A former Olympic hopeful turns his talents to culinary pursuits
Islander Bob Coffman didn’t always like to cook. He once was an athlete and spent his waking hours working out and perfecting his skills, he said. But in the mid-1980s, when he prepared a venison roast for a few friends, he realized he had a talent for taste and creative kitchen skills waiting to be developed.
Today, Coffman, who lives with his wife, Debra, in a restored Victorian house in Galveston, prepares exotic, delicious meals that leave his family and friends wanting more.
“The way I did that venison roast was to cover it in butter, bacon and mushrooms,” Coffman said. “It turned out fabulous and I thought, ‘hey, this is fun.’ I did try it once again and it didn’t turn out as well. But it was still fun.”
Recently retired from his fitness equipment business, Coffman has more time to watch cooking shows on TV and read cookbooks that look interesting to him, he said. When not watching cooking shows, he changes the channel to hunting shows, he said.
Coffman hunts deer, pig, dove, pheasant and prepares meals from the game. He takes his black Labrador, Sophie, along on his trips. He also frequently fishes in the Gulf and local bays and creates meals from his catches.
“Ninety-nine percent of the wild game and fish I cook is stuff I have shot and caught,” he said. “There is no waste.”
He frequents farmers markets each week, selecting fresh produce and spices for his meals.
Coffman, who is a Houston native, went to the University of Southern California, where he trained as a track and field athlete and was a superstar decathlon competitor. He qualified for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team but was unable to compete because of the 1980 Summer Olympics boycott. He was ranked favorite to take home the gold just as Bruce Jenner had done for the United States four years before. But Coffman did receive a Congressional Gold Medal created for the sidelined athletes and was winner of the Olympic boycott games known as the Liberty Bell Classic held at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. The boycott was a low point in his life, he said.
During his training, he was on a rather strict diet, but a trip to the Bordeaux region of France introduced him to what he calls his second favorite hobby — wine.
“I was chosen to replace Jenner at a meeting in Talence, France, and they treated us to a huge ceremonial dinner at the House of Bordeaux,” Coffman said. “They gave each of us a case of wine to take back to the U.S. I really got into it after that, learning as much as I could about wine and pairings with food.”
After he stopped competing, he refocused, talked to chefs at restaurants and got interested in learning how meals are paired with certain wines and how the food is prepared, he said.
“I still like to talk to the chefs at restaurants, but they don’t usually give out too much information,” he said.
During trout, flounder and red fish seasons, Coffman makes time to fish in Galveston for his meals, he said.
“There is so much fish here that you don’t have to cook it the same way every time,” he said.
The key is cooking it the right way, he said, sharing his secret of searing the fish on top of the stove and then cooking it in the oven at 350 F for a few minutes so it doesn’t dry out.
“It keeps in the juice,” he said.
When he cooks for smaller groups, he works in his kitchen on a six-burner Viking stove, decorated with hand-painted tiles depicting Guy Buffet-style caricatures of French and Italian chefs, created by Galveston artist Anne Zaring.
He usually cooks alone — it’s easier, he said — but limits his guest list to less than four couples, unless it’s a pizza night, which could include as many as 20. He recently prepared dove tacos on a pheasant hunting trip to South Dakota, surprising his buddies with a gourmet meal in the field.
His dream opportunity would be to compete on a sportsman TV show in which hunters go back to camp to prepare a meal.
“Now that would be fun,” he said.