30 Dec 2023 Food for the Soul
By Vivian Lawson Hogue
In my earlier inquisitive years, I would sit on a stool and watch my mother use a “pinch” of salt, a “dollop” or “knob” of butter, or a “blub” of 4 tablespoons. When she made her famous peanut butter fudge, she spoon-slapped the mixture around the bowl, making a distinctive sound that delighted the brothers. They started a rhyme that imitated the sound and came up with “icky-blicky-blocky-wop.” Just say it—you’ll hear it!
I was recently privileged to visit with Chef Ron Griffin, who understands those vintage cooking measurements. Griffin is the executive chef at Renewal Ranch, located near Conway in Houston (Perry County). His career experience is astounding, and his cooking methods are much like my mother used. He routinely uses smidgens and blubs. “At age 15, I served a brief stint at Burger King. It taught me that what I wanted was creativity,” he said. “I’m one of those chefs that is ‘freestyle.’ I know what 2 tablespoons looks like. I can smell when something is right.” He doesn’t need a dishwasher-safe glass cup red-marked with every measurement known to man.
Griffin was born in Chicago in the small community of Downers Grove. In time, he, his younger siblings and mother moved to Arkansas to live with his maternal grandfather. “My mother attended nursing school and waited tables at Shoney’s Big Boy,” he said. “As the oldest, I was responsible for preparing food for the three of us after school. Mother would also let my cousin and me ‘cook,’ and we probably made some terrible things.
“We were poor, but mother cooked some wonderful soups and can cook chicken a thousand ways.
She often said, ‘We may not have had material things, but we always had food.’ In fact, the grocery had special offers where chickens were 5 cents a pound with a limit of three per person. Mother would take us three kids plus four cousins, and we got lots of chickens,” he said.
The chef graduated from Little Rock’s Parkview High School and attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He then became serious about working when he contemplated marriage. Starting a family meant finding real work. He was invited to work at Macaroni Grill in Baton Rouge, La., and it was there that he became an executive chef. With 30 years in the food service industry, his qualifications include expertise in Italian, French, Cajun, Asian, Mexican and Southern-style cooking.
In 2020, Griffin began working at Renewal Ranch, a thriving and rewarding faith-based and Christ-centered program for men age 21 and older who fight substance abuse. The one-year program spends six months each in Phases I and II. Residents are given the means and privilege to form a close relationship with the forgiving Jesus Christ. When asked what keeps him going, he keeps two favorite scriptures at hand. The first is I Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Other times, he summons up Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
Griffin knows these are true because he is actually a graduate of Renewal Ranch. With alcohol being so available in kitchens over the years, he finally found, as do many chefs, that he was dependent on it. Once a high-functioning chef, he was at his lowest point. With God, friends, family, pastors and miraculous circumstances, he recovered at Renewal Ranch. Upon enrolling, he was told that God and the ranch would change his life. He answered with a doubtful, “Yeah, sure.” However, now he says, “But it is amazing what God has done for me and, in turn, for others. God doesn’t just throw us away. He changes our lives.”
During his career, he fed 1,200 participants in Race for the Cure; trained international culinary interns; served Thanksgiving dinners for Friends and Family of Arkansas Children’s Hospital; provided monthly lunch buffets for underprivileged children; and provided a Chef’s Dinner Donation for the American Heart Association. He supports local ministries with food donations, chef-driven events or fundraisers, including Harbor Home for Women, Bethlehem House, Renewal Ranch, Central Baptist Church, Conway Ministry Center and Soul Food Café Mission.
Griffin attributes his successes to God’s retrieving him from his deep pit, both to save him and so He would receive the glory. His sons, ages 23, 24 and 27, observe their father’s spiritual reliance, work ethic and self-sufficiency. What better legacy could benefit all our children? Especially now.