Monday, January 17, 2022
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On Location: Topgolf chef trained in the land of make believe

🕐 4 min read

You could say life is really cooking for Leon Gomez, the executive chef at Topgolf Fort Worth.

Gomez has been with the company nearly six years. Before that, however, the 39-year-old from El Paso made a reputation for himself as a celebrity chef.

Or maybe that is a chef for celebrities?

It all started right after he graduated from culinary school and went to New York to help out on a catering gig.

“Little to my knowledge it was on a movie set on location,” he recalled. “The movie was American Gangster (starring Denzel Washington).

“We had a food truck for a kitchen, box truck for dry storage, a van carrying our product for the day, and five of us to pull off breakfast and lunch for 350 people. Since I was the new guy, I had to set up outside because I was on the omelet station. Let’s just say that these people could put down some food.”

While he admits he got off to a challenging start in the New York winter, there was something about his newfound gig that appealed to Gomez – so he stuck with it.

“On the last day the chef came to me and asked me how much I loved Texas? I told him that’s my home and where I grew up, so a lot,” Gomez said. “He said, ‘Well, say goodbye because you’re moving to New York.'”

After his work on American Gangster came to an end, he moved to working on a TV show named Fringe.

“This one was pretty cool because most of their work was done onstage. I got to hone my skills working in a mobile kitchen,” he said. “I got really good at menu planning and shopping. We were a three-man team, so everyone had to pull their weight.

“By the end of that season I was really good at being second in command, but I wanted more. So, they gave me a chance and sent me on a road trip.”

He became the head chef for the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, which was shot on location in Connecticut.

“Talk about a fish out of water, myself and three others went on an adventure following this production from small town to small town,” he said. “I got really good at using Google maps and could sniff out a grocery or farmer’s market like a bloodhound.”

Then came a return to New York City for the movie I Am Legend with Will Smith.

“It was everything I expected and then some. I’m talking about people yelling at you, almost being hit by cars, traffic and all-around chaos,” Gomez said.

Gomez was the chef running the B unit crew, which films all the non-key actor scenes.

“One of the hardest parts of this was the times we were on set. Since it was in the city we literally had to wait until it went to sleep,” he said. “Lots of overnights and weekend work. At one point we had to feed 1,500 people underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, plus another 500 people on the Brooklyn side of the bridge.”

He stayed in New York for a while, with his next project being The Taking of Pelham 123, again working with Washington, and John Travolta.

“A lot of the work was done down in the subway system, so I got really good at taking the train to location every day,” Gomez said.

Gomez became quite familiar with New York, as his ensuing work included the popular TV sitcom 30 Rock. He was the chef for two seasons.

“Boy did we have fun,” he said. “We would do a live-action station and themed lunches every Friday. Tina Fey’s favorite was Fiesta Friday.”

Eventually, though, Gomez said, it was time to go home. He’d established himself, getting in good with producers, but he and his family missed Texas.

His farewell to the movie/TV business, though, was another memorable experience.

“I closed out my career with Brooklyn’s Finest with Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke. We filmed a majority of it in the most dangerous part of Brooklyn, Marcy Projects,” he said. “By then I was a well-versed city boy and not that country boy from Texas.

“In the end I would do it all over again if I could. It was one of the best parts of my life, and I learned so much about who I am as a person and what I can do as chef.”

He said he feels fortunate to have found a new home with Topgolf.

“I loved that it was a chef-driven menu,” he said. “I must say that my family has really enjoyed Fort Worth. It was a great move for us.”

His most popular dish, he said, is nachos.

His personal favorite is the Sunrise Burger.

And while he loves being home and what he does, he admits that, having been in the entertainment world, it will always be a part of him.

“It is something I would love to do again but probably from an owner side,” he said. “There isn’t much location work here in Texas. My wife and I would love to open a catering business one day and specialize on-location catering,” Gomez said.

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