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For some, cooking is a hobby, for others it's a job, but for Leo Daniel Pompa, the new executive chef at the Uptown Bar and Grill, it's a passion.

For some, cooking is a hobby, for others it’s a job, but for Leo Daniel Pompa, the new executive chef at the Uptown Bar & Grill, it’s a passion.

The restaurant opens this month in Brownsville, featuring a diverse menu designed by its 23-year-old chef, a graduate of Porter High School and the Texas Culinary Academy’s Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts program.

Even before the North Side restaurant serves its first dish, Pompa and co-owner Joe Aguilar have settled on its philosophy: to make good service and great food their signature products.

“I’ve always liked cooking for people. I’ve always had a passion for it,” said Pompa, who began his career flipping burgers as a high school student and cooking for his family.

“I never thought I’d do it seriously until I started working with professional chefs and I couldn’t believe what they could do.”

Determined to rank among the top chefs he admired, Pompa auditioned and was accepted to the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin that teaches a blend of classic French cooking techniques and innovative American technology, according to its Web site, tca.edu.

TCA students are taught “basic cooking to pastries,” as well as the business of a restaurateur.

What they couldn’t teach Pompa was how to tell his parents, Leo and Nora Pompa, that he wanted to be a chef.

“They thought I was joking with them at first,” he said.

Once they understood the benefits of a culinary education, “then they were excited because they said they didn’t have to cook any more.”

After graduating from the academy, Pompa worked for Hoolihan’s in Austin. When the restaurant closed last year, he found work at another Austin eatery but never made it to his first day of work.

Aguilar called with plans to open the Uptown Bar & Grill and, “I said I’d be right there with him,” said Pompa, who used to work for Aguilar’s Texas Branding Iron.

Aguilar convinced his partners that the young chef could be trusted to guide their new venture for it’s expected opening at the former Dolce restaurant location.

“I told them I’ve known Pompa for seven or eight years and I know he can do it,” Aguilar said. “My partners are real excited about his enthusiasm.”

In the days leading up to the grand opening, tentatively set for June 30, Pompa is putting in long days, helping to prepare the kitchen, dining room, bar and staff for the high standards he and the project’s investors are setting.

“I feel that if we give good customer service from the moment they (customers) walk out of their cars to the moment they leave, we’ll have happy people,” he said.

The menu will offer appetizers, seafood, pasta, gourmet burgers and more — all with a little local flavor. The specialty of the house will be Pompa’s signature steak.

“I like cooking French food, and lately I’ve been cooking Mediterranean food, but my all time favorite is cooking steak,” he said.

It all boils down to this: “I like feeding people,” he said. “I like showing them what good food is.”

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