Chef Brad Toles’ appetizing array of automotive entrees
Words and Photos: Cam Benty
Necessity is the mother of invention . . . or so the timeworn adage goes. But, for Brad Toles, it could never be more apt.
It started with a tired ’68 Chevelle that was incapable of making the trek from Palmdale, California, to Toles’ senior high classes 50 miles away in Canyon Country. But, his neighbor had an idea of “merging” the Chevelle with a 396c.i.-powered Chevy wagon and coming up with a running vehicle. It was the recipe that set the table for many future automotive endeavors.
While Toles’ love of cars was on simmer, it was his career in cooking that was at full boil. Starting as a dishwasher, he quickly knew he wanted to become a chef. Living through the “Hell’s Kitchen” lifestyle of master chefs who taught him the ropes in an abusive but clearly educational manner. Today Chef Toles owns Savourys Catering, a successful food service company that holds the exclusive food and beverage contract for the Palm Springs Convention Center.
While he trained under Master Chefs and became the Executive Chef at many hotels, as well as the Queen Mary, Spruce Goose, and Hollywood Park Race Track, he entered and won many culinary competitions, landing a place on Team USA West for the International Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany. Chef Toles participated in the Culinary Olympics in 1992, 1996, and 2000, winning gold medals for nearly every entry.
In addition to hundreds of conventions every year, Savourys also caters many of the prestigious charitable fundraisers and black tie galas in Palm Springs, including the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Desert AIDS Project Steve Chase Awards gala, and annual galas for the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Palm Springs Air Museum. Daily routines can include designing unique food presentations for a cozy group of 2,500 hungry guests. That’s a long way from Chevelle engine swaps.
But, while Chef Toles’ career was becoming legendary in food circles, his interest in cars and car building needed to be fed. After years of research, he found a suitable ’68 Chevelle. That purchase led to the addition of a ’68 Corvette, one of his favorite cars of all time. It was to light the fire for more collector cars.
While the cars and parts displayed here may give the appearance of being a lifelong passion, it was the discovery of Mopar products that redirected his automotive focus.
“While I was certainly around when these cars were new, I never remembered them much,” Toles notes. “It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I looked at Chargers, Challengers, and ’Cudas, having spent most of my time with Chevrolets. Mopars were not even on my radar. The Mopars West business started in 2007.”
Clearly they are today. Toles has made Mopars his target brand of choice. Formerly called West Coast Mopars, today his new operation is called All-American Classic Car Restoration (AACCR), which is managed on a daily basis by Tom Hicks, allowing Toles to work not only on Chrysler products but also other brands. Case in point was the day we visited; a ’74 Jensen convertible was close to completion, the 440c.i. Mopar V8 freshly reworked and only the Lucas Electrical system left to be refreshed (although that could be a life’s work, as some will attest.).
Along with the AACCR operation where his staff work to revitalize vehicles back to their original configuration, Toles’ personal collection of perfect and not-so-perfect cars are tucked away 15 minutes up the road in his desert hide away. Checked out to pass the strict entry regulations, Toles was more than happy to show us around.
One man’s junk is another man’s treasure
“When I got into this, I had no idea it would grow to be so big,” Toles says. “But it has become my passion. I find it to be great fun to take road trips to go and buy Mopar parts. If I find someone who has cars or parts for sale, I will fly out to the location, or if close enough, take the trailer to get the vehicle. If it’s a lot of parts, I will rent a Penske truck and load up one or more of them to get the parts back here. It’s a treasure hunt for me, and I never know exactly what I will find.”
With Toles, it is clear he knows what he is looking at, some of the most mangled sheet metal in his yard is a source of near giddiness for the famous chef. In his quest for original sheet metal, he can see the jewelry in a twisted Charger back section or the front end of a classic Challenger. While he can, and does, buy new sheet metal when needed, he can often find original sheet metal at his own shop.
If there is one thing that jumps out from the hidden collection, it is the amazing organization to which the parts and cars have been categorized. From the finish barn, which houses a pair of ’71 Hemi ’Cudas, a very creative “AAR” Roadrunner project, Charger Daytona, Plymouth Superbird, and other noteworthy machinery to the “trim room,” where individual stainless steel trim pieces are lovingly tagged and stored, Toles has great method to his madness.
“I utilize the same organizational techniques found in cooking for my car collecting and parts organization,” Toles says. “In cooking, it is called ‘mise en place’ which exactly defined means ‘everything in its place’ and refers to the state of having everything laid out in one place ready to go, rather than having to run back and forth from one place to another to keep the assembly line rolling.
“It makes great sense when cooking,” continues Toles. “If you start cooking and have several things on the stove and you have to run around looking for other ingredients, your creation is going to burn. You have to plan ahead or it will be a complete disaster. That is the mindset I have when building cars.
Just a sample of the rare parts Toles has collected and cataloged. Some of these parts are extremely rare today. Toles “sweats the small stuff” as well as the big. From the smallest clip to hold a vinyl top in place to larger components such as axles, power steering pumps, and exhaust manifolds, Toles has collected them and knows where to go when he needs a date-coded part.
Engine du jour
If there is one engine that piques Toles interest the most, it would be the 426c.i. Hemi. A tour around a hidden warehouse reveals more than 10 hemi engines, complete carbs-to-pan engines prepared by famous racing engine builder Jim Shewbert, each awaiting their next underhood home. While Toles may have plenty of big and small block-powered Mopar vehicles, it is the “Elephant Motor” that draws the greatest adoration.
For those who only know of the current run of “hemi” engines, Chrysler developed the original hemi engine back in the 1950s. It started life as a 331c.i. power plant, the name bestowed on the engine due to its nearly perfect hemispherical combustion chambers, which allowed for better fuel burn efficiency and made excellent power.
Through the years, it became the go-to engine for drag racing vehicles. In the early ’60s, it was the 392c.i. engine that was all the rage, but the Chrysler hemi power plant took over the world with the 426c.i. displacement that was introduced in 1965, powering production cars from 1966-71. The Top Fuel and Funny Car racing engines of today are predominantly redesigns of the original 426c.i. Chrysler hemi engine.
“Chrysler lost money on every one of the 426c.i. hemi cars they produced at that time,” Toles says. “But, they kept on building them. When you look at Superbirds and Daytonas, these cars were made purely for racing and were never profitable. In fact, they did not sell very well, and many of the Superbirds where actually turned back into Roadrunners so they could get them off of the dealership lots. These cars are highly valued today since you could actually take one of these Superbirds-turned-Roadrunners and turn it back into a Superbird. It’s just a matter of finding one of these cars that has the right letter code in the VIN number.”
Vision for the future
With a lifestyle that includes a food creation operation that can require riding hard on as many as 300 people for an event, creating new and innovative dishes for a demanding and high profile clientele, and keeping his car restoration business rolling cranking out perfect Mopar (and other) restorations, Toles is a busy man.
“My wife, Lynne, reminded me today that I’m not at my regular pace in the off-season at the convention center [the hot weather months in Palm Springs from September to May],” Toles says. “There would be no way I could spend the time to show Power & Performance News around the operation. I just have too much stuff going on. I run from one fire drill to the next. If I’m not in the kitchen, running the staff, planning out the meal, designing the layout of the tables and room, I’m over at the restoration shop helping to make a business decision or work on a car. It’s just that busy.”
But, clearly Toles is good to his employees, keeping several of his top chefs employed even during the slow season. While on the tour, we met three of his top chefs — at the restoration shop — working on the final prep for several cars. Chefs who can work on cars — who knew?
Source: All-American Classic Car Restoration, allamericanclassiccarrestoration.com