Preparing the holiday meal is never an easy task. There’s the shopping, the prep time, the cook time, the presentation and then by the time you are ready to eat, the chef is often too tired — or too stressed out — to enjoy the meal.

It doesn’t have to be that way, said three of the county’s award-winning chefs. One need not have years of culinary training to prepare meals that are similar to what you find in top restaurants.

The chefs, who recently took home top corporate Iron Chef awards for Landry’s Restaurants, cooked up some advice.

Brian Robertson, the executive chef at the San Luis Resort in Galveston, first learned his way around a kitchen working part time at an Irish Pub in Humble. He was only 14.

“I was a prep cook,” he said. “I made pizza dough and salads, mostly.”

Whether it’s preparing a meal for guests at the hotel, a banquet for more than 1,000 people or making dinner for himself and friends, “simple” and “fresh” are the key ingredients, Robertson said.

“You can’t fake simple and fresh,” he said.

For him, it can be as simple as picking out a fish and a lemon. A little seasoning of the fish, a reduction of the lemon juice and grill.

Nothing fancy, nothing extravagant.

But what if you want to fix a dish similar to one you’ve had in a fine restaurant?

“If you like something at a restaurant, pick apart the components and try it at home,” he said. “You never will become a good cook without trying and making a few mistakes.”

When preparing the meal, just stay within yourself and, most important, “don’t overcook,” he said.

A few tries and cooking a meal for the holiday guests won’t be a disaster — and you won’t be rushing and stressed because you have had practice.

For Ken Hicks, the best part of the meal isn’t the appetizer, salad, sides or even the main course. It’s all about the desserts.

Hicks, the executive chef at the Aquarium Restaurant at the Kemah Boardwalk, said the best desserts come with one of the most basic ingredients — bananas.

“My passion is desserts,” said Hicks, who started his career as a pastry chef. “I always say, ‘Keep it simple and just add things that enhance the flavors.’”

Hicks not only won for best dessert, but his dish was also recognized as the overall winner by Landry’s judges.

Chef Miguel Moreno, the top chef at Landry’s in Galveston, said it’s during his commute between his house and the restaurant on Seawall Boulevard that he thinks up recipes.

He likes to envision how a dish will look, smell and taste and then, like Robertson, he experiments in the kitchen.

“I will try something and then try it again until I get it to the point I really like,” he said. “Then it is easier. Nothing is really easy. But practice makes you better.”

Moreno has been cooking since 1981 and always made it a point to learn different styles of cooking.

The one thing he has learned is that ingredients need not be a foodie’s secret.

“All of the ingredients I use you can find in any grocery store,” Moreno said.

The secret to making a good meal?

“Always pick something you like,” he said. “If you like fish, make a fish dish. If you like beef, make a beef dish.”

Moreno likes fish, so his award-winning dish at the Iron Chef competition was a Chilean sea bass.

“It’s all about preparing something you like,” he said.

Contact Mainland Editor T.J. Aulds at 409-683-5334 or

Iron chefs

Each year Landry’s Restaurants brings the top chefs from 36 of its concept restaurants from across the country to Galveston to complete in its corporate Iron Chef contest. Chefs prepare meals that must not only taste good but also be at a price point that each dish is profitable.

Three local chefs were top winners.

Ken Hicks, executive chef at the Aquarium, Kemah Boardwalk, won best overall dish and best dessert for his 28th Street Banana Supreme.

Miguel Moreno, executive chef at Landry’s Galveston, won for the best $7 to $10 entree for his Chilean sea bass.

Brian Robertson, executive chef San Luis Resort in Galveston, won honorable mention in the side dish category for his Brussels sprout gratin.

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