New Elements Chef – In His Element at Win-River Casino


Meeting with Michael Hibbard – the Harley-Davidson riding culinary master who’s Win-River Casino’s first certified executive chef – was a bit like watching a magic act.

It was a quiet morning inside Elements Restaurant, hours before diners would begin arriving for lunch. Hibbard, 57, who moved his family to Redding from Palm Springs in January, said we had time to talk.

He began by describing the upcoming physical changes in store for Elements – well, at least that’s the name the casino’s restaurant goes by now.

Sometime this summer, “Elements” will be known as something else, Hibbard said.

Really? Why?

Because nearly everything else will change, too, he said.

That’s when Hibbard’s magic began. His words and hands conjured up an impressive vision of the restaurant’s future.

Certainly, he said, the restaurant’s location will remain inside Win-River Casino at the Redding Rancheria. Well, at least until the new mega hotel complex is built. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

With a sweep of his white-as-rice chef-coat sleeve, he gestured around the room.

Imagine: New carpet, new chairs, new tables, and an outdoor dining patio that overlooks Clear Creek. New training composition sheets for kitchen staff, new training that addresses everything from consistency in plate presentation to top-notch table-side service that delivers hot food hot, and cold food cold.

“Basically, with a restaurant, you get one shot at getting it right,” he said. “Customers are unforgiving. My goal is to take Elements to a new level. I’m going to turn this place around. Once the word’s out, people will want to see what’s happening at Elements.”

With his credentials, it’s a believable feat.

Hibbard, a member of the Colorado Chaines de Rottissier, has trained in France and Spain. He earned his executive chef certification through the American Culinary Federation. He has a combined four decades of experience in the hospitality industry. Most recently Hibbard was the executive chef with The Fountains at the Carlotta Resort in Palm Springs, and he’s held executive chef positions at such Mobil four- and five-star-awarded properties as the Broadmoor Resort Hotel in Colorado, the Columbus Westin Hotel, Ohio, The Mission Inn in Riverside California, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and Sky City Casino Hotel in New Mexico and was an executive chef instructor with the Pennsylvania Culinary Academy.

That experience helps explain why Hibbard can imagine the old Elements in a new way.

He spoke of fine dining, and beautiful table settings, and delicious, attractive food – professionally prepared and arranged on new china upon tables set with new linens. He plans a beefed-up Sunday brunch, jazzed-up drinks, redesigned dishes prepared from scratch, ordered from a pared-down, more manageable menu that includes an enhanced wine list and food served in a 98-percent “scratch” kitchen.

What’s not from scratch?

Long pause, slight frown.

“Diced canned tomatoes,” he finally said with a look of satisfaction.

Even the restaurant’s current theme will be transformed when Hibbard changes Element’s current restaurant/bar into a “chop house” that will feature “fusion” style cuisine, which, according to Hibbard, is Pacific Rim meets Southwest meets French nouveau meets California cuisine.

“I’m passionate about food,” he said with a wide smile.

“But I’m a teacher, too, and I want that passion to rub off on the staff so they’ll progress. I love to take a cook and turn them into a chef.”

Hibbard acknowledged that he has his work cut out for him, but he’s enthusiastic about it.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “I’m the kind of guy who’ll roll up my sleeves and not just cook, but teach. I know how to be a maître d’, a host, a bartender, and I’m a darn good chef.”

He said his management style is to not be a micro-manager, but to empower people to do a better job – even better than he can do.

As if on cue, one of Hibbard’s kitchen staff appeared at our table, a bit out of breath. She said they were out of the potatoes Hibbard had prepared, but she didn’t know how he did it. Hibbard turned to the woman, smiled and said, “OK, this is easy, listen. You can do this …”

She listened, nodded – yes, yes – as Hibbard spoke quickly and precisely of potatoes and steaming and butter and parsley and a little garlic and salt and pepper. She rushed back to the kitchen.

Where were we?

Oh, yes, Hibbard also talked about new glass walls at the front of the restaurant that will extend up to the ceiling, an aesthetically pleasing choice with a practical side effect: block the casino’s smoke.

His dream and prediction after the summer changes are fully implemented? Customers will notice the improvements. They’ll appreciate the restaurant’s quality food, made with fresh ingredients. That will bring them back. Again and again.

“I want the new customers, I want the regular customers and I want the customers who came to Elements once before – ‘been there, done that’ – and never came back,” he said.

“I want them all. I guess I want the whole pie.”


