choice of ground meat. Once you have developed some good color on your bacon and ground meat, add mushrooms, onions and bell peppers and sauté for 4 minutes. Then add garlic and sauté and stir for 2 minutes. Add butter and let melt, then add flour and stir for 1 minute. Add your warm liquid mixture and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until you start to see the mixture thicken up. Once it has started to thicken, cover and remove from heat. Add your pasta to mixture and season to taste, add chopped green onions and stir in sour cream before serving.

Nick Pencis’ Crock Pot Chicken Adobo

“My wife, Jen, is much smarter than me and a way better cook. Since I’m usually at the joint all day, Jen usually makes the amazing meals for us at home. But when it’s my turn, and I remember to plan ahead, this one is super easy and a great way to cheat since it cooks itself while you’re gone or working around the house. Really tasty and healthy recipe, too.” —Nick Pencis


6 to 8 boneless skinless organic chicken thigh filets (Prefer Smart Chicken)

2/3 cup apple cider vinegar (prefer Bragg)

1/3 cup soy sauce (prefer msg free and low sodium)

4 cloves of smashed garlic

2 teaspoons paprika

Salt and pepper

1 head of organic Bok Choy cut crosswise into 1-inch strips

2 organic scallions chopped

Cooked whole grain brown rice or quinoa


Combine liquids in a 4- to 6-quart crock pot. Add crushed garlic. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in crock pot. Sprinkle paprika on top of chicken. Cook on low 7 to 8 hours or high 4 to 6 hours. 15 minutes before serving, fold bok choy strips into the crock pot. Ladle over cooked whole grain brown rice or quinoa. Top with chopped scallions

Big Daddy Sam’s Potato Salad

“This recipe is a mixture of my Mom’s and my own personal taste. The biggest switch from my Mom’s recipe is no pimento and baking the potatoes. I suggest you try baking the potatoes and see for yourself what a difference it makes with your own recipe. I start with good size baking potatoes and figure about a half to a whole potato per person when figuring how many you will need.” — Sam Greenberg


Baking potatoes

30-ounce jar of Kraft mayonnaise

Regular yellow mustard

12-ounce bottle dill pickle relish

Garlic puree

Worcestershire sauce

Tabasco sauce

1 purple onion


Salt and pepper


First, bake 5 to 6 potatoes. (I do this because I think they taste better and they stand up better in the salad if they are baked.) After baking allow them to cool on your counter. Peel (my children’s preference) and cut the potatoes in 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch cubes. Dice onion and celery into small pieces (a half to whole cup of each) depending on your taste. I prefer a lot of crunch.) Add these 3 items to a large mixing bowl. In separate bowl, add a liberal amount of mayonnaise. This is the base of your dressing. I feel on potato salad, you can’t have too much dressing. For 4 to 6 potatoes I normally will use about a half to 2/3 jar of mayonnaise. Add 3-5 tablespoons of yellow mustard to the bowl. Enough to bring a yellow tint to the mix. Add 1/3 to 1/2 of a bottle of dill pickle relish. Add 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce. Add 5 or more good dashes of Tabasco sauce. Add a heaping teaspoon of garlic puree. Mix this well. Pour the dressing mixture over the diced ingredients. Salt and pepper, to taste. Enjoy.

Cedric Fletcher’s Sweet Cream Pancakes

“This recipe is quick and easy for anyone who has kids. It is our recipe for the pancakes we use for our Sunday brunches at Fat Catz and ZaZa’s. My girls and I make these every Saturday morning before I go off to work. It involves only a few ingredients and my kids can make it on their own without the assistance of Mom or Dad. This pancake batter is yummy, rich and full of love.” – Cedric Fletcher


2 cups flour

3 Tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons baking powder

1 cup whole milk

1 can of condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 whole eggs

1 egg yolk

1 Tablespoon melted butter


Mix all of the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, mix all of the wet ingredients, then marry them together. Mix well and be sure to get out most of the lumps and let stand for 20 minutes. I use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to portion mine out and cook in a nonstick pan with butter or cooking spray. These go great with our chicken and cakes on the brunch menu.