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Executive chef worked his way up the food chain
Rick Whorf, left, executive chef at Lake Lanier Islands Resort, talks with Christopher Ramos in the kitchen of the resort. - photo by Tom Reed

Rick Whorf may have a corner office at Lake Lanier Islands Resort, but his view isn’t a stunning waterfront vista.

Instead, he sees commercial grade appliances and the hustle and bustle of a busy kitchen.

Whorf, the resort’s new executive chef, literally worked his way from the bottom to the top of the kitchen food chain.

"I was a dishwasher and I thought the cooks were having a lot more fun. As it turns out, they were," Whorf said.

Although he didn’t receive formal training, Whorf says his 35-year career has been a perpetual classroom experience.

"I more or less learned from the old-timer guys. The ones that were the hardest on me were the ones who taught me the most," Whorf said.

"My beginning was at a country club in Pittsburgh. It was smaller place, but that’s where I was the dishwasher. He told me if I could learn how to open oysters in the next 15 minutes, I could have the pantry boy position. He showed me how and I did it. That’s how it all started.

"Since I was the new guy with no experience, I did whatever they told me to — salads, cold prep, just whatever they made me do. There was a lot of ‘Run and get this. Go get that.’"

From there, Whorf moved from kitchen to kitchen, learning the trade.

"My next significant job after (the country club) was with the Marriott," Whorf said.

"I worked mostly as a line cook, but I was able to get the hotel, cooking experience."

He went on to open and operate his own restaurant in Dahlonega — Rick’s.

"I had my own restaurant for 11 years," Whorf said.

"It had a lot of different foods. I called it creative American cuisine."

Being creative is one of the things that Whorf says he loves about being a chef, which is why he doesn’t play favorites with styles of cooking or types of food.

"I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. I have a lot of fun learning new things," Whorf said.

"I learn a lot from friends in the business, the Internet and of course there’s tons of media that sparks something. You take an idea, run with it, play around, and come up with a final menu, recipe, or dish.

"It’s no fun just sticking to one thing. There’s so much new stuff, I wouldn’t dare get close to picking a single favorite or even a few favorites."

Although his position as executive chef requires Whorf to take a seat behind his desk to complete paperwork, he says his favorite place to be is sweating over a cook-top.

"My (chef’s) jacket has a lot of stains. I like to do the cooking," Whorf said with a laugh.

"I like to be a part of the show."

Another thing on his list of likes is sharing.

"I share the knowledge that I’ve been given throughout the years with the people that want to learn. By giving your knowledge away, you build a team that can really become invincible to challenges," Whorf said.

He draws inspiration from his childhood dining experiences to create an approachable menu at the resort.

"I come from a big family. We all sat down together for dinner. When we had family get-togethers with the relatives, it was about the food, but it was also about the relationships," Whorf said.

"If we go out to dinner, we’re having fun. I hate to be so stuck-up. If you order a filet mignon and want to put ketchup all over it, go right ahead. It’s your steak. Do what makes you happy. I’m not going to try and force you to eat something I think you should like.

"I want to know what you like and then I’ll make it and hope that I get it right. That’s how I operate — it’s the spirit of the business, but a lot of times it gets lost in ego. I don’t like that.

"I don’t like that at all."