Note: Elements bar also features late-night after-dinner entertainment – such as the Chris Gardner Band, which will perform at Elements Friday and Saturday, April 2 and 3, from 9:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. In the spirit of full disclosure, my nephew, Aaron Shively, is a member of that band.

Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Northern California in the tiny town of Igo.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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14 Responses

  1. Avatar Sheila Barnes says:

    I wish this new chef all the best. It sounds like he has many wonderful plans for the restaurant and will provide an excellent menu. However, unfortunately, I never frequent Win River because of the smoke. I realize he hopes to alleviate that somewhat with a taller glass wall, but smoke will still be able to filter in. Perhaps if and when the restaurant moves to the new hotel and if it is decided to not allow smoking on those new premises, I will be able to discover the wonders of his cooking talents. I do wish Mr.Hibbard all the best and a sincere welcome to Redding.

    • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

      I agree, Sheila. The very few times I have been to Win-River I hated the smoke so much I couldn't wait to get out and go home and wash my clothes and take a shower. It would be lovely if the new restaurant really does have a design that blocks the smoke. Good luck to Chef Hibbard.

  2. Avatar shirly says:

    Hi Sheila,

    Ditto to your comments – maybe we can go together!

  3. Avatar Alan Ernesto Phillip says:

    Hail to the Chef!!

    Welcome! I too am in a LONG line of potential customers that haven't been back to even try the casino's amenities in many years. With about 82% of Californian's non-smokers in mind, well, perhaps a little, smoke-free side door in the back alley for this majority could be considered by the Casino… (talk about a selling point, Marketing!!)

    Fine dining to me is a completely sensuous experience. The SMOKE – and the layers of SMELL over the many years at Win River, is completely aversive to a great dining experience… It has been perhaps 12 years since I've been back. And that was when I was in a couple of little local bands that opened for Tower of Power and the Little River Band – I coughed for days after those gigs. (Please do let us know when they get that one figured out – I'd LOVE to try and share Chef Hibbard's mastery & magic someday…)

    Here's to the new Chef's most impressive background and enthusiasm – WELCOME, sir!!!!

  4. Avatar ambercita says:

    This sounds exciting – I will definately give Elements another try when I am in Redding.

  5. Avatar Canda says:

    I sure enjoyed this article, and look forward to the changes Chef Hibbard creates. The smoke is definitely a bummer, but I'm willing to go just to try his food.

  6. Avatar Barbara Webb says:

    I had previously dined at Elements several times, and the poor service drove me away. Will be interesting to see if they solve that issue!

  7. Avatar Bob says:

    My last visit to Elements was more than 2 years ago. Smoke from the casino made our dining experience just miserable. We complained to the waitress who explained that new exhaust systems were soon to be installed in the casino which were greatly reduce the amount of smoke floating around the dining room. We never bothered to go back to see if they were installed and if they were, whether or not they were effective.

    The rest of the world has to abide by the rules when it comes non smoking in public places. It's a shame the Indian casinos play by a different set of rules and ignore what's best for the health of every customer. When you consider that less than 15% of the population smokes, the casino is playing to very few people who still gamble with a cigarette in one hand leaving one free to play cards, roll the dice or pull the handles thereby making it miserable for the 85% who don't smoke.

    Stupid, isn't it?

  8. Avatar Karen C says:

    Win River is considered a sovereign nation and therefore does not follow our City's "no smoking in public places" rule. They, however, want our police protection, and full services from the City of Redding.

    We have eaten many fine meals at Win River but walking through the casino and all the smoke to get to Elements was more than I could handle. Especially, during this time of year when the pollen count is very high and most of us are sneezing anyway. Going through all that smoke added to the misery, and we have not been back. Too bad.

    I wish the new chef well and hope to experience his cuisine.

  9. Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

    But to get back on track …..

    What a great addition to the region to have a chef of this caliber! We're looking forward to experiencing Mr. Hibbard's vision.

  10. Avatar foreman family says:

    visit our family website and see the true colors in redding rancheria-win river casino.

    the foreman family

  11. Avatar Lynne says:

    A great chef and a smoke filled restaurant don't mix…..we are "foodies" and look forward to a Michael Hibbard dinner when we hear the restaurant and surrounding area become smokeless.
    L & R

  12. Avatar Wendy Smelosky says:

    Last weekend my husband and I traveled all the way up to Redding to visit one of our best friends and he took us to the casino to have Chef Michael Hibbard's clam chowder….All I have to say is the clam chowder that I ordered was most outstanding, and the best I have ever had. Wish I could have that recipe under my belt! I'm an old broad and that would probably be my staple!

    Thank you so much, Chef!