Tomas Sanz, 55, longtime chef in Baltimore

April 16, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Tomas Sanz, 55, longtime chef in Baltimore areaTomas Sanz, an executive chef whose culinary renditions of dishes from his native Spain found favor with Baltimore-area restaurant patrons for three decades, died of heart failure Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center. The longtime Lutherville resident was 55.

Mr. Sanz was born in Segovia, Spain, into a family of chefs.

"He traveled to Madrid as a youngster and began working in some of the city's most prestigious restaurants and hotels and later to Marbella and Barcelona, where he learned his trade," said a son, Daniel P. Sanz of Lutherville.

Mr. Sanz's first job was in the kitchen of Madrid's Hotel Plaza, where it was said he was so small that he had to stand on upturned pots in order to stir sauces. He later moved on to the prestigious Hotel Ritz, also in Madrid.

In 1974, he immigrated to Baltimore to work for his older brother, Pedro Sanz, owner of Tio Pepe Restaurante on Franklin Street. After working for three months, he briefly returned to Spain to marry the former Carmen Valero, before returning to Tio Pepe, where he was a cook and later rose to chef.

In 1983, Mr. Sanz and two partners, Jose Sanza, a former Tio waiter, and Bruno Vigo, who had been co-owner of Capriccio's in Little Italy, purchased Thompson's Sea Girt House, the well-known York Road seafood restaurant.

As executive chef, Mr. Sanz kept the restaurant's traditional seafood dishes on the menu that had been enjoyed by customers for a century while subtly adding new ones with a Mediterranean flair.

Some of the new featured dishes he added include garlic shrimp a la Tio Pepe that was bathed in a rich seafood bisque; a Spanish salad with olive oil and vinegar, chopped olives and onions, and raw mushrooms; filet of sole Alcazar with bananas and hollandaise; and a sponge cake with a custard filing and pine nuts.

A personable man, Mr. Sanz enjoyed stepping out of his kitchen and into the dining room, dressed in apron and toque, to mingle and chat with customers.

"But to suggest that Thompson's has turned into a Tio Pepe offshoot disguised to look like a middle-class seafood house doesn't do the new restaurant justice," wrote a Sun restaurant critic. "The Spanish flavor is there, but the Sea Girt House still has one of the most complete Maryland seafood menus in town."

A lack of off-street parking for diners and petty crime in the area were given as reasons for the restaurant's closing in 1993. The next month, Mr. Sanz began working as executive chef at the Golden Arm in York Road Plaza in Rodgers Forge.

"I got to know him when he owned Thompson's. He'd come to the Golden Arm to eat, and I'd go to his restaurant. When his restaurant closed, I hired him," said Bill Grauel, who had purchased the restaurant in 1988 from famed Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas.

When the Giant Food store next door announced expansion plans that would wipe out the York Road restaurant, Mr. Grauel closed it in 1995 and bought Patrick's Restaurant and Pub in Cockeysville, taking along Mr. Sanz as executive chef. "He was an excellent chef and a good friend. And we stayed good friends because I stayed out of his kitchen, and he stayed out of my office. All I had to do was tell him something, and it was done," Mr. Grauel said.

As he had done in previous venues, Mr. Sanz added such Iberian specialties as paella Valencia and Zarzuela Catalana, a seafood flambe with brandy that is topped with a lobster sauce.

A dish named for his wife, Carmen, consisted of veal stuffed with crabmeat and ham.

"And he always had the pine nut rolls which caused you to gain five pounds for just looking at it," recalled Mr. Grauel.

Mr. Sanz was unflappable as he supervised a staff of 25 and prepared from 300 to 600 meals a day. During his lunch break in the bar, he liked watching soccer games. "He was even-keeled and a master at putting out food for large parties. He'd have it ready in no time for the waiters to take it to table," Mr. Grauel said.

Susan Delker, the restaurant's general manager, had earlier worked with Mr. Sanz at the Golden Arm.

"He was very creative and worked very hard developing menus. All good chefs are temperamental, and I'm not saying that he wasn't. However, his staff loved him because he took care of them. If someone suffered a tragedy, he was there to help," Ms. Delker said.

Mr. Sanz enjoyed working in his flower garden.

He was a communicant of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 101 Church Lane, Cockeysville, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. today.

In addition to his wife of 31 years and one son, survivors include another son, Victor G. Sanz of Hoboken, N.J.; two brothers, Angel Sanz of Baltimore and Florentino Sanz of Madrid; two sisters, Julia Sanz and Justina Sanz Diez; and his mother, Catalina Sanz, all of Madrid.

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