Chef Tom Atkinson found a love for food in elementary school cooking breakfast for his brothers to help his working single mother.
“I like to eat and enjoy making people happy,” Atkinson said.
At 15 years old, the South Dakota native chased his passion beyond his home kitchen with his first job as an Applebee’s dishwasher. For three years, he worked his way up as a line cook before taking his skills to other restaurants.
When he was 22, Atkinson decided to pursue a formal education at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon. In the northwest, he trained under award-winning chefs, learned about the farm to table movement and worked predominantly in fine dining restaurants.
Then, in 2009, a high school friend, Josh Neises, asked Atkinson to come on as a sous chef at the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards, the flagship restaurant of chef/owner Tim Love’s culinary empire.
“I had never been to Texas before so I decided to come down,” Atkinson said. “I met my wife here so now I’m kind of stuck.”
Three years later, he took over Neises’ role as chef de cuisine and became the Lonesome Dove’s lead in the kitchen.
Now, the 36-year-old is serving up Love’s fine dining menu that reflects Texas’s roots and the metroplex’s diverse culture, with everything from Spanish influences to Asian ingredients.
“We are a notch above other restaurants, especially in the stockyards,” Atkinson said. “If you want the true Texas experience, I would say come here.”
Atkinson and his sous chefs have freedom to experiment in the kitchen and frequently collaborate to pitch new ideas for the menu, finding a role model in Love and his passion for exploring new ventures, as demonstrated in his issue one interview now available on hookandbarrel.com.
“I love to work with people who are passionate about what they do or people that just love food in general,” Atkinson said.
Calling on over 20 years of experience, Atkinson tries to lead by example in the controlled chaos of the kitchen and stresses the importance of continually learning on the job.
“If I’m not willing to do it or I can’t do it, then I better well learn how to do it,” Atkinson said. “I’ve been in this for a while, but every day I learn something new.”
Working in a restaurant, even one owned by a celebrity chef like Love, requires hard work and many hours in the kitchen. Holding onto his drive to serve good people great food, Atkinson promotes positivity among the team he calls an “extended family” for the sake of their diners.
“We like to make the guests happy. That’s what it’s all about really, just making things come together,” Atkinson said.
Drawing upon the love of food instilled in him all the way back in his mother’s South Dakota kitchen, Atkinson pours his passion for making people happy into each Texas-inspired dish served at the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro.