The smells and sounds of a five-star meal underway permeate the room as Rick Neal prepares the first dish for the first course in his newly established culinary workshop. Neal spent years behind the scenes as an executive chef, gaining titles as 2017 Texas Chef of the Year and World Master Chef’s Society member. Now, Neal is branching out to share his knowledge, skills and love of food through a unique outlet in the heart of Tyler.
Opening shop in the Bergfeld Center, R&D Culinary is the brainchild of Neal and his wife, Denise. It is their second business venture, after becoming owners of Village Bakery in 2020. The bakery is a Tyler fixture, holding its trademark for the past 73 years.
Returning from Dallas, Texas, Neal is planning to offer a number of nationally and locally produced wares and services including U.S. made, hand-forged chefs’ knives; locally sourced spices and ingredients; and cooking courses led by professionals. Neal’s vision is not in the contents on the shelves, though. It is the experience people have when they enter.
“I want my visitors to step into a different world. The retail part is my toy box, it’s things that I enjoy and that I want to share with others,” Neal said. “My main focus is in the cooking classes, the fun and the journey that we can all take together.”
The courses involve themes such as “Couples’ Night”, “Around the World with Chef” — with 13 “stops” along the tour and “Chef’s Surprise Night’. Alongside culinary education, Neal hopes to support other chefs and locally owned businesses through his endeavor.
Amina Petty is a Tyler resident and line cook at Longhorn Steakhouse. With little experience in the kitchen besides her workplace, she was intrigued by the opportunity to learn new recipes and from a nationally known chef. One of R&D’s first class attendees, she reported a positive experience. “Chef’s class was very welcoming and open. Personally, I grew up not spending a lot of time in the kitchen, and his class made me feel more prepared to start on my own.”
“He was very personable and relaxed which made a huge difference in learning.”
“We’re working really hard to source U.S.A. products as much as we can. We’ve partnered up with several local and nationally based chef-owned companies already that offer high quality goods.” Neal said. “It’s important to us that we can support local businesses.”
Hailing from Yorba Linda, Arizona, and moving to Tyler when he was 16, Neal pictured his future with a different set of tools in his hands. He imagined working with wrenches and engines or stencils and ink guns. When his parents were less-than-ecstatic, he pivoted to the culinary arts.
“I was 19, and I wanted to be a Harley Davidson mechanic and build bikes. Mom didn’t think that was a good idea,” Neal said. “Then, I wanted to be a tattoo artist, and Dad didn’t think that was a good idea. So cooking is what I picked up and where my career has revolved around.”
Neal’s classes delve into a number of topics and lessons, skills and dishes. Neal makes a point to build a foundation of cooking with his students. The classes at R&D dive into the science, math and origins behind each dish, laying the groundwork to explore new skills and ideas.
R&D course attendees can leave with a dish sample and hopefully the confidence to go home and try some new dishes and techniques.
Much of Neal’s expertise comes from his training at Aims Culinary Academy of Dallas and thereafter working in restaurants. Neal began as a line cook and made his way through the ranks as executive chef.
Neal hopes R&D Culinary will bring people together around a shared love of food through instruction, practice and delicious flavors.
“We look forward to helping others branch out of their comfort zones in the kitchen and to be able to create new dialogue and ideas with the community.” Neal said.
Kathryn Henderson is a Jacksonville, Texas, native and a Tyler resident of 21 years. She graduated from Whitehouse High School where she developed her passion for news writing and storytelling. Her interests include art, music and political activism.
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