With influences as wide-ranging as the local foods of Haiti, the Mississippi Delta, the Pacific Northwest and the Tex-Mex kitchens outside his back door, Tim Byres crafts his very personal take on forward-thinking American cuisine. He’s best known for his “live fire cookery” and worldly and approachable flavours. He spent his most of formative years in fine dining, and before to moving to Texas, he was the executive chef at the US Embassy in Brussels, Belgium. Now a Texan at heart, Byres is co-owner and chef of Dallas’ SMOKE, Chicken Scratch, The Foundry and Bar Belmont.
Q&A Tim Byres
Describe the Southwest: Culinary crossroads. Western gateway. Wide-open sunsets.
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with? Roasted tomatillos have a wonderful natural acidity and bring a brightness to sauces and marinades. Dry chillies are a favourite; once toasted and steeped in a hot broth and pureed they bring an old Western American authentic flavour.
What is your favourite regional dish? A traditional lamb barbacoa or smoked Texas-style beef brisket.
What tasty bite should travellers to the Southwest not miss? Meats roasted directly over the fire with sweet chilies and fresh corn tortillas.
What inspires you about your region? I really think my region is special because of a cultural mix and the general vastness of the landscape. We are influenced to the east by classic Old South foods/tradition, the Gulf seafood, the marsh country of Louisiana, Mexico to the south, Native American values to the west and the central plains of the Midwest in the north. It took a lot to settle this area, and its food traditions are as diverse as its founders: Polish, Irish, Spanish, French and its original natives. Texas has a long and very “melting pot” story.
What inspires you about your work? I am inspired by connecting with people, kind of being a part of the grand common table. I am very interested in tapping into roots American cooking and nurturing its spirit of hospitality.
Who/What inspired you to become a chef? I was always taken in by the spirit of hospitality, all the fun “welcome to the party vibe” I would see in restaurants as a child. Restaurants have been my only job, and I knew in high school I wanted to be a chef.
How are you inspired by your environment and the seasonal foods in the US? It is wonderful, everything is a possibility and the public awareness about good food has really changed the game. America is truly a melting pot of foodstuffs.
How has American culture shaped the way you cook? Our wonderfully diverse ethnic American foods mix and mingle, giving us such a vast landscape of dishes and cultural experiences. America is not just the land of the hamburger and hot dog. We are represented by all cultures that over time integrate and have formed a modern, bold and diverse American food culture. It has opened the door to all possibilities as a cook, giving me a full range of options.
What international influences have inspired your cooking? Mexican, German, French, Spanish, Native American, Irish and Polish. All of these nationalities are part of what has formed and settled my state, Texas. Our food has ties to them all. The newest food culture to arrive to the Gulf and the fishing industry here is Vietnamese.
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