Moab Happenings Archive
Return to home

Alumni Happenings - May 2016
Grand County High School

Brian Rhondelle Pierce- Class of 1991-1993
by Coya Pair

Brian Pierce, graduating class of 1991; and Rhondelle Drake, class of 1993, met in high school during their senior and sophomore year. It wasn’t until the summer of 1997 that the two decided to get married and raise a family.

“Brian and I were married here in Moab. Both of our families live here, and it is such a beautiful place! Our family enjoys all of the outdoor activities that Moab offers,” Rhondelle tells me.

A couple years after graduation, Brian served a Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in SouthEastern Texas for 2 years. When he returned to Moab, he worked some odd jobs before working with UPS, which has been his current job for the past 15 years. Meanwhile, Rhondelle worked as a nanny in New York. She moved back to Moab, and like her husband, she worked several odd jobs before being a pre-school teacher at Rock Tots for 12 years prior to their current family bussiness.

In April of 2014, the Pierce family opened up Moyo (a frozen yogurt shop on Main Street). “We enjoy working together and share the common goal for the business to succeed. We also enjoy seeing and visiting the many locals that come in. We’ve also met great people from around the world,” Rhondelle exclaims.

Brian is the 2nd youngest of 7 siblings. They are all alumni, along with his father, Ron Pierce. Ron moved back to Moab after marrying Brian’s mother, Judy. Rhondelle is the youngest of 3, each of them alumni as well. Rhondelle’s parents, Ron and Pat Drake, moved to Castle Valley in 1978, and both drove the Grand County school bus from Castle Valley to Moab for many years.

Now, Brian and Rhondelle have their own kids enrolled in GCHS. They have a daughter, Alexa, age 17; and a son, Braxton, age 15. “ Having two kids in High School makes it easy to stay involved. It’s fun to watch all the kids you’ve seen grow up with your kids, mature, develop interests, be involved in sports, and succeed!” Says Rhondelle.

However, raising 2 children isn’t the only way this family gets involved with GCHS pride! Brian is the high school’s boys and girls swim team coach, and has been for 4 years. He tells me he loves working with the kids and watching them improve. “I enjoy seeing kids accomplish something that they thought was impossible, and I love to see the smile on their face when they succeed!” Brian exclaims. He then continues to tell me that a few girls broke several state records and won the State Championship this year, along with the boys team placing 4th overall. “The kids swam great. I’m very proud of them!”

The Evolution of a Chef
by Tim Buckingham
Chef Tim Buckingham is a true Moab native, having been born there in 1957. He graduated from Grand County High School in 1976, and worked at the Atlas Minerals uranium mill until its closure in 1984. Then, he moved to Santa Barbara, CA, to pursue his dream of becoming a chef at Santa Barbara Culinary College. Here’s his story:
I first met Julia Child while working at a fish place at the harbor in Santa Barbara called the John Dory, which later became Brophy Brothers. At the time, I worked at various restaurants in order to learn the trade. Having come from the desert, I knew nothing about fresh fish, so I figured this would be the best way to learn.

Julia Child and her husband Paul would sometimes stop by the Dory in the mornings for a Coke and croissant. She would strike up a conversation and tell me all kinds of stories about how she and Paul were both in the Office of Strategic Services (the first version of the CIA) during World War II; and about getting married and moving to France after the war, where she was so inspired by the cuisine that she decided to attend La Cordon Bleu cooking school.

Her stories inspired me to read cookbooks when I wasn’t working at the restaurant or in school. With countless great restaurants, fresh fish, local produce and great wine country, Santa Barbara was a great place to learn.

I was later hired at the San Ysidro Ranch, recognized as of the finest resorts in the world. There, I was fortunate enough to work under three great chefs, each with his own style and technique. Of greatest influence to me was renowned French Chef Marc Ehrler, who had trained under the great chefs Alain Ducasse, Jacques Maximin and others.

Chef Ehrler taught me that to be a chef is to be a teacher. He taught me one of the most important things you can learn in cooking is how to use salt. It sounds simplistic, but salt can either bring a dish to life or kill it.

