Food & Beverage Director
I started working in the restaurant industry at age thirteen, and worked my way from dishwasher, bus-boy to waiter. Many people still remember Koi Garden in my hometown of Branson. We occasionally do cashew chicken Wednesdays at Fire & Ice, and I still draw on what I learned at this first restaurant job. Upon high school graduation, I was offered a college art scholarship, but chose not to pursue it, instead attending Texas A&M for Engineering. During college, I worked at a restaurant under a chef who encouraged me to pursue culinary instead. I took his advice, and became a Certified Chef de Cuisine at age 27 and onto a Certified Executive Chef at age 29.
I spent ten years with John Q Hammons Hotels, working in Missouri, Kansas, Florida, Texas, and Montana, and serving on a taskforce for opening new properties. I have been in my current role as Corporate Food & Beverage Director for 6 years, and I oversee operations for Fire & Ice, the Oasis Hotel & Convention Center, and Prime Northstar Grille in two locations- Springfield and Pittston, PA.
I find myself drawn toward the classic French style of cuisine, with its rich sauces and heavy handed butter and cream usage. I think it’s fun to infuse with other types of cuisine. One thing I really enjoy about cooking is the instant gratification of taking raw ingredients and making something people enjoy, and knowing immediately that you’ve made them happy.
Though I didn’t pursue that art scholarship, the culinary field gives me an outlet for my artistic side. In addition to creating new dishes, I also enjoy making ice carvings. I even get to throw in the engineering background, using chainsaws, chisels, and grinders to create a unique sculpture from the ice block. Ice carving is really quite simple- the finished carving is already in the ice, you just have to remove the part that doesn’t belong!
When I’m not at Fire & Ice, I enjoy being a hobby beekeeper. I also enjoy beer and wine making, and love spending time at my family’s distillery, Copper Run. My wife has a local dance studio so we find ourselves traveling often. I enjoy trying many different restaurants while we travel, and when I eat something that I like, I have a knack for recreating it back at home.
One thing I think about often, is the blessing that is said over a meal. You often hear, “Bless this food, and bless the hands that prepared it.” I think of the way I have been blessed throughout my career and this connection with those that prayed for me, and it’s one that I am extremely grateful for.
I have worked in the service industry in many different forms. I worked as a server and prep cook in high school and into college, worked in business services, and spent time in retail sales and management. The thing that all of those different jobs had in common was a connection with the people I was working with. As a server you have the ability to directly impact a person’s day, optimistically for the better. The downside that I found in retail was that I was limited to the same type of clientele most of the time. They sought out what I was selling because they already had an idea of what they wanted. The culinary world is different.
The wonderful thing about food is that it can bring almost anyone together. In my family we grew up going to family lunches and dinner. No matter what the occasion was, we always found a reason to bring food. Even more, you can take a group of friends, share a good meal with a bottle of wine and now you are family. I have had orphan meals where friends come together and celebrate the holidays, birthdays, or just being together because we were all the family we had. It’s the reason I got to try curry for the first time, and how I got to have freshly made sangria from over a beach fire half way around the world. When I get to taste and smell those food and drinks again, all of those memories come rushing back.
Giving others the ability to come together over a meal and drinks and create a genuine experience that they remember is why I love this industry.
When I get the time to cook, I really enjoy comfort food. For me though, comfort food ranges from home-made gnocchi with ragu, to peanut butter chocolate chip banana muffins. I love to prepare things that make me and the people with me happy.
As for drinks, things can get a little more complicated. It is hard to beat a great bottle of wine paired with the perfect meal. Certain beers and cocktails are a perfect accompaniment while hanging out on the patio late into the evening. For me some of the best drinks are ones that are unique enough to entice the taste buds, but not so overpowering that you can only have one of them.
When I’m not at Fire & Ice, I travel every opportunity I get. I spent a semester in Australia, lived in Chicago, travelled to Europe, and I have been to 47 states and can’t wait to see the last ones. I love to spend time outside. I love going fishing and camping with my wife and kids, playing in the back yard to have water balloon fights. If it gives me a reason to get outside, I’m all about it.
Chef Aaron Gregory
I have been in the culinary field for over twenty years. In fact, working in kitchens is the only job I have ever had! I started out of high school washing dishes and loved the camaraderie of the kitchen. I was inspired to complete my American Culinary Federation accredited apprenticeship at Hemmingway’s Blue water Café.
In 2000, I graduated from Ozarks Technical Community College’s Culinary Arts Program where I received an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts, and by 2010, I had obtained my Chef de Cuisine Certification.
I have worked in multiple hotels and convention centers throughout the Midwest including the Chateau on the Lake in Branson, Missouri, Embassy Suites in Rogers, Arkansas, and the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, Kansas. My role as Executive Chef at the Oasis Hotel & Convention Center and Fire & Ice Restaurant & Bar allows me the creativity and freedom to explore seasonally changing menus in the restaurant while also bringing that culinary flair to the Convention Center to transform guests’ perception of banquet food to become one that is a fine dining experience.
