Chef Erwin Turalba bringing people together through culinary creations
By Joy Donovan
Photography by Mike Lewis
Diversity is part of Chef Erwin Turalba’s recipe for life. From seasons to ethnicities, cultures, and business practices, Chef Erwin, as he’s affectionately known, believes there’s one thing people have in common: food.
Bringing people together through culinary creations has been Turalba’s life’s work. As executive chef at The Bowden, an event venue in Keller, he practices his profession for the public.
“Coming from a different country and making friends along the way, I’ve learned different cultures,” he said. “I think what brings everybody together is eating together. Food is something that crosses everybody’s path.”
Born in the Philippines, reared in San Diego, educated in Seattle and now working in Texas has given him insight into diverse cultures, working environments, and foods. He’s been hooked on the culinary world since starting as a restaurant dishwasher at 15.
“That’s where I started my culinary adventure,” he said, grinning while sitting under the sparkling chandeliers of The Bowden’s ballroom. “I liked the rush, the camaraderie, the feel of being a team.”
Straight out of high school, he signed on for formal training, studying pastry and baking at Seattle Culinary Academy. He recognized that the sweet side of a kitchen was only a portion of the arsenal he needed for the world he wanted. So, when his kitchen talent was recognized with a scholarship, he earned his culinary degree at the same Seattle academy under the tutelage of a French chef.
“I wanted to be diverse and able to have the ability to do both savory and sweet,” he said.
His career has included working with the W Hotel, the Renaissance Hotel chain, private clubs and catering in locales from Seattle to Reno to Tarrant County. He has remodeled kitchens, ordered food, planned menus and overseen events. His repertoire ranges from a specialty salmon bake known to the Pacific Northwest to international cuisine, specialty desserts, homemade bread and egg rolls.
In 2006, he landed at The Vaquero Club in Westlake. As executive chef, he enjoyed tailoring the menu to seasons and the members’ tastes, and he liked the people.
“I was very active in the dining room because it was an open kitchen,” he said. “I always wanted to meet with the members to see how their families were doing. They were more like family than members.”
The stint there led him to building another important relationship — one with work partner David Underwood, including Colleyville’s Piazza in the Village. The two work together at The Bowden, where Underwood serves as director of operations. “We are a package deal,” Turalba said, joking.
Each spring, the chef gets the opportunity to display that talent and highlight his diverse concepts when he creates the menu for the Greater Keller Women’s Club’s annual Garden of Roses spring fundraiser.
Last year, he collaborated with the fundraiser’s co-chairs on French fare, resulting in salade nicoise, chicken Francaise and a chocolate poached pear. The teamwork with the club will continue this spring for the 2024 event, set for March 23 with a New York theme of “Fashion on Fifth.”
Turalba always diversifies his menus throughout the year, varying by season. He tends toward pot pies and soups in the winter and asparagus and berries in the spring. No cookie-cutter menus for him. He tailors meals to the weather and availability and seasonality of the ingredients.
Since he was trained in classical French methods and began his career as a pastry chef, crème brulee remains one of his favorite desserts. Just like he had never heard of “Taco Tuesday” before he moved to Texas, he had never tasted what is literally “burnt cream” until his French instructor introduced him to it.
Included is a simplified, home-friendly recipe, which Turalba has reworked in a much less complicated way than how he was taught in culinary school. Forget “tempering the eggs” or “scalding the milk,” as his French instructor directed. This one is a simpler version for spring that lessens the margin for error.
“It’s still burnt cream, and I just fell in love with it,” Turalba said. “This is the easy way.”
Vanilla Crème Brûlée with Fresh Mixed Berries
To give this recipe a spring flair, Erwin Turalba suggests adding spring berries; for colder months, he recommends working in a liqueur such as Kahlua or Grand Marnier. Yields 5 to 6 servings in 6-ounce ramekins.
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
3.75 oz. sugar (Just under ½ cup)
24 oz. heavy cream
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 oz. Grand Marnier (optional, may substitute any liqueur of your choice)
4 oz. turbinado (topping to caramelize)
6 oz. fresh mixed berries (for garnish)
Preheat an oven to 250-275 degrees.
Blend together the first six ingredients and strain the mixture. Leave mixture for 1 hour at room temperature. Air bubbles will rise to the top of the mixture.
Arrange the ramekins in a pan at the same depth as the ramekins.
Divide the mixture evenly into the ramekins.
Torch the top lightly to pop any air bubbles.
Pour hot water into the pan to come up to the same depth as the mixture to create a water bath.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the custard is set in the middle. It should still be jiggly in the center.
Pull the crème brûlée from the water and allow to cool in the fridge for at least six hours or overnight to set.
When ready to serve, sprinkle turbinado in a thin layer on top and torch evenly until golden brown. Garnish with fresh mixed berries.