Food For Thought
With Chef Tim Tibbitts
Anyone who is successful in any field at some point in their life will tell you that they give credit and respect to someone, or many people, who helped to guide them along the way. They taught them skills, both practical and mental, that made them who they are today. I am no exception. I have a few people who, throughout my career, either gave me first hand guidance or inspired me through their own actions to be the chef that I am today. Each of them can take some credit in everything that happens on a daily basis at Flying Fish and are partly responsible for the great place it is today.
In my last article I spoke about the dwindling opportunities in Grand Bahama for young people in the culinary field. The closing of the culinary school takes away one of these opportunities to provide mentorship to young people and guide them into something productive. I wouldn't be where I am today without my mentors and idols guiding me and driving me to be better at my craft. Over nearly 20 years there have been many but I will pay homage to a few.
When I was an apprentice, I worked for a chef named Roger Genoe. He was German trained and extremely tough. There were a few massive lessons I learned from him. The best being: have respect for the products. Always use the best products you can find and try to honor them in the preparation. Also, have respect for those who came before you. There have been tens of thousands of chefs throughout history. Some have been more influential than others, but each was important to someone in some way. They've "been there and done that" and as a chef you owe them your respect. And finally, the best piece of advice I ever got, something that I still pass on to every person that works for us now, have respect for your customer's time. You can always give them back their money if they are unhappy but you can't refund their time. That is why today I try my best to make sure every plate from the kitchen is something special. I don't want to risk someone's time. Chef Genoe also was the first chef that ever let me put one of my own creations on his menu. That dish (in a slightly more modern form) still remains on my menu today. Grilled calamari with brown butter, olives, capers, tomato and roasted garlic. It has been on every menu in every restaurant I've ever worked at since. I owe Roger for that.
As I moved up the ranks of restaurants I had the pleasure of working at two different locations with a chef named Mathew Brook. He was an easy-going guy, and we didn't do crazy high end food, but he was a stickler for the numbers. I learned how the restaurant business works from him. He was the first chef that showed me how to price a menu, how to engineer a menu, how to effectively cut costs without sacrificing quality and to budget. Sometimes I'm still not very good at the budgeting part but I do try, Matt was more than just a chef I worked for, he was a good friend and nearly five years working together in two different cities taught me a lot. He even came here to Freeport when we first came here to see what we were leaving for. I appreciated that.
Aside from mentors who guide you every day, young people also have idols to whom they look up to and try to emulate. Every day they hope to get closer to being what their idols have already achieved. I have 2 main idols who have shaped the way I think about food preparation. They also provided me with the 2 best meals of my life, the first being Susur Lee. When I was coming up through the ranks in the Toronto area, Susur's eponymous restaurant set the standard for high-end food in Toronto. He was probably the most successful chef at fusing cultures together in his food, Susur started a revolution in fusion cuisine around the world. He is technically flawless and incredibly driven. His flavor combinations are so different than what came before him that he excited a whole city and now many cities with his food. Many times I have gone back to his book for guidance throughout my career, especially while at East in Port Lucaya where we tried to also fuse Asian cuisine with French technique. His was the first real chef's tasting menu I had ever really had, doing a total of 12 courses over nearly four hours. Every moment of that meal was life changing for me at the time. I still have the menu written down in my recipe book I use every day at the restaurant.
And last but certainly not least, the chef that has influenced me more than any other when it comes to Flying Fish (other than Ferran Adria who created many of the techniques we use) is Eric Ripert. His restaurant Le Bernardin was without question the greatest meal of my life. Every moment of that meal including everything aside from the food taught me what fine dining could be. While still at East, we decided to take a food vacation to New York City to see how good the best of the best was compared to what we were doing. We left that meal feeling like we were beginners again. There was a level of detail and quality
I didn't know was possible. The fragrance of the flowers in the washrooms matched the scents of the hand soap! Incredible service perfected over years of careful study. And then the food...What can you say about chef Riperts food that hasn't already been said by media worldwide. Just this year alone, Zagat's top ranked restaurant, Michelin 3 stars, New York Times 4 stars, San Pelligrino's top 50 restaurants in the world and the list of accolades goes on and on. His commitment to quality and sustainability in his seafood is tops in the world. I live on an island and I have never had fresher seafood than at Le Bernardin. It was flawless. It also is the best restaurant in the world for wine pairings. Having the best seafood chef in the world pair food to wine with the world's best sommelier (Aldo Sohm) is an amazing experience.
When we started the design of Flying Fish I thought a lot about our time at Le Bernardin. We spared no expense on the details. I'm very proud of that. I also designed the way the food was done to be the same menu style as chef Ripert's. We have since changed that style to suit the local market but we try to still do the wine pairings with every course because of that experience. Of 11 courses we had, seven made us teary. They were so monumentally fantastic that we could not keep our emotions in check. It was that experience we try to recreate at Flying Fish, even if it is on a much smaller scale.
You can't put a price on a mentor's guidance. In my case, they each helped to create my style, my standards and my restaurant. What would that be worth to me? Everything. I hope that the young people in my kitchen take as much from me as I have from my mentors and idols. I try my best to share all that these people have given me and teach them that in turn they must be willing to teach the next generation all that they know. That is how our profession progresses and grows. It's how any profession grows. I would go so far as to say that it's how all of society grows.
If you would like to discuss this or any other topic further, please contact me at email@example.com and I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have!
© 2012 The Freeport News