Every day in the kitchen is something new. Food has a role in every aspect of someone’s life, and there is a personal connection between the Chef’s food and the guest. I respect the culinary classics, but enjoy revisiting them with a modern twist. I am inspired by ingredients from around the globe, but also love to use local ingredients and fare. My favorite thing about working at Fire & Ice is the freedom that is afforded me and my culinary team. The menus and dishes we create are a true team effort and uniquely ours.
I love to give back to the community, and there are a lot of opportunities to do so as a culinarian. I am currently the Springfield Branson American Culinary Federation President, Chairman and Founder of Small Plates Big Talent (a fundraiser for Harmony House), and serve on the boards for the Advisory Council for Greene County Health Board, Ozarks Technical College Culinary Arts Program, and College of the Ozarks Culinary Arts Program. I am a mentor for high school culinary students, and advisor and judge for Pro Start High School Culinary Teams. I am also a Chairman and participating Chef for Kids Café, an organization that teaches grade school children about cooking and making healthy food choices. Outside of work, I enjoy travel, craft beer and Cardinals baseball. I am also a huge fan of all things professional wrestling!
I have been with Fire & Ice since 2011. My Bachelor’s degree is in Technical Theatre, but I have been cooking since I could walk. I grew up on a farm in the country, so gardening and cooking all of our meals was a way of life that I learned from my Grandma and Mom. It’s just something that sticks with you. I made the decision I wanted a career in this field, and went back to school and graduated in 2012 from the Culinary Arts program at Ozarks Technical College.
In a way, my theatre background can still be used, because working in an open kitchen IS kind of a show. Of course the Wok station is a show in itself, with the fire soaring, but we are the biggest open kitchen in Springfield… all of the chefs are in view of the entire restaurant. You’re on a stage and you have to be on your game, on point. I love the open kitchen because it gives an instant gratification for me to look out and see guests enjoying the food I prepared.
I love southwest flavors and oriental flavors, but my favorite thing to cook has to be comfort foods, because of the feeling it gives you. The comfort food aspect of something like a pot roast or braised short ribs can take you right back to Grandma’s house. I like to infuse that feeling into my cooking.
I am the daytime Sous Chef at Fire & Ice, but at the Oasis/ Fire & Ice, we are all one culinary family and I help in any kitchen that needs it- breakfast, convention, or Fire & Ice. That’s one of the things I love about working here, we have a broad range of culinary talent and knowledge between the two kitchens and can tap into that whenever we need to. The staff is my family, and I spend just as much (or more) time with them than I do my own family. They are my brothers and sisters, and we know each other’s ins and outs, and how to motivate each other.
When I am not at Fire & Ice, you can usually find me watching baseball. I have my grandfather to thank for making me a Cardinals fan when I was two years old! I still enjoy gardening, and have been an active member of the American Culinary Federation since 2012. I enjoy judging Missouri Pro Start competitions with the ACF because it gives me a chance to meet people from all across the world. At the end of the day, the global culinary community is a lot smaller than you think. It’s a very tight knit community and one I’m proud to be a part of.
I considered several trades to earn a living, including going to welding school, learning car repair, and cooking. Because I was a bachelor, I didn’t want to starve…. so cooking school it was. I studied culinary at Ozarks Technical College, and quickly learned that I chose correctly… cooking became my passion. I studied under Chef Bonnetti of Hemingway’s fame. I also worked at many restaurants around Springfield, and as far away as Houston, Texas where I was a Restaurant Manager.
I realized that cooking was more than just a way to earn money. Food warms the soul. It’s deep, intimate, and a part of me that I share with guests. I also think it’s fascinating the way food connects people. Anything I am interested in, politics, music, etc. These people have to eat. It’s a gateway to any other lifestyle.
My cooking style is a combination of tradition and new innovations, and that is representative of the overall paradox of cooking. Some dishes are so complex, but with another the purity is so good all it needs is salt and pepper. Personally, my favorite type of cuisine to cook is Southern dishes, so if you see a plate on our menu with Cajun flair, that’s most likely my dish.
Food will always take me back to family. My mother made sweet potato pie from her mother’s recipe and it was dedicated to her memory each and every time it was made. I would like to travel to some small country, small town, preferably a home, and have an authentically home-cooked meal. One that has been passed down for generations. And I’d like to hear the story behind it.
I have always loved the restaurant industry. I started working in restaurants at the age of 16 as a hostess, and have done every job imaginable in the restaurant- I can even cut meat! I run the front of the house at Fire & Ice as our Service Lead. My favorite thing about working here has to be my work family. Some are employees here, and others are regulars who I’ve gotten to know through the years. I love meeting new and interesting people each day, and the restaurant being inside a hotel lends to many opportunities for that!
Outside of work, I love playing in the dirt… aka gardening! I grow veggies and flowers, and love the country life! I also enjoy cooking in general. At home I mainly cook family recipes, but I’m also open to trying new things too! I am a sports Mom and have two kids who keep me hopping with their schedules. I also love animals, and in my spare time I am a hobby beekeeper.