12 Things You Didn't Know About Chef Tim Kilcoyne

April 01, 2012
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Interview by Alison Costa

Tim Kilcoyne is the chef and owner of the Sidecar Restaurant in midtown Ventura. Recently, writer Allison Costa sat down with him to find out some things you just may not know about this young and well respected chef. Sit tight—some of what he has to say may surprise you.

1. He blushes when you call him a local celebrity …

We’ve all seen the articles applauding Kilcoyne for his dedication to sourcing ingredients locally and supporting local farmers. But when other chefs talk about looking up to him, he says, it feels strange.  “It makes me feel old,” the 35-year-old chef laughs. On the flip side, when other chefs are inspired by him to change their menus, that gets him pretty excited. Inspiring others to support local farmers and inspiring restaurants to build their menus around the bounty of food available to us here, “that’s what I want,” he says.

2. He doesn’t take the easy road …

Sure, it would be really easy to order in pre-made croutons and pre-mixed salad dressings. Sure, when people told him 10 years ago that his restaurant would never make it because he didn’t offer baked potatoes and ranch dressing, he thought (if only for a brief second) of making a menu that would always be the same, regardless of the season. Sure, he could offer the same vegetable and the same side dishes with every entree, but “there’s no fun in that,” he says.

3. He likes doing paperwork …

While many chefs dive into running their own restaurant only to find that they detest or struggle with the business side, Kilcoyne seems to dig both. “I actually enjoy doing paperwork,” he says.  The downside: He doesn’t have any business partners. So when the restaurant has the occasional slow month, he has to face the grim numbers alone.

4. He’s always had a thing for cooking …

When asked about the beginnings of his passion for food, Kilcoyne lights up as he recounts watching his great-grandfather make fettuccine alfredo. The image of him slowly chopping garlic and assembling the ingredients for this simple dish made a huge impression on the young chef.

After his great-grandfather’s passing, Kilcoyne took over the important role of carving the turkey on Thanksgiving, at the ripe old age of 11. And a few years later, all he wanted for Christmas was a pasta maker. With a smile, he recalls an afternoon home alone, where his mother walked in the door to find pasta hanging from nearly every surface. The age of 14 found him begging his parents to let him get a job at a local French restaurant, where his career officially began with a job as a dishwasher and busser.

5. He, too, struggles to eat healthy …

When speaking about his job, the juggling act that it is, Kilcoyne says the hardest thing is finding a way to eat healthy when working the crazy hours his job demands. On any given day, breakfast might consist of a tasting of all the sauces prepared for that day’s lunch service, a lunch hour that doesn’t arrive until after 2pm and a latenight dinner around 10 or 11. On the day we sat down to chat, he was sipping a meal-replacement smoothie from a local health food store, a perfect way to get the calories and energy for the long stints he faces in the kitchen.

6. Like many of us, he knows what being unemployed feels like...

Kilcoyne’s culinary resume reads like a who’s who of restaurants, with jobs at places like the old Favoritz Restaurant in Thousand Oaks, Louise’s Trattoria in Los Angeles and Chef Josiah Citrin’s Cafe Melisse in Valencia. But more than once in his career, the young Kilcoyne showed up for work only to find the restaurant closed and locks on the doors. Though not uncommon in the restaurant industry, “it feels horrible,” he says, explaining that experiences like these only inspired him to take care of his own employees.

7. He’s made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Playboy bunnies …

After attending culinary school in Portland, Oregon, Kilcoyne was offered internship opportunities at the French Laundry, the Pebble Beach Resort and the PlayboyMansion. His choice: the PlayboyMansion, for the wealth of experience the internship would provide.  And boy, does he have stories to tell from his two years working there (first as an intern and then staying on as a cook). A typical day there might involve making oatmeal for Hugh Hefner in the morning, doing a business lunch of quail and foie gras for 10, seasoning lamb chops for a dinner for 500 and taking requests from the bunnies in residence for the occasional peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

8. He does have a few haters …

Though Kilcoyne is one of the most celebrated chefs in VenturaCounty, there is always the occasional disgruntled customer. And, sure, any negative feedback hurts, even to this chef. “It’s hard to remember the 100 people that said they loved your food. It’s the 101st that has something bad to say that stands out in your mind.” The biggest complaint? That the food takes too long. Noticing that everyone is always in such a hurry these days, the chef says unapologetically, “We cook to order … and quality comes first.”

9. It all began with … hot dogs?

After his time at the PlayboyMansion and his stint at Melisse, at the age of 25 Kilcoyne was jonesing to do his own thing. But it wasn’t until his mother and stepfather bought a boat, retired to Ventura and began searching for a place to open a hot dog stand that things started to fall into place. When their search brought them to the old train car that is now the Sidecar, they couldn’t help but think of Tim. It was 2003, and Kilcoyne was about to open one of the best restaurants in the county.

10. He hates the perception that his restaurant is all about fine dining …

After spending any amount of time with Chef Kilcoyne, it becomes clear that he is just a regular down-to-earth guy who just happens to also excel in the art of cooking. He’s not a food snob, and there isn’t an ounce of arrogance to him. He cooks real food, built around farmers he shakes hands with on a regular basis. So why the white tablecloths and slightly upscale interior?

“Everything needs to be in sync,” he says, explaining that the interior of the restaurant needs to work with the exterior of the restaurant, and the white tablecloths are only fitting for such an historical space.

11. He’s not a huge meat eater …

Despite offering a menu rich with dishes like fried chicken and waffles, burgers filled with ground bacon, braised short ribs and chimichurri hanger steak, Kilcoyne says that what he really craves is vegetables. A quick look inside his refrigerator at home may find Greek yogurt, a pot of vegetable soup, a bunch of lettuce and some leftover vegetable korma. When the pantry is empty and his stomach is growling, he’ll usually throw together an Indian stir-fry, thanks to a bounty of Indian spices he keeps on hand.

12. He does like to play favorites …

His favorite kitchen gadget these days is his microplane, that everversatile tool perfect for grating ginger, garlic, fresh nutmeg and more. His favorite ingredient du jour: cardamom, which he loves to infuse into oil or mix into cream, making the perfect topping for carrot soup. Oh, and his favorite place to grab a quick late-night meal after a long day at work? In-N-Out Burger.

Allison Costa is a food writer and the owner of Ventura Food Tours, a company that offers food tasting tours around Ventura County. Visit her blog at VenturaFoodHappenings.com and for more info on her food tours visit VenturaFoodTours.com.

Article from Edible Ojai & Ventura County at http://edibleventuracounty.ediblecommunities.com/eat/12-things-you-didnt-know-about-chef-tim-kilcoyne
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