Was it her mother's Girl Scout cooking lessons than lured her into the kitchen? Or was it a few years later, when she flipped hamburgers by the pool at Highland Meadows Golf Club, that she decided food is a fascinating subject?
Guided and inspired by her mother, the late Betty Timko of Toledo, who was well-known for her signature Betty Salad, Chris Timko-Grate was destined to be in the food business in one way or another. Conversation during a delightful lunch included a few of Ms. Timko-Grate's favorite dishes developed via the mother-daughter cooking connection that began when she was a child and continues now that she is the grandmother of seven.
"I love this business," she said at the Fremont Country Club, where she is manager. "It is different every day. I love people." She is quick to praise the country club staff and her husband, Marion, for his support, despite her many 12-hour working days - and some that are longer.
Toledoans may remember that the late Betty Timko's first big step into the food industry was managing Highland Meadows starting in 1962. Ms. Timko-Grate recalled that her mother's agreement with the club was that her two young daughters, Chris and Deede, could accompany her to work.
"Mom found plenty of work for us to do. I flipped hamburgers by the pool, did dishes and food-prep work, and was cashier when I got into high school. And I watched how hard my mother worked." Her brother Tim Timko, of Swanton, didn't go to the country club because he was old enough to stay home alone.
When Ms. Timko-Grate is asked to recall her fondest childhood memories, she remembers that the family all ate together every night, even though her mother usually worked away from home. "We all talked sitting around the table. I remember that Friday night was pancake night because there wasn't much money. My mother could make several meals from one pound of hamburger and her cookies were marvelous."
After seeing how hard her mother worked, Ms. Timko-Grate decided she wanted a 9-to-5 job. She received a bachelor's degree in education from Ohio State University, but food service work, instead of teaching, eventually captured her interest and ambition. One of her first jobs after college was at the Someplace Else restaurant in Sylvania.
Of the many successes Betty and her husband, George Timko, are remembered for, the Betty Salad is one of their greatest triumphs.
The salad was introduced at Timko's Soup 'N Such
restaurant and gained popularity beginning in 1962 at the Holiday Inn in Perrysburg, where Ms. Timko was food and beverage manager. The dressing for the salad is now sold in local supermarkets. The spinach salad with bean sprouts and hard-cooked eggs is one of several ways Ms. Timko-Grate pays tribute to her mother on the country club menu as she did when she worked at the Crow's Nest at Marblehead, Ohio.
The Grates operated the Crow's Nest, known for hickory-smoked pork ribs and the hallmark salad, for 21 years. After it was sold, Ms. Timko-Grate worked in the marina restaurant nearby before accepting the country club position two years ago. She welcomed the change to management from "standing in front of a grill for hours" at the Crow's Nest, but admits there were challenges. She has had to adjust to arranging banquets and weddings and says proudly that 285 people were served dinner at one wedding.
The other challenge is trying to find time to be home with her husband and for family gatherings with their three sons - Brian, of Fremont; Scott, who lives in Johnstown, Ohio, and Kyle, of Columbus, and their families. They did manage a family Thanksgiving dinner last year. "But I told my three daughters-in-law they had to bring some of the food," she said. Of the three sons, Kyle is the most food-oriented. "He experiments constantly and takes pictures of what he makes on his phone and sends them to me," she said.
She describes the Fremont Country Club menu as basic comfort food with upscale additions. Examples are chicken a la king, which is often a lunch feature, and scalloped ham and potatoes that she promises is the best in the world, for family fare. Pork Leroy, a club favorite, again goes back to her mother and the Toledo restaurants she operated; it is pork cutlets with a cheese breading. Betty Salad may be best-known, and there is also George's Salad in honor of her father, but a spring salad with mandarin oranges and candied walnuts in a homemade dressing is what she ordered for lunch.
The club dining room is open to the public Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for an $11.95 brunch. A carving station is featured, and it is not surprising that "Mom's Sunday Baked Chicken" is just like Betty Timko used to serve the family all those years ago.
There is limited time for hobbies in the food service business, but Ms. Timko-Grate also writes a recipe column for the Fremont Messenger newspaper. When she does take a break it's to read cookbooks, and if dreams and plans work out, one day she will be reading her own cookbook. It's under way with the help of her cousin, Susi Muggy of Toledo. The title "For Mom" shouldn't surprise anyone.
"Mom always wanted to write a cookbook," she said.