CONWAY — Torin L. Postal is in the zone, and his passion is on high.
He goes through the motions of sniffing, slicing, seasoning and sizzling to create a bronzed nori crushed ahi tuna tower meant to send the senses in overdrive.
As music from Michael Jackson pours through nearby speakers, the new executive chef of Crady's channels his inner feng shui. He decides to place the seared tuna atop a pancake of sticky purple rice that he surrounds with a tiny puddle of wasabi cream sauce.
Then, he steps back to survey his handiwork and concludes his mouth-watering creation is in need of something.
But what? The answer: a cantaloupe.
He zips across the restaurant's kitchen and fetches the fruit, peels it, shaves off slithers of its orange sherbet flesh and gently places it at the tuna tower's apex.
The cantaloupe nest adds the color and impact Postal wanted. Yet, something is still amiss. He adds caviar and a thin stream of truffle oil to the nest's center before he decides his masterpiece is complete.
"He is great," said Heather Whitley, who owns Crady's with her mom, Barbara, and dad, Les. "People are loving him. We love him. He is really talented."
Postal, 37, is a chef with culinary swagger cultivated from below and above the Mason-Dixon line, the East to the West and around the globe.
This confident, seasoned cook knows how to make succulent filet mignon, silky black truffle mashed potatoes and asparagus so gloriously green envy would give it the evil eye.
"We were just impressed with his resume," Barbara Whitley said. "He has a taste aesthetic that is similar to Adam's [her deceased son who was the chief chef at Crady's up until his death Aug. 3, 2009]. Torin has an extensive background of cooking that covers a lot of different areas. He's cooked all around the world, but he has the ability to create dishes from South Carolina as well."
Postal's professional chef experience includes more than seven years at the Trump Taj Mahal, nearly a decade with Royal Caribbean Cruise and almost three years working with the Australian Defence Force.
Born in New York and reared in New Jersey, Postal was an only child whose parents worked longer than his stomach could stand to wait for dinner.
So he took to the kitchen and mastered the basics early.
"I cooked full meals since I was 8 or 9 years old, and I prepare my fried chicken, collard greens and baked potatoes the same way now as I did when I was 7 years old," said Postal, now gifted in creating a variety of cuisines, including Italian, French and Middle Eastern.
He learned how to cook by watching his parents and the process stirred his zeal to present magnificent meals.
"I was amazed how all these things, ingredients, came together," Postal said. "I loved how the flavors blended."
Back then, he wasn't sizzling filet mignon to perfection and searing ahi tuna to a bronzed caramel. Those were the days before he had city swagger, country charm and diamond studs in both ears.
"I was a kid, so I was fixing fried chicken, making ribs, sloppy Joes and fried chicken," he said.
When he was 9 years old, his father, a licensed practical nurse, died, and Postal stepped up to help his mother financially.
His first job was at Mama Ventura's in Kresson, N.J. He got the gig by lying on his application and pretending to be 16 when he was actually 14.
He started as a dishwasher and eventually became the saute man on the line when another guy got sick one night.
From there, it was on.
He managed 13 outlets at Trump Taj Mahal as area chef. As executive working chef for Royal Caribbean, he helped prepare 84,000 meals a week on Enchantment Of The Seas for 2,700 guests and 1,200 crew members. His work with the Australian Defence Force in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, charged him with directing all food services for the Australian military.
Still, no matter whom he is cooking for, Postal's philosophy remains the same.
In his mind, complexity in cuisine is a recipe for unnecessary confusion and deception on plates.
"I'm all about the integrity of the food," Postal said. "It's about the flavor profile. I believe in simple elegance and an excellent product. I want people to understand what they are eating."
His steaks, for example, are seasoned with an unpretentious blend consisting of sea salt, rosemary, garlic, sage and pepper.
"Let the food be what it is," Postal said. "You don't have to do a whole bunch of crazy, stupid nonsense to food and ruin the flavor. There is so much you can do with the basics. You simply don't need all that extra stuff."
Watching Postal cook is comparative to observing a NBA point guard in action.
Postal is always scanning the perimeter to see what will work with his food to score big with patrons.
He is aptly skilled in layering ingredients in the way a gifted painter transforms a bare canvas into a beautiful scene.
And for the record, Postal's public agrees.
"It was all perfect," said Cynthia Port, an assistant professor in the English department at Coastal Carolina University, who had beef medallions with asparagus and black truffle mashed potatoes. "It was perfectly cooked, and the asparagus was wonderfully crunch, fresh and delicious. I would have to give my meal a 10."
Edward Hirsch, an American poet and critic who wrote the national bestseller "How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry," also gave his meal a perfect 10.
"My meal was extremely rich," said Hirsch, who dined with Port and several other Coastal Carolina faculty members and ate Postal's filet mignon with asparagus. "It was exciting and full of flavor like a fine wine."
Contact JOHANNA D. WILSON at 626-0324.