From saucepans to black belts, Ronald McDonald chef is ready to coach

Chef Ian Salavon of Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth turns to lessons from his judo training when leading.

From saucepans to black belts, Ronald McDonald chef is ready to coach

When it comes to leadership in his kitchen, chef Ian Salavon of Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth turns to lessons from his judo training.

No, he’s not going to do anything related to Chuck Norris. He’s going to coach. 

“To me, leadership is more about coaching,” Salavon, 52, said. “That’s something I take from my judo training.” 

That works particularly well with the Meals from the Heart program, which relies on volunteers to help prepare and serve meals to the guest families. 

“You can’t expect people to do what you do,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so I’m going to arm people with the knowledge of why they’re doing what they’re doing.” 

Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth is a nonprofit that helps families with ill children stay together close to the medical facilities providing care. In 2023, it provided a record 16,529 overnight stays for families.

Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth brought Salavon on board to address many of the same issues as restaurants — and homemakers — in meal planning and preparation, such as increased food costs and the desire to provide more consistently tasty, nutritious meals. 

“With his vast experience in kitchens of all sizes and his long history of serving others, we are so fortunate to have added Ian to our team,” said Jennifer Johns, CEO at Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth. “Ian has exemplified unparalleled leadership in empathy and stewardship when guiding community volunteers in preparing and serving families of sick or injured children.”

Salavon’s experience in the kitchen began early. 

(Alexis Allison | Fort Worth Report)

“My parents were basically working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., so they told my brother and I, we were about 12-13, to prepare the meals for dinner,” he said.  

While attending Daggett Elementary,  Daggett Middle School and then Paschal High School, Salavon began perfecting his cooking chops.

“Initially, it was sandwiches and canned soup, that kind of stuff,” he said. “Then I started wanting more, so I started experimenting with my mom’s cookbooks.” 

Several burnt pans and smoky kitchens later, he made progress.

“I ended up liking it quite a bit,” he said. “I didn’t even realize that it was an actual real serious profession until much later in my early 20s.” 

He still remembers his first success. 

“The first thing I cooked that I thought was really complicated, because it was for me, was basic spaghetti and meatballs in a pomodoro sauce,” he said. “I really thought I had done something, and I had.”

After graduating high school, Salavon headed to the University of North Texas. While there, he worked in food service at the college before landing at the Macaroni Grill. At that point, he began to realize the food industry could be a career path.  

He headed to Vermont to the New England Culinary Institute. From there, he began working for several restaurant groups, including stints at P.F. Chang’s and Gordon Biersch. He returned to North Texas and eventually became an executive sous-chef at Central Market. 

On his career journey, Salavon became involved with the Fort Worth Judo Club. He serves on the board of directors and is a third-degree black belt and coach. He is nicknamed “The Fighting Chef.” 

“The one thing that judo did for me more than anything else was increase my confidence,” he said. “You ask yourself, ‘Are you willing to be terrible at something before you’re good?’ That’s a humbling thing.”

That’s a philosophy he brings to working with volunteers at the Meals from the Heart program. 

“It’s more of a cooking-class atmosphere, and we can all learn something while doing something good for these families,” he said. 

Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana, but has lived in Fort Worth for almost 50 years. 

Family: Wife, Jenny; four adult children.My mom and dad live less than a mile away.”

Education: A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont.

Work experience: P.F. Chang’s, Gordon Biersch, Texas Health Resources, Positive Recovery, Central Market in Fort Worth. 

Volunteer experience: Contributing volunteer, board member and coach for the Fort Worth Judo Club for nearly 30 years. 

First job: “My first formal job was bagging groceries at Skaggs Alpha Beta, a grocery store that hasn’t existed since the ’80s.”

Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “Never expect someone to do something you haven’t done or aren’t willing to do.”

Best advice ever received: “To be good, you have to be prepared to be bad first. Fail until you succeed. Old judo maxim: Fall down seven, get up eight.”

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.