Originally hailing from Portsmouth on the south coast of England, Chef Steven Topple’s first dream was to be a pilot. At the age of 16 he began flying lessons only to discover that he had a slight color blindness. Knowing how strict major airlines are, he chose to change directions and lean into another favorite… cooking.

After attending catering college and finding a love of fine dining, he went to work for a popular TV show in London featuring Brian Turner. This led to an opportunity to work at Cameron House on Loch Lomond in Scotland. “My experience there was absolutely incredible,” says Topple, “but as a kid I had always wanted to move to the States.”

He began sending out letters and resumes across the country – from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York. And then one day he got a call from a company in Lake Placid, New York. Aside from the culinary opportunities, Lake Placid made a lasting impression on Topple. “This was where I really fell in love with ski resort towns,” he says. And that love would lead him on a merry journey.

After crisscrossing the U.S., working in South Carolina in a horse community right next to Augusta, then on to San Francisco with Wolfgang Puck, and then on to Seal Island, Georgia at a five-star diamond resort on the coast, Topple eventually landed back in a little ski town in Colorado called Vail. Here he found a home for twelve years at the top of a mountain. He spent six years as the chef at Beano’s Cabin at Beaver Creek, which requires a gondola ride then a snowcat to get to the front door. He would spend another six at the hotel in Game Creek sitting at 13,000 feet elevation.

From there, Topple was recruited by a headhunter to work at a lakeside resort in the Pacific Northwest. “I assumed he was talking about someplace like Seattle or a resort town in Montana,” he says. “Then he told me it was Idaho and I was intrigued.” He flew out for an interview and fell in love with McCall and Shore Lodge.

During his time as the Executive Chef at Shore Lodge and Whitetail, Chef Topple lived in Donnelly and drove by a little restaurant every day on his way to and from work. It had been sitting empty for three years, but in its heyday had been a wildly popular dinner spot. “One day I finally got the courage to call a real estate agent and ask to take a look at the property,” he says. “I made an offer on it and that was that.” Ragazza di Bufalo was born. Chef Topple’s first restaurant leans toward Italian cuisine and is named for its predecessor, Buffalo Gal.

Today, Ragazza di Bufalo is celebrating its fifth anniversary and an expansion with neighboring Casa Rossa, featuring wine and tapas. Chef Topple also recently purchased Bistro 45 and is reinventing his previous restaurant, Ragazza di Lago, to honor the well-loved Bistro menu and wine bar. And while Chef Topple may be the reason these restaurants exist, he is quick to note that it is the people around him who have made these restaurants a success. “I honestly couldn’t do any of this without my team,” he says. “You have to cherish everyone… that is what success really looks like.”

That sentiment extends beyond his own family of restaurants. Chef Topple is leading the charge on a brand-new culinary apprenticeship program in the area. “This area is really growing in terms of the culinary offerings,” he says. “The exciting thing is that we are all trying to elevate one another and contribute to a vibrant local food scene.” That desire to lift one another up, to elevate, is ironically a hallmark of his first dream of becoming a pilot. We can’t wait to see what else takes flight with Chef Topple on the scene.

 

What is your favorite thing to eat at YOUR restaurant?

I just put this new venison masala on the menu. It has figs and huckleberries in it, and it’s absolutely incredible.

 

What is your favorite ingredient to cook with?

There are too many to pick from, but I tend to lean toward the more Mediterranean flavors.

 

What is something you love to make at home?

Very simple, basic stuff. One night I might have a nice steak – a ribeye or New York, and then have a frozen pizza the next night.

 

What is the first thing you remember cooking?

Cooking chicken cordon bleu with my parents. We would take a chicken and roll it out, fill it with prosciutto and gouda. No breading. It was my very favorite meal.