George Brown College, School of Culinary Arts
Kitchens of Toronto
Flying Fish Restaurant
Grand Bahama, The Bahamas
AAA 'Four Diamond' Rating
Top 25 Caribbean Chefs
Today we kick off our first installment of our Q&A series “Yes Chef!” where we introduce you to some of the most talented culinary masters the Caribbean has to offer. Our first featured Chef is Bahamian Tim Tibbitts of Flying Fish Restaurant, in Freeport, Grand Bahama. Chef Tibbitts will be cooking at The James Beard House, in New York City, on Thursday July 10th which coincides with The Bahamas’ Independence Day.
Chef Tibbitts was born in Nassau, Bahamas but grew up in Toronto, Canada. His interest in food goes back to his childhood and he eventually enrolled in the Canadian Apprenticeship Program at Toronto’s famed George Brown College, School of Culinary Arts. After several years of working in small, high-end kitchens in the Toronto, Tim and with his wife Rebecca, a Sommelier, moved back to The Bahamas in 2007, eventually opening Flying Fish on Grand Bahama island. Flying Fish was recently awarded a Four Diamond rating by AAA, only the third restaurant in Bahamian history to do so. He is a contributing writer for a local daily as well as a contributor to a Canadian magazine and is working on television projects for both local and international media.
Eat The Caribbean: When did you realize that you wanted to be a chef?
Chef Tim Tibbitts: I never really did. I wanted to be a musician. Cooking was a way for me to stay creative doing something I enjoyed while paying the bills that music was creating. I started really concentrating on my chef career in 2006. I had worked for good chefs, done culinary apprenticeship, worked in many different kitchens, even ran a couple small kitchens in that time. But when we made the decision to come to The Bahamas, I knew I needed to give it 100% of my efforts. It was a good decision. Turns out I was a better chef than musician anyway.
My cooking is very eclectic and creative with a dash of cerebral. Like myself really. I have to constantly be creating or my mind goes a little stir crazy. It can be anything, not just food.
ETC: How do you describe your style of cooking?
TT: My cooking is very eclectic and creative with a dash of cerebral. Like myself really. I have to constantly be creating or my mind goes a little stir crazy. It can be anything, not just food. In food, I take everything available to me through my past, places we’ve travelled, chefs I’ve worked with, technology available, then use the best ingredients I can find to create food that’s both incredibly complicated yet very simple at the same time. For us, food is more than just something to fill your stomach. It needs to stir something in your head as well. Emotions or memories or whimsy or just make you wonder how this happened.
ETC: What other chefs, Caribbean or otherwise, have influenced you most?
TT: Two for sure that no one has ever heard of Roger Genoe and Matt Brook. I worked for these two chefs for the bulk of my early career. Roger taught me great lessons about this business like respect for product, for other chefs and cooks, and most important the respect for your guests time. Matt showed me the business side of being a chef. Food costing, menu engineering, planning, logistics, P&L’s etc. I learned all the math from him. Both of these guys helped me succeed in this business. Others that influence what I do that I respect immensely: Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, Grant Achatz, Eric Ripert, Daniel Humm, Laurent Gras, Morimoto, George Colambaris, Shannon Bennett, Peter Gilmore, Andoni Aduriz, Juan Roca. The list could go on and on. I watch closely to what chefs are doing. Follow trends to try and stay ahead of the curve so you aren’t the trend itself.
I don’t repeat myself if at all possible. Great culinary leaders and innovators predict and create the trend. That’s where we want to be.
And also, my Bahamian mentor Simeon Hall. He is such a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Caribbean cuisines having spent much of his life travelling the Caribbean to understand the subtle differences between the cultures. He’s a great chef and a good friend.
ETC: How would you describe the state of Caribbean cuisine and where do you see it going?
TT: I hope to see it start moving forward. Currently I find little in the Bahamas specifically that excites me when it comes to cooking. I think most of that is because there are so few chefs that actually own their own places. It’s hard to generate the capital to do a restaurant at a high level. But without the freedom of ownership it’s very difficult to be truly creative. I would love to see more chef-driven restaurants in the Bahamas. You see them in other Caribbean nations especially Anguilla, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and even the Virgin Islands but here we are so indebted to massive foreign corporations for the tourism product that we cater too much to the bottom line.
ETC: You grew up in Toronto, a city known for it’s culinary scene and foodie culture. What do you think can be done to create that kind of culture in The Bahamas?
TT: It’s starting. When I first moved back to the Bahamas the first thing I noticed was a complete lack of Chef Culture. In Toronto, everyone knew everyone and all the hospitality workers hung out together and dished about the guests and work and new ideas. Here it’s so cut throat that no one would really even talk to us. Like we were stealing something from them. It was very disheartening. Now I have lots of Bahamian chef friends, although they’re almost all in Nassau or other out islands where I’m not competing for their market share so I guess not much has really changed after all. The biggest thing that needs to happen here is people need to travel. If you don’t open yourself to the rest of the world you will always live in a bubble. Only when the bubble bursts will you understand your true place in the world.
ETC: Do you cook at home, and if so, what is your favourite dish to prepare?
TT: I don’t cook much at my home. I will gladly cook on my days off for friends in their home but rarely for myself. I like to feed people. And it’s usually simple comfort food.
ETC: What is the most under-appreciated or overlooked ingredient that you are a fan of?
TT: Salt. I think salt is more than just a seasoning. I will use multiple kinds of salts in one dish to bring depth and texture to a dish. Salt, butter and lemon are my favorite ingredients.
ETC: You have been invited to join chef Anthony Lamas for his Sustainable Seafood event at the James Beard House in New York City. Tell us more about how that came about?
TT: Crazy coincidence really. A friend of ours who has a vacation home in Grand Bahama lives in Louisville KY where Anthony lives. She was bringing a group of girlfriends down for a ladies weekend. She asked my to do something special for them so we did a long tasting menu that was super-fun. One of the guests with her was Anthony’s wife. She raved to Anthony about the meal and mentioned the next day that Anthony had an event in NYC and wondering if I would like to join. I jumped at the chance.
Not just because it’s James Beard House which is amazing by itself, but also because Anthony is one of the best Latin chefs in America and one of the biggest up and coming celebrity chefs going. It’s a style of cooking I don’t know a lot about and I love to learn. I figured, what better way to get some new chops than with one of the very best in his field in the hallowed halls!
ETC: Grand Bahama has had a rough stretch as far as tourism is concerned over the last few years. What is the climate like for your restaurant, Flying Fish?
TT: It is very tough. Opening a restaurant like Flying Fish in Grand Bahama was not likely the smartest business move ever. The market is hard, very small, not the most worldly when it comes to food, and for the most part it has been shrinking for years. But we love this place and it’s where we want to live. Flying Fish is my “field of dreams” and we believed “if you build it, they will come”. So here we are. And it is getting better. We like to think we are one of the reasons the island is growing. No one has ever attempted a restaurant at this level here before. We’re setting the precedent.
ETC: Finally, what’s next for Chef Tim Tibbitts?
TT: We have so much going on. New York this week, constant filming for our upcoming tv show that will air nationally in the Bahamas on channel 12, a southern USA food tour in August and September with some amazing chefs, a national food show in the Bahamas where I’ll be doing demos again this year, working closely with our show sponsors on other projects and hopefully some great collaborations with other great chefs. I look forward to it all!
We want to thank Chef Tibbitts for such a wonderfully candid Q&A! Stay tuned for more culinary conversations with the best and brightest chefs of the Caribbean right here on Eat The Caribbean!