Inspired by chuckwagon traditions, cowboy cook Tom Perini has made an art out of preparing simple foods the old-fashioned way. That’s what draws people from around the world to his rural Texas ranch to taste a bit of Western heritage.

Tom Perini loves to meet people and tell stories. You’ll often find him mixing and mingling with customers-regulars and tourists-who make the trek to Perini Ranch Steakhouse, a destination eatery in Buffalo Gap, Texas, population 463.

He recalls the day a group of strangers in suits came in for lunch. After they’d finished their meals, they were looking around the restaurant and pointing. Perini couldn’t help but introduce himself to the visitors.

“How do you get it to look so Texas?”one exclaimed, staring at the mismatched chairs, eclectic, rustic furnishings, weathered railroad-tie walls and salvaged tin ceiling.

“I don’t do anything; it just is,” Tom replied, with the kind of conviction that only a native could muster.

The casual, boots-and-jeans ambiance, simple, home-cooked meals, and consistently high-quality preparation, presentation and service have contributed to the 64-year-old restaurateur’s success. He’s prepared meals for European dignitaries, celebrities and politicians. Gourmet magazine named the steakhouse one of “America’s Great Rural Restaurants.”

With such clout, you’d assume that Perini received his chef’s training at a fine East Coast culinary-arts school. But he actually earned his chef’s hat on the wagon, cooking for some of the most critical customers there are-working ranch cowboys. Today, Perini scrupulously tries to preserve his chuckwagon cooking heritage through his restaurant’s critically acclaimed menu of comfort food with a Texas flair, his coffee-table cookbook titled Texas Cowboy Cooking, and an educational chuckwagon-cooking program he conducts around the United States.

July 2007 issue of Western Horseman.

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