The 'stache may be the first thing you notice about Taylor Thornhill (the tats are a close second), but his strong work ethic and serious, thoughtful demeanor quickly take over after just a few minutes talking with him. He's only 27-years old, but clearly an old soul when it comes to cooking (he prefers Spanish cuisine), what he's learned so far (he's worked at Rover's, Harvest Vine and Sitka & Spruce), and what sort of chef he'd like to be someday (an employed one!). He's got a new baby, a new wife, and as of four weeks ago, a new life as a member of the fine-tuned Mistral Kitchen brigade. He's also new at being interviewed -- something he openly admitted he wasn't thrilled about when told he was this week's Grillaxin target.
Photo by Julien Perry
SW: What's with the mustache?
Thornhill: I'm a chameleon in some ways. During certain blocks of time, you probably wouldn't recognize me. I'm always being influenced by fashion. This particular mustache I grew to mock Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez at Harvest Vine and just kept it.
What's your role here?
I was hired to be, if William believed in titles, the sous chef or chef de cuisine, essentially.
How come he doesn't believe in titles?
I couldn't say personally from his perspective, but I think there's kind of this modern progression towards getting away from the standard kind of idea of what a brigade system is in a kitchen and more of just a group of creative individuals coming together and making really good food and applying knowledge from a range of experiences.
How do you feel about that?
I think, for the most part, it's good. It stimulates the creative spirit of each individual on the team, however, I think a hierarchy is necessary when you have to deal with the day-to-day situations of getting people to do their jobs and holding people accountable.
You left Sitka & Spruce to come work at Mistral Kitchen. What was the appeal?
A: (Owner) William (Belickis) offered me what I wasn't being offered at my other job. I don't know if I would have considered it under other circumstances. I think it was really just the black and white between where I was and where I wanted to be. That really made the choice that much easier.
The changing of jobs was pretty seamless. I had a regular weekend off in between the two -- literally two days off and I started here. That was a big change for me just to switch gears like that mentally; to show up here and be in a completely different kitchen with different standards and different expectations. It's been different but good. William has made it more than comfortable for me to be able to do that.
Is there a specific type of kitchen you prefer working in?
When I first started out, I sought out European-born and trained chefs. That was really what I felt was the difference in molding me into the culinary professional that I wanted to be. I thought that would make a big difference.
I think so. Those gentleman have such an array of experience. It's more a part of their culture, so I felt it was important to gain that knowledge from their perspective.
What type of chef do you want to be?
It's more about cooking food that I love to cook and making people happy through that.
What sort of food do you love to cook?
I have an affinity for Spanish cuisine. I went and lived in Spain for a little bit, as well as France, and Spain was amazing -- amazing food, amazing culture, a very beautiful place.
Are you one of those chefs who dreams of having his own restaurant someday?
Before I left for Spain (right after Harvest Vine) I was actually considering opening a butcher shop, so I went there to gain first-hand experience of a European-run butcher shop. But while I was there I definitely missed being in a kitchen and cooking every day. Now, I'm trying to reconfigure that idea and maybe try to morph the two -- have something where I can still cook and enjoy that, but also do butchery.
What was your first gig after graduating from the Art Institute of Seattle in 2004?
My first job was at Mona's on Greenlake. I was working and going to school at the same time. After I reached the one-year mark, I felt I needed something more and so I quit that and apprenticed at Rover's for a while before being hired full-time.
Looking back, do you feel going to cooking school really helped your career?
I do. I probably wouldn't be where I am today without it, but I feel it goes hand-in-hand with work experience. People shouldn't count school as the one and only way to get into the field. I mean, there are plenty of amazing chefs who didn't go to school, so it could go either way.
Is cooking in a restaurant everything you thought it would be?
I'd say so. It was pretty apparent in culinary school that there was a glamour side of it that people were going to culinary school to achieve -- I think people still desire that in some aspect -- but ultimately it's hard work; it's commitment every day and you don't get rewarded until you've put in your time. So, I'm very skeptical of the overnight success that some people get in this industry and I would probably try to distance myself from that as much as possible and just keep my head down and continue to do what I love to do, and that's make food.
Check back tomorrow for part two of this week's Grillaxin with Taylor Thornhill.