Chef profile: Timothy Hollingsworth

This is an extract from a posting in my monthly series of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.

ThollingsworthHeadAmong the plethora of chefs in Los Angeles, Tim Hollingsworth is arguably the most talked about right now. The former French Laundry chef de cuisine, James Beard Award winner and Bocuse d’Or competitor has recently adopted the city as his new home and is starting to make waves on its dining scene.

Hollingsworth has teamed up with one of LA’s most celebrated restaurateurs, Bill Chait, and has not only opened a new barbeque spot that has impressed both crowds and critics, but he is also set to launch a modern American restaurant in one of the city’s most exciting new cultural developments next year. For when the Broad Contemporary Art Museum opens in Downtown LA next autumn, it will house not only close to 2,000 pieces of art, but a restaurant that will form the cornerstone of a brand new 24,000sq ft plaza that is set to revitalise a currently underused area.

Helmed by Hollingsworth the yet-to-be-named restaurant will be a partnership with Chait – whose group Sprout includes some of LA’s most iconic restaurants such as République, Bestia, Rivera and Sotto – and museum founder Eli Broad. Rory Herrmann, Thomas Keller alumni and former chef de cuisine of Bouchon in Beverly Hills, has signed on as director of culinary operations.

IMG_0028“It’s a really exciting project for me,” enthuses Hollingsworth. “I’ve been given the opportunity to have a free-standing restaurant in LA that I can design, build up and be an owner in. That’s not something that comes along very often.”

Although details are still scarce, Hollingsworth hints that the restaurant will be contemporary American, offering modern-day dining. “There won’t be tablecloths but there’ll be a big focus on the quality of the food, on the presentation of the dishes and there’ll be a great beverage programme,” he says. “It won’t necessarily be a casual restaurant but it’ll be approachable.”

With construction for the restaurant just starting to get underway and the opening date scheduled for July next year, Hollingsworth may be forgiven for taking it easy for a while. But that’s not his style and in the meantime, he has already opened another LA restaurant. This time it’s about him exploring his family roots by serving Southern barbecue fare.

Barrel and Ashes, which launched last month, sees the chef also collaborate with Chait and Herrmann, as well as acclaimed LA mixologist Julian Cox, who has designed a food-friendly drinks list, including a selection of whiskies and craft beers and cocktails. The restaurant in Studio City features picnic style seating on a front patio, communal and traditional seating inside, and additional Plaza rendering_view from restaurantseating on the rear patio where there’s a food trailer. The menu focuses on family-style service with daily specials and there are things like smoky Texas-style brisket, St. Louis pork ribs, and pulled pork with Carolina vinegar sauce, or fried chicken sandwich and smoked chicken wings. Sides are served in cast-iron skillets, filled with classics like shells ‘n’ cheese, long-braised collard greens, and “hoe cakes” with maple butter.
Inspired by Hollingsworth’s Southern heritage and his and Herrmann’s numerous barbecue excursions across the country, Hollingsworth says it’s a culinary departure for him in his career. “Barrel and Ashes is going from something that was fine dining and not very approachable to something that takes me back to my roots,” he says. “The recipes are from my mother and grandmother and the food reflects me as a person way more than anything I have done professionally before.”

Born in Texas, Hollingsworth moved to Northern California as a young child. He started his culinary journey aged 18 washing dishes at a local French bistro, an experience which he insists continues to help his career today. “How can I run a kitchen and train a dishwasher if I’ve never done that job? How can I respect that person who is the lowest but also one of the most important guys without having been in that position?”

He worked his way up through the ranks, learned the basics of classic French cooking and started reading the ”bibles of French cuisine” including Larousse Gastronomique; Antonin Carême and Auguste Escoffier. “At 19 I travelled to New York and ate at the best restaurants, including Le Cirque and Alain Ducasse at Essex House,” he recalls. “I spent five days at the Culinary Institute of America and realised it wasn’t for me. I decided I needed to go and work with one of the best chefs in the world – either Thomas Keller or Alain Ducasse – and learn on the job.”

Thomas and TimBack in California, he approached Keller about a job at the French Laundry. With no formal training and little experience but an abundance of determination, he persistently called the restaurant until he was eventually invited for a day’s trial. “After that I called and called again and finally I received a letter in the mail saying I’d been hired as a commis chef,” he says. Over the next 13 years, Hollingsworth rose up the ladder, working every station and spending the last four years effectively running the French Laundry kitchen as chef de cuisine.

Today he credits Keller with instilling in him a drive and ambition to constantly improve. “It’s a tough place to work. The standards are so high and every day you are expected to do something different, something better,” he says. “But it was a great place to work. [Thomas] gives you the freedom to do the food you want to do. He’s not the kind of person who watches over you all the time but lets you have your own successes and your own failures. He trains people to be chefs not cooks and allows you to be creative no matter what station you are working on.”

During his time with Keller, Hollingsworth was chosen to represent Team USA at the Bocuse d’Or, the world-famous cooking competition in Lyon, in 2009 where he placed sixth – the USA’s best result to date. “The Bocuse d’Or was really difficult,” he admits. “The pressure of representing America, having all these huge chefs around you and everyone expecting you to be successful because you come from the French Laundry where we don’t fail, it was really tough. But in retrospect I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to have done it.”

Hollingsworth left the French Laundry in 2012 and went on to consult on restaurant projects around the world, including in Lebanon and Korea. With the world as his oyster, why the move to LA? “I could easily have stayed in Napa or gone to San Francisco but it would’ve been too easy, too comfortable,” he says. “I wanted to move to a big city, where I’d be out of my comfort zone.

“LA is possibly the most exciting city for food in the US right now. You have a lot of young chefs IMG_0027moving here, there are a lot of restaurants opening and there are a lot of people doing great things. LA is a little bit behind the times and there’s a lot of room to educate people about food, which is exciting.”

Looking ahead to his Broad Museum restaurant project, Hollingsworth says it will cater for the typical LA diner of today. “We want to make it approachable for people on a daily basis, make it a neighbourhood restaurant where you don’t just go for a special occasion but a place where you can go any day of the week,” he explains.

The food, he adds, will be light and healthy. “I like to eat lighter. I don’t want to walk away from a restaurant and feel heavy. Yes, I love a great piece of grilled meat, but I also like a tartar of some sort on the menu, seafood that has been marinated and is bright, fresh and acidic. I know I have a delicate touch in my cooking and I want to make sure that I express this with the new restaurant.”