We had a chance to visit with James Beard Award nominee, Chef Tim Hollingsworth of The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California. Tim is one of five chefs up for Rising Star Chef of the Year. The winners will be announced on May 3 at Lincoln Center in NYC.
In 2008, Hollingsworth competed in the Bocuse d’Or USA, where he was awarded the opportunity to represent the U.S. at the Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine Contest, the biennial global cooking competition. In 2009, he traveled to Lyon, France, to compete in the prestigious event, where he placed 6th out of 24 prominent chef teams from around the world.
Here are Chef Hollingsworth’s answers to our 10 questions.
1. How long have you been in the restaurant business?
Well, I started when I was about 18, so…12 years now.
2. Where are you from?
Northern California. I was born in Houston but raised in Placerville, California.
3. Are you married/do you have any children?
No and no.
4. Where did you first learn to cook?
I learned to cook at a restaurant called Zachary Jacques in Placerville under a chef by the name of Christian Masse. I started there on my 18th birthday as a dishwasher, and worked my way up. It was kind of a country-French restaurant, a pretty small place, so I got to see a lot of things…a lot of good techniques. I worked there till I was 21, and that’s when I came to The French Laundry. As a kid growing up, I helped out with dinner preparation, grating cheese for tacos and things like that. My mom did a lot of baking and I got involved with that, too.
5. How did you get the news that you’d been nominated for the James Beard award?
Somebody called the restaurant—I’m not even sure who—to make sure that I was still of age, so that kind of tipped me off. (The Rising Star award goes to chefs aged 30 or younger).
6. What are some of your favorite/signature dishes? What makes them special?
We do a Sunchoke and Romaine canapÃ© that’s one of our caviar courses. It’s diced sunchoke mushrooms and diced Romaine ribs, sweating them down and adding more Romaine to it with a good amount of black pepper, some fresh oyster juice and butter. Plus the oysters and caviar. I like briny and acidic things and I really like black pepper with caviar. And there’s a foie gras and jam dish that changes with the seasons that I also like to do.
7. What do you like most about your job?
It’s a combination of a lot of things, really. I love working in California with all the amazing fresh ingredients we’re able to work with coming straight from the garden. I love working with all the talented sous chefs and chefs and the dining room team here. I love having all the freedom we have here at the restaurant and the mentorship that Thomas (Keller) gives us here.
8. What is the hardest part of your job?
Just pushing yourself every day to do it better and betterâ€”better than you did it the previous day. You want to get faster and tighter. Just that constant pressure you put on yourself. That and the long hours that you have to put in. You have to be really determined and driven in this business. We’re constantly changing our menu here, and that presents its own challenges.
9. Why do you think you were nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year?
I think that’s a difficult question to answer about yourself. I think having just been moved into this position (of chef de cuisine) is part of it. The work I did with the Bocuse d’Or kind of put my name out there a little bit, made people more aware of what I’m doing. I’m sure there are a lot of very very talented chefs out there that are doing just as good a job as I am. I’ve just been fortunate to get some publicity lately with things that I’ve been involved with.
10. What will you do to celebrate if you win?
I think I’ll celebrate with my colleagues and staff. It’s certainly not an award you win by yourself. Everything we do here is a collaborative effort and a result of teamwork—certainly among my sous chef and the guys down the line, and even the guys in front of the house. It’s not one person who operates the restaurant. It’s a group of individuals that collaborate.