San Ysidro Ranch had expansive vegetable and herb gardens, which provided me the opportunity to work with the finest ingredients and to learn about some unusual ones that I had never heard of or seen before. Working at San Ysidro also meant that I got to meet and cook for a lot of celebrities. I especially remember meeting Betty Davis when we prepared her 80th birthday dinner.

After being at San Ysidro for three years I was offered an executive chef position at the Wine Cask -- a small bistro located in a wine store. The decision to leave SYR was difficult and I questioned whether or not I was ready to be Executive Chef. I had only been out of culinary school for three years. But I decided this was something I needed to do, so accepted the offer.

The Wine Cask had a very small kitchen consisting of a stove, a small reach-in refrigerator and a fold-down counter to plate the food on. It was challenging, but taught me how to be efficient. Because of the lack of space, I could only keep a small amount of food on hand. This meant I could not order food from the big food purveyors, which in turn forced me to buy fresh food in small amounts.

Fortunately, the Wine Cask was located just a block off State Street, which had a farmers market twice a week. There was also a local butcher shop and a seafood market close by.

This was during the 80’s when “California cuisine” was becoming popular. The term implies “fresh and simple,” taking local ingredients and preparing them in a way that enhances their freshness without masking it. This is equally popular today but is now called “farm-to-table” or “regional cuisine.”

After a couple years at the Wine Cask I developed a solid reputation and received positive reviews. I was proud to be recognized by Wine & Food Companion as one of the “New American Star Chefs,” along with Charlie Palmer, Todd English, Emeril Lagasse and Tom Colicchio, all of whom have gone on to become celebrity chefs.

I believe I could have stayed in California and perhaps taken the same path as the other Star Chefs who were recognized in Wine and Food Companion. But after my former wife became pregnant with our son, I decided that the environment in which I was fortunate enough to have been raised was the better place to raise a family.

So in 1991, I moved back to Moab, with no real prospects for a job. Moab was fed by diners, bars, and rustic steakhouses back then, not the most fertile ground for transplanting California cuisine. If I wanted to be a chef in Moab, I’d need to open my own restaurant, and that led to the idea of the Center Cafe.

I never wanted to own a restaurant, just wanted to be a chef. But I figured I would use my talent and ability to do a small bistro similar to what I did at the Wine Cask. I was sure Moab was ready for some real cuisine, based on what I understood about the diversity of our community. I planned to buy as much local product as possible. I knew that I wouldn’t be able get fresh fish, but I was certain I could get local meat and some produce. I found nothing.

So I created a small chalk board menu which I could change daily in order to use what I could get from the purveyors, working to keep the food fresh and interesting. The first two years were tough and I was beginning to wonder if I had made a bad decision in choosing to move home.

Then in 1993, it happened: The year of the movies. Both Geronimo and City Slickers Two were filmed locally that year. The Center Cafe was full of movie crews and a few notable celebrities almost every night. It felt like I was back in Santa Barbara. After that year, Moab’s tourist industry really started to take off and word caught on that the Center Cafe was the place to eat.

After four years running the Center Cafe I decided it was time to make another move. So when the Sun Downer restaurant came up for sale in 1995, I decided to go for it and buy my own place, pursuing a concept which would appeal to a larger range of customers.

I came up with the idea of doing classic American dishes with a twist, such as the buffalo meatloaf. It was the birth of Buck’s Grill House. Again I had to appeal to the community and again, it was a tough sell. It took another two years to catch on but it finally did.

In 2014 it was time for another change. I’d had the idea of a gourmet burger restaurant floating around in my head for years. Why burgers? I thought it would be a great challenge. To take the most popular American dish and make it inspiring and unique. I would use fresh local ingredients whenever possible, all of the sauces made in house and give it a gourmet twist that you can’t find anywhere else. A burger that is satisfying and you can feel good about eating, unlike a fast food burger. I would produce a “slow” food burger.

The atmosphere of the restaurant would reflect the bygone era of Moab during the uranium boom. The Moab I grew up in. Few people who come to Moab know what it was like back then, with it’s dirt streets and quiet town feel. There were more ore trucks roaring down the road than four wheelers and there was no such thing as a “dirt” bike. Well, that Moab is in the past. Here’s to a new Moab and a new restaurant inspired by the old Moab by an old local chef.
So here I go again!
Return to Archive Index
return to home
Return to home