Chester County Restaurant Festival returns to downtown West Chester for its 33rd year on Sunday, September 16th, 2012. Back by popular demand is the Chester County Culinary Cookoff, which vies four notable, locals chefs against one another — all battling for the title of “Best Chester County Chef.”
Representing the delicious nook of southern Chester County is culinary rockstar, Chef Tim Smith of Twelves Grill & Cafe, who captivates locals daily with his finely-tuned, local-infused dishes at his enchanting West Grove BYOB. In prep for Sunday’s competition, we chit-chatted with this skilled cheftestant, feeling him out about his pre-culinary battle nerves, how he’s prepping and what he feels makes a kitchen crusader a true “chef.” Read on to find out the full pre-cookoff scoop!
What are your feelings as you head into the Culinary Challenge for the first time ever? Nervous? Excited? Relaxed? Too busy to think about it?
Chef Tim Smith: I am definitely nervous and excited heading into the competition. Constantly running over ideas about possible recipes trying to keep it reasonable to prepare in the competition as well as being original and creative and of course tasting great. I first heard about this competition last year, and thought this would be really cool, and would love to compete. I have wanted to compete on Chopped, so this is a Great stepping stone and experience. I have always liked the competition, being an athlete I am very competitive. While in Culinary School I was captain of my school’s culinary team, competed and practiced for hours a day. I love the thrill of a challenge and really like to push myself in the culinary world.
The winner of this competition will hold the title of “Best Chef in Chester County.” Judges and competition aside, what characteristics do you think REALLY make a best chef?
TS: I believe the characteristics that make the Best Chef are creativity, organization, ability to evaluate and assess all situations, leadership. Chefs are managers. You need to manage your kitchen, your food, and in my case my dining room and restaurant, while cooking and bringing your creations together to reach your customers. Utilizing your product, I believe all food and menus should stick with the seasons. I have seen a lot of great chefs with ideas, but the total package needs to be able to cook, work the line, manage the line, and lead the kitchen! I am always disappointed to hear and see chefs that only delegate and do not cook during service. I cook in my kitchen every night. I am a Chef!
The Culinary Challenge presents a “think on your feet” scenario. In every day situations at the restaurant are you prone to operating that way or prefer to plan ahead?
TS: I always plan and think ahead, but in this business you need to be on the spot prepared, circumstances change instantly in this business, quick thinking and problem solving are everyday factors, and during service you need to be sharp to accommodate your customers.
While a Chef like you is skilled in many departments, what is one surprise ingredient you would prefer NOT to receive, either because of a personal preference or general difficulty?
TS: I would be happy with all ingredients, new and unusual is part of the challenge; don’t use it, your not the Top Chef.
Think “show up at the airport with no ID.” What’s one kitchen tool you’d have a hard time competing without?
TS: I would definitely require a kitchen knife, chef knife, and kitchen tongs—love my tongs!
Photographs credited to Nina Lea Photography.