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Iron & Pine is a new restaurant now open at Tired Creek Golf Course in Cairo, and the chef owner is likely familiar to many here. Tom Ridley, 35, was raised here and has worked at Cairo restaurants for the last six years. Much of his culinary training, though, was found hundreds of miles away, in Arizona.
After attending Cairo High School and Bainbridge College, Ridley says he decided to make a change. “I had family in Arizona I’d never met, so I got a Greyhound ticket and went,” he says.
In 2009, Ridley enrolled in culinary arts’ courses at Cochise College in Sierra Vista, Arizona. While there, he says he studied under the direction of chef Michael Wray of “Hell’s Kitchen” reality show fame for about six months, and then with Wray’s brother, Zeke, at his restaurant, Sophia’s. Ridley says he then helped chef Greg LaPrad open Overland Trout in Sonoita, Arizona. After about six months with LaPrad, Ridley says he opened his own convenience store and catering business in Sonoita in 2012. A year later, he returned to his hometown where he’s worked off and on at Cairo City Grill and as a private chef.
Although Ridley has worked with some chefs of renown, his first exposure to cooking was closer to home. “I grew up in my grandmother’s kitchen (the late Beatrice Ridley of Cairo), and from the time I was able to hold a spoon, I was working toward this . . . I always wanted my own restaurant,” he says.
Ridley says having a restaurant at Tired Creek Golf Course, formerly known as Cairo Country Club, gives him a built-in advantage. “There are the most beautiful views here,” he says. “The community has been asking for a restaurant to be put back out here. I believe it will be a focal point for the community in a very short amount of time.” Ridley estimates that it has been about five years since the golf course had a restaurant. In recent months, the entire facility has had a facelift, and the kitchen has undergone extensive modifications, he says.
The chef says he’s passionate about what he does and is eager to help mentor his six employees. “The staff is young and enthusiastic about what they’re doing. Since I had to leave Cairo to learn, I, typically, try to give people an opportunity to learn. I try to pass on those experiences that I gained to other individuals,” he says.
To begin with, Iron & Pine will be open in the clubhouse’s main dining room for lunch only, Tuesdays through Fridays, and Sundays, 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Food will be served buffet-style with food choices Ridley describes as Southern classic with occasional international items. Ridley says he will always include a chicken, beef and pork option, plus vegetables, starches, soups and salad. Dessert selections will likely include peach cobbler, Arnold Palmer cake or cappuccino cake.
Meals are $12 per person except for first responders and utility linemen who are able to eat for $5 each.
Ridley says his specialties are a black tea brined fried chicken, a Korean BBQ and his peach cobbler, which he describes as deconstructed and lighter than traditional cobblers.
The restaurant will offer dinner menu service in the spring, Ridley says, and will open for reservations only. Ridley is dedicating the entire project to his brother, David Anthony “Woody” Ridley, who died in 2005.