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The Traveling Hibachi Chef sets up his portable hibachi grill in the backyard with plenty of space around him. He has everything he needs: oil, onions, meats, and eggs in a cooler, rice, and seasonings. The only difference is that usually, he would be in a sleek Japanese restaurant with a crowd gathered to watch his knives flash.
Instead, both chef and showman, he’s in someone’s backyard. A single family is crowded around a patio table. It might be a more casual, personable experience than he’s used to, but it’s no less of a show. In a time when businesses are shutting down and restaurants are struggling to keep afloat, Frisco Chef Ian Stubblefield has created a booming new business by bringing hibachi to the people.
A former military child, Chef Ian says he has been cooking hibachi style for about 10 years now.
“My start in hibachi actually came from needing to pay for my dorm and going to college in Oklahoma,” he says.
A classmate and friend of his was a chef at a local hibachi restaurant and he was able to hook Ian up with a job busing tables and washing tables. It took him about six months to work his way into the kitchen. “They were in need of another chef to train and I was in need of more money,” he says.
The training process was about six months, and he spent the first three in the kitchen, practicing the art before and after his shift. Then, for three months he cooked for select customers, small tables with simple orders.
“It takes a lot of practice. One mistake, and you can easily injure somebody, with either a utensil or the fire,” he explains. “The training I received from the head chef‘s and the other chefs at the restaurant was typical of what you hear about from chefs in any restaurant setting. They were angry, they were mean, it’s just how [chef] culture works. They were no Gordon Ramsay but pretty close.”
When he moved to Texas, Chef Ian bounced around a few places before he was asked to be a part of an opening team of chefs at Shoji Sushi and Hibachi Japanese Restaurant in Frisco. He stayed for four years.
When the pandemic hit, he wasn’t immediately concerned. “The pandemic was a progressive situation. The first week of March we knew that something would happen,” he recalls. “The first half of the second week we were discussing who would be taking less shifts. By the end of the second week we knew that we were only going to have one or two chefs working. But it was only supposed to be for two or four weeks at the most.”
He says that he took it in stride and tried not to worry too much, picking up what part-time work he could. “Our largest concern was making sure that the pandemic would be over in time for me to get back to my full-time job,” he says. “But we know now that things are not gonna go back to normal.”
Chef Ian had been thinking about creating some kind of traveling Hibachi experience for a couple of years. Some of his regulars had asked if such a thing was possible, and he already had a vague sense of how it would be possible, but it had never made sense to break out on his own, rather than stay with a restaurant.
In the last week of April, when he began to get the sense that life would not return to normal soon, he happened to get texts from two of his regular customers a day apart, asking if there was any way for him to come and cook at their houses.
“Their cravings were just reaching critical points, I guess,” he says. “So I took a leap.”
He told them to give him a week.
In the next few days, as word got out, he became booked three weeks out. “At first it was just a few pops of inquiries and requests.” He worked out the kinks in the few couple of weeks and only had to advertise twice, both times on the Frisco Business Moms Facebook page. “I was very busy. The last time that we tried to even advertise was the first week of July. That brought a tidal wave of 200+ emails And 1000+ comments on the post.
“I have not had to advertise since.”
Chef Ian has even gotten requests from people in other parts of the country He has had to turn them down. He hopes that in the future, he can expand the business and hire more chefs to meet the growing demand.
“That is one of my biggest regrets is that I can’t see all of my regulars like I used to,” he says.
To contact the Traveling Hibachi Chef, find him on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.