Chewing The Fat With Chef Tim Dyson Of Dooby’s
Tim Dyson didn’t fall in love with cooking when he was young. There was no romantic notion of being in the kitchen, working with his hands or love of the rush of a busy night on the line. It simply was something that he was pretty good at and that was enough for him.
I don’t meant to make it sound like he didn’t care. It’s just that it took a little time. He was pragmatic. The function of what he was doing, blended with a love of food was a good combo. He started out helping his mom at work. She worked in many kitchens along the east coast and as a kid, Tim would do dishes, help with prep, side work and whatever else needed to get done. School wasn’t his biggest priority and he was attracted to the forgiving nature of the restaurant industry and he seemed to find a good fit.
Tim attended Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh and all through cooking school, he worked with his dad doing manual labor like snow clearing, etc. “Yeah, that was no fun at all,” Tim said. After a while, he began to focus more and more of his time and energy on cooking. “I learned so much in culinary school. I just wanted to use it all.” While in school, he worked for the Allegro Restaurant Group in Pittsburgh, which primarily focused on Mediterranean and Southern French cooking. He worked constantly, eager to learn more and more. Once he finished culinary school, he continued to work for Allegro and then in 2005, he moved to Aberdeen, working for Carried Away Gourmet, Hillendale Country Club and DuClaw Brewing Company. Later, he moved onto Ropewalk Tavern in Bel Air and then to Ropewalk’s new place, Clayton’s for about year. Then he eventually landed at the Peabody Court Hotel. This was one of his first ‘real’ chef jobs and while it was a ton of work, overall it was a good experience. Learning and putting in your time is important in this chef life.
Then, in 2006, Tim stopped drinking and he became more focused. Now, while he still wasn’t completely in love with what he was doing, his confidence was building. And he was beginning to feel the love.
Then came Meli, from the owners of Kali’s Court. He was excited at the idea of working there and liked the atmosphere of Kali’s and Meli. He was disappointed with his experience at Meli, but he knew he needed to stay for a few years. And he did. Then something big happened, Kali’s Court Executive Chef Brian Martin left to open Preston’s 500 on University Parkway and Tim was promoted at Kali’s. That seemed big, but then it just didn’t hold up to the idea Tim had in his head. However, one really key thing happened while he was at Kali’s – he finally had a real mentor in Brian. “He taught me how to be a real chef. He’s quiet – a real craftsman. He thinks like a real chef and he gets the business side of it, too. Business sense combined with craft equals the whole picture. It’s everything.”
Then, a curve. Tim was diagnosed with testicular cancer. And that changes things, as you can imagine. It just does. He had surgery, treatment and recovery all while on staff at Kali’s Court. Once the cancer was behind him, he began to question his choices. “I wondered, is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?” That reflection made him consider a job that didn’t sound like the most exciting choice for an up-and-coming chef, teaching cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma. But, he enjoyed the hands-on work teaching home cooks, giving advice and tips – and he was good at it and it paid pretty well. While he was teaching classes part-time, Brian Martin called. He has been hired to be the chef at Chestnut Ridge Country Club – and the writing was on the wall, the club was closing. Brian asked Tim to come and work with him for a few months until the club closed. The job came with great pay and benefits, so Tim was happy to help his mentor. Then, came Sobo Café in Federal Hill with Anna Leventis.”Anna was great to me. I helped her get organized since she was a new owner. I stayed there for a year and then Bluegrass happened.” At Bluegrass – just south of Sobo Café – Tim was both Executive Chef and General Manager for two years, not something that’s easy for many chefs. But, Tim felt like he was still learning and getting better and better.
Then, he met Phil Han of Dooby’s. The two kept in touch, shared ideas. Phil was really good at the marketing and management side of things, but needed to learn more about the culinary side. “I saw Phil’s vision for the future and I was definitely impressed.” So, he went to Dooby’s and has been Executive Chef there since August of 2014. “I’m not interested in being the next Top Chef. I see a need for more casual food in Baltimore. That’s what people want – super approachable, good food. That’s what we’re doing at Dooby’s.”
Was food a big part of your upbringing? Did you cook when you were a kid?
TD: Yeah, I cooked at home with my dad. My mom worked in restaurants and I always thought the atmosphere at restaurants was sort of magical. You know, as a kid, you see things differently. And we never really went out to eat in restaurants, we didn’t have money for that. I remember that when my mom cooked, she was always trying new things.
Lots of kids get to choose their birthday meal…what was yours? And what do you like to have for your birthday meal now?
TD: Chicken parmesan. My mom made the best chicken parm. To this day, I want chicken parm. Cakes, too. I love a good cake.
The hours can’t be easy. I guess days off are big?
TD: Yeah, I still play music, I have all my life. I try to make time for music. And, I go to the gym four or five times a week to blow off steam – it keeps me balanced. I’m so busy. Everyone is these days. But sometimes I try to have a “by myself” day – I go to a music store, go have sushi solo – it’s amazing. I also love time with my wife Genei. We try to have one day off a week together. It’s important.
Are there any food trends you can’t stand?
TD: I guess I have a love/hate relationship with the modern food movement. There seems to be a lack of real craftsmanship. Entitlement is a problem. You have to grind for a really long time to earn your spot. Young chefs need to understand that. As far as food trends go, things change so quickly. By the time people hate food trends, they’re on their way out. The watered down farm-to-table thing is sad. Farm-to-table is not a trend. We need to get back to it – otherwise it’s not fair to the farmers or the customers. Integrity on the plate is #1.
Any celebrity chefs you like? Do you get to watch any food tv?
TD: No, I really don’t watch a lot of tv. But I do admire Gordon Ramsey. Sure, he seems like he’s a certain way, maybe some people see the tv villain. I see a real deal chef. He uses good ingredients, solid technique. I’ve read his books and have learned a lot from him.
What do you like about Baltimore?
TD: I guess that there is so much untapped potential. We have a mix of people. Like, art students and white trash. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think this city is perfect for me – we have blue collar potential, it’s cool. We’re on the verge of something really awesome and I’m so proud to be a part of this place. We’re near so much cool stuff, like the Eastern Shore. When I have a couple of days off, one of my favorite things to do is go to Smith Island and Crisfield. I love going to Ruke’s General Store – they have 100% the best crab cakes – it’s the sweetest crab meat ever.
What do you love about food?
TD: I love that I can never stop learning. The discovery. It’s great. I will never say “My cooking style is…” I won’t. If I ever lose the open-mindedness to learn new things, I’m dead in the water.
What are some of your favorite restaurants?
TD: I feel like I’m going to leave someone out. (Laughs) I love Nick’s Chicken on Washington Boulevard. I go there once or twice a week if I can. Their soul food rotisserie chicken is the absolute best. And, I always crave ice cream at The Charmery. Sobo Café is an amazing value for the quality of food. Also, Woodberry Kitchen. Opie Crooks is the best chef in Baltimore, a true craftsman in the modern sense. Zack Mills at Wit & Wisdom, too. What a great guy, great chef. As for date night, we don’t really get out that much.
Okay, obligatory. When you cook at home, what do you like to make? Do you have any “go to” meals?
TD: Genei likes to cook, but when I cook for her, I tend to make really simple things. That’s what she likes. We do a lot of homestyle comfort food. I like to use my charcoal grill, that’s always fun. Also, since I am working out a lot more lately, I tend to eat cleaner at home now.
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Coming soon to “The Hatch” just around the corner from Dooby’s (remember, where the completely awesome Dylan’s Oyster Cellar was?) is a new cocktail bar, Sugarvale. Opening date TBD. Follow Dooby’s on social media to stay in the loop.