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People drive hundreds of miles to Lexington, Texas, and often wait over an hour to taste Tootsie Tomanetz’s barbecue, known by many Texans as the best pitmaster in the state ... even in the country.
The famous chef lifts shovels burning coals, stirs huge pots of sauces and works over blazing hot grills, occasionally stopping to snap photos with fans.
Oh, and she's 83 years old.
While Tomanetz has been serving up delicious barbecue for over half a century now, she actually fell into the role by accident.
Fifty years ago, she was helping out at her husband’s butcher counter and filled in for the market chef when he failed to come in one day.
“They said ‘Come back tomorrow,’ ‘Come back next week,” she recalled to NBC's Steve Patterson. So she did, and ended up working there for 10 years.
Now her barbecue, which she makes every Saturday at Snow’s BBQ, has been voted the best in Texas by Texas Monthly magazine. Kerry Bexley, the owner of the restaurant said he wouldn’t have even opened the place if she wouldn’t have agreed to work there, knowing how great of a cook she is.
So, what’s the spunky chef's secret? “Salt and pepper, tender loving care,” she said.
Either she’s holding out on us or she’s just blessed with a unique talent!
“There’s no secret recipe,” she said. “I just don’t have a recipe.”
In fact, she’s never even cooked with gauges. “I just always felt of it,” she explained, describing her way of knowing if the pit is hot enough.
While cooking barbecue might be easy for her, some things in life haven’t always been. Three years ago, her husband, White, died after suffering a stroke, and a few months later she lost her son, Hershey, to brain cancer.
She returned to her job shortly after, and continued to devote herself to her cooking career.
Besides the 2017 “Texas Monthly” nod, she was also a semi-finalist this year for a prestigious James Beard award that recognizes excellence in cuisine. And just last month, she was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame!
But all of that recognition is just icing on the cake, er, sauce on the barbecue. “I just cook barbecue because I enjoy it,” she said. “I don’t cook it to gain all this fame. I enjoy working. I’m happy to make people happy.”