Cooking up a Challenge

In back, behind the Rio Grande Grill on Van Buren Avenue in Harlingen, there’s a small garden.

She first came up with the idea after seeing an Argentinean chef on television cooking food over fire in the mountains.

“I thought, ‘oh my God, this makes so much sense,’” Stefania says. “I want to do that and love that. We already cook with wood every day. Now I am just doing it in front of people more in the grill style rather than the smoking, which takes hours.”

The one aspect Stefania enjoys the most – interacting with her diners.

Stefania Trimboli-Wright on why she loves what she does

It is an honor to be part of people’s greatest memories. Anniversaries, weddings, when someone dies, when they are born, birthdays – every big moment in life revolves around food. Food is at all of those memories. For me to be part of that in people’s lives, there’s nothing more heartwarming.”

“I get to talk about what I am making what I am making and why,” she says. “I tell them about the details and how it inspired me.”

People have the opportunity to see Stefania in a different, more passionate knowledgeable way that doesn’t always show when she’s in the kitchen at the Rio Grande Grill on a Saturday night.

“I am very honest in my cooking and when I talk to the people,” she says. “It moves me and I let myself feel moved.”

It also gives her the opportunity to remember her travels and other cultures she’s been able to experience over the years.

“I want people to think they are in Sicily,” she says. “I want to bring Sicily here. I have traveled a lot and I want to bring what I have seen to this culture. I miss the air and the smell and the people and the environment and food of Italy. So, what can I do, but bring it here.”

She’s also traveled to Southeast Asia, Thailand, Mexico, Sweden and Norway among others. She has siblings all around the world and this is her way to celebrate them so far away.

“I want to incorporate this stuff into these dinners,” she says. “Each has a theme and I want to keep that. I want to bring those elements inspired by my own siblings.”

The best thing for Stefania, she believes each one is getting better.

“I know my next one, I will be more on it,” she says. “That is what is exciting. You feel yourself growing and getting better each time.”

A step toward perfection?

Tips from Chef Stefania to make your dishes taste better

• Don’t forget the salt – It is imperative to add salt to each ingredient added. Chef Stefania says it brings out the natural flavors and is absolutely necessary. Throughout the cooking process, keep it seasoned.

• Layers make the difference – Instead of tossing several fresh ingredients at once in, instead, put one in and let it get color and change. Then, add another ingredient.

• Textures count – Chef Stefania, like others, bases a lot of their cooking on textures as much as taste. “You have the acidic, fat, sweet, salty, soft and crunchy. Make sure you get everything in there. You have to have a lot of stuff happening. That is what makes good food.”

• Dry herbs vs. fresh herbs – For Chef Stefania, fresh herbs are always the way to go, but there are uses for dry herbs. Just make sure you use dry herbs at the beginning of the cooking process and fresh herbs at the end to make your dish delicious.

• If it feels like your dish is missing something – You may just need a little acid. Chef Stefania suggests a little lime, lemon juice or a douse of vinegar. She says it is imperative for a good dish to have a mixture of fat, vine-gar and acid.

Recent recognition

Did you know the Rio Grande Grill owned by Stefania Trimboli-Wright and her husband Daniel Wright have had their share of recent awards and honors?

Here are some of their successes:

In Texas Monthly, the Rio Grande Grill was mentioned five different times in 2015

• Top 25 new and improved BBQ in Texas

• Top smoked birds

• Top places that use mesquite wood

• 120 Tacos to eat before you die

• Top 10 bites of 2015 for their smoky fried chicken skin with hot sauce


People’s Choice at the Gladys Porter Zoo

Taste of Harlingen winner October 2016

How to achieve your dream

Rio Grande Grill owner and chef Stefania Trimboli-Wright has paid her dues.

While it involves hard, determined work, she believes all young people with the dream to be successful in their career, whatever it may be, must start from the bottom.

“A young woman should start working as soon as she can,” Stefania urges. “Get work experiences I the field she wants to be in. Start at the bottom and learn. Learn how to wash dishes well and put them away and be a good steward.”

While doing that, watch everything happening around.

“Be observant of what everyone else is doing in the positions you will one day want to be,” Stefania says. “Really learn all of that, so when you get to that point, you can do everything and you can be a good leader.”

She adds that just because someone is thrust into a leadership role, it doesn’t guarantee success.

“You need to know what you’re doing,” Stefania says.