A Chef's Chef
There is no question that the Omaha restaurant scene has exploded over the last decade and one chef who's witnessed it all has been Glenn Wheeler.
."When I first got to town, more than 20 years ago, most of the restaurants were family-owned places, like Caniglia's, that had very traditional menus," says Wheeler. "It's been a pleasure to see the focus shift to more chef-driven cuisine."
A native of Michigan City, Indiana, Wheeler attended the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago and cooked in New Orleans, New York, LA, Minneapolis and Miami before arriving in Omaha in 1994. His first Omaha kitchen was the well-remembered Maxine's. Later, he became the opening chef for both Prime, Nebraska's first prime steakhouse, and Passport, which featured cuisines of the world. He then went on to open Bomba Dia, followed by Wheeler's in Dundee, and the Liberty Tavern at the downtown Hilton, where he cooked for presidents and other bold-faced names.
Since 2010, Wheeler has been the executive chef at Spencer's for Steaks and Chops, which he says has a much more diverse menu than people might suspect from its meaty name. Indeed, in addition to the white tablecloth classics of high-end steakhouses, the dinner menu at Spencer's features items such as Cajun-spiced Colorado ruby trout, Moroccan-spiced Faroe salmon and Korean barbecue lamb ribs, that reflect Wheeler's eclectic culinary roots. Will we see any of the Caribbean-inspired items he's cooking for this week's Dandelion on the Spencer's menu in the near future? "Maybe on the bar menu," he says.
As president of the Omaha Restaurant Association, and a 2015 Omaha Restaurant Hall of Fame inductee, Wheeler is a great supporter of Omaha's rising-star chefs, calling out Ben Maides at Au Courant, Tim Nicholson at The Boiler Room and Jake Newton at V. Mertz as three chefs who are really raising the bar. He also enjoys mentoring younger chefs. "A lot of the chefs who have cooked for me over the years have become executive chefs and owners of their own restaurants," he says. "I'm really proud of that."