Chef Travis Timberlake demonstrates How to Cook Clam Chowder.
Travis TimberlakeDateline: Washington, DC, 1978: Travis Timberlake’s parents open Timberlake’s, a landmark casual restaurant and watering hole in the bustling Dupont Circle neighborhood. Gus DiMillo, now co-proprietor of four of Washington’s top restaurants, has just come to town and is Timberlake’s head waiter. Some time later, at age 13, young Travis begins work as a busboy. Fast forward, as over the years, Timberlake’s was Travis’s home away from home, with his mom, dad, and sister all playing their respective roles at the restaurant. He eventually learned every aspect of the business in this warm and friendly environment, as waiter, cook, bartender, and manager. He also learned, just by being there, that he loved the charge of the restaurant atmosphere – and making people happy. Travis went off to Marquette University, where he earned a degree in Business. During his second two years of school, he gravitated back to the food service industry, working at the Milwaukee Buck’s stadium for Bradley Center Catering. From celebrity dinner parties in the media room, to banquets for 2,000 out on the field, Travis’ kitchen and management experience expanded, and his interest grew. He decided to go to culinary school. Applying only to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, Travis found himself training with the best and graduating with honors. His culinary externship was at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, an exclusive Frank Lloyd Wright-designed resort. After graduation, he made good on a promise to his parents to help out back home at Timberlake’s, updating the menu, training cooking staff, and using his business skills in the office. Before long, Gus DiMillo, who had remained close to his old employers over the years, called and asked what Travis was up to. Travis was soon interviewing with one of DiMillo’s partners, Executive Chef Jeff Tunks. The rest, as they say, has been history. Tunks hired Travis as a Grill and Sauté Cook at DC Coast, the first of Passion Food Hospitality’s family of restaurants. The following year he was promoted to Sous Chef for the opening of the second, TenPenh, and remained there for three years as PM Sous Chef under Chef de Cuisine Cliff Wharton and Executive Sous Chef Chris Clime. During these early years, he says, “I had three great tutors, great mentors, in Jeff, Cliff, and Chris – and they got a lot of good mileage out of me!” When Chris Clime was tapped to be Chef de Cuisine of Ceiba, Passion Food’s third restaurant, he requested to bring Travis along with him. In the fall of 2005, when Clime opened the group’s fourth venture, Acadiana, Travis remained at Ceiba as Chef de Cuisine. The following year, when he was asked to return to DC Coast as Chef de Cuisine, he found himself back where he started. Asked which of the restaurants is his favorite, Travis diplomatically replies, “My favorite is always the one I’m working at now,” but you get the sense that he couldn’t be more pleased than to be at the helm of DC Coast, where he began his tenure with Passion Food Hospitality some seven years before. It’s good to be back, he says. A number of his old teammates are still in the kitchen, and he knows the lay of the land. Of all the restaurants, DC Coast’s loose culinary theme of “coastal America” allows for the broadest range of dishes, as Asian cuisine influences the Pacific coast, and Latin flavor infuses the Gulf Coast, etc. Travis relishes this kind of freedom after the relative ethnic restraints of TenPenh and Ceiba. So while he has a hearty respect for the restaurant’s signature dishes – the Chinese Style Smoked Lobster, the Mushroom Crusted Halibut – he is busy putting his own mark on the menu, developing some of his own items and putting a spin on other existing dishes. “Jeff and I are on the same page,” he says, “and we’re working on some new things that will expand on the ‘Americana’ aspect of the menu, like a Sampling of Barbeque ‘Sliders’ – which is a trio of regional favorites: North Carolina Pulled Pork, Texas Beef Brisket, and Alabama Smoked Chicken. We’ll also be increasing the “eye-appeal” of each dish.” To that end, Travis is planning to add a towering Cornmeal-crusted Softshell Crab Napoleon to the menu, layered with a grilled polenta cake, arugula, crispy pancetta, avocado, and heirloom tomatoes, and served with a traditional rémoulade sauce. He is also adding a Black Sea Bass, seared and pressed a la plancha (a technique he picked up at Ceiba) served with goat cheese stuffed roasted tomatoes and pearl barley pilaf. Daily specials, too, are keeping his creative juices flowing, and may end up on the regular menu in time. For Travis Timberlake, returning “home” to DC Coast following his “around the world” culinary journey with Passion Food Hospitality is just where he wants to be. For the rest of us who benefit from his talent and experience – bon appétit!
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