Winston Shelton: The Colonel's Corporal [Food & Dining]

Print
Winston Shelton: The Colonel's Corporal
Ever in pursuit of food-preparation efficiency, in 1980 Shelton created a cabinet for holding cooked food at optimum texture and temperature so restaurant drive-thrus could deliver meals faster. Dubbed CVap (due to its use of Shelton’s patented Controlled Vapor technology), the cabinet not only held food perfectly for extended periods, but chefs and engineers at Winston Industries soon realized it was exceptional for cooking foods very slowly, safely and at temperatures so low that shrinkage was drastically reduced.
 
Internationally recognized fine-dining chefs such as Charlie Trotter (Chicago’s Charlie Trotter’s), Wylie Dufresne (Manhattan’s wd-50) and Norman Van Aken (Orlando’s Norman’s) saw CVap’s ability to cook any cut of meat, poultry and seafood to unusual degrees of tenderness and scooped up the machine for their operations. Even the 2012 James Beard Award-winning Modernist Cuisine — a $500 five-volume set of glamour-tech cookbooks published in 2011 — recognize CVap’s virtues. Louisville chefs Kathy Cary (Lilly’s: A Kentucky Bistro), Edward Lee (610 Magnolia) and Dean Corbett (Equus/Jack’s Lounge and Corbett’s: An American Place) are CVap users. 
 
“Not only does CVap work like nothing I’ve ever used, but Winston is just a fascinating guy,” says Corbett, who cooks his beef brisket for 24 hours in a CVap. “He’s this genius who mixes science and food, but not in some freaky way. He makes the best of both, and he’s very passionate about it.”
And perfectionistic as well, say friends and colleagues. Save for the casters mounted to the legs of every Winston cooking unit, every part is manufactured in-house at the Bluegrass Industrial Park plant. “The technology is unique to us, and we like it that way. When we build it, it meets our standards,” Shelton says.
 
Barry Yates, Winston Industries’ director of innovation and a 20-year employee, recalls a time when Shelton refused to fill a profitable order for Collectramatic fryers destined for Japan because buyers there insisted he modify it for their peculiarities, and at his cost. “Mostly he didn’t do it over the principle that such a fundamental change shouldn’t be done to his equipment,” Yates recalls. “By doing that he lost the whole Japanese (KFC) market, which was just about to take off, but it was his decision.” Japan’s KFCs would use other manufacturers’ fryers.
 
Shelton’s latest compulsion is the CVap Protein Pasteurizer, a recently completed machine he believes can slash the number of food-service-caused foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. In most cases, he says, food safety is a manageable issue, but where human disciplines fail, “I have created a device that can solve the problem with precision. Every year in this country, 300,000 cases of foodborne illness are reported, and some of those people die. That’s unacceptable to me. I may not be here much longer to help solve that problem, but this is a good start.”
 
Such statements about her father’s mortality make Valerie Shelton chuckle since her grandparents, aunts and uncles also lived long, vital lives. She says good genes, combined with her father’s drive to continue creating and working, play equal roles in his extended longevity. “None of them ever rested on their laurels; they were hardy, healthy outdoor people, like him,” she says. “My biggest fear is I’m going to retire before he does.”
 
Photo: courtesy of Nicholas Karem
About Steve Coomes
I'm a freelance food and restaurant writer, a native Louisvillian, married and a father of one son. I'm a restaurant veteran who figured out it's better to write about the business than work in it. I'm an avid reader and love to entertain friends at home.
More articles from Steve Coomes