A Bahamian native raised in the multicultural metropolis of Toronto, Canada, internationally-recognized Chef Tim Tibbitts brings a new level of culinary expertise to Grand Bahama Island. Having developed a passion for cooking as a child, Tim spent his younger years watching notable chefs like Julia Child, Martin Yan, Jacques Pepin, The Frugal Gourmet and Emeril Lagasse in lieu of classic cartoons – and by the time he was 12, he had already prepared and cooked his very own duck a l’orange. Turning his personal education into a professional one, Tim’s passion led him to apply for the Canadian Apprenticeship Program at the renowned George Brown College School of Culinary Arts, where he studied traditional European cuisine and discovered his passion for fusing locally-sourced ingredients in unique ways: a hallmark of his culinary style today. In 2012, along with his wife and restaurant Sommelier Rebecca Tibbitts, Tim became Co-Founder and Chef of their global restaurant concept, Flying Fish – an intelligent, modernly eclectic and seasonal fine dining experience that combines Asian, European, Canadian and Caribbean influences with fresh, sea-to-table fare, handcrafted cocktails and an extensive wine list of exclusive grapes from around the world.
OCEAN Style sat with the accomplished chef to learn a little bit more about the man and his methods.
When you were five years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve been a musician, as well as a chef, all my life. I ultimately became a chef because it allowed me to still be creative while entertaining others – but for as long as I can remember, I just wanted to be a singer.
Be honest: What is the most challenging dish for you to prepare?
Brutally honest? Fried eggs over easy. I can make a soufflé or spherification of liquid into a clear ravioli, but I can’t fry eggs perfectly without breaking half of them.
Which big city is your culinary favorite?
I still want to go to more big cities for food, but right now, I’d have to say New York City and Toronto. New York City has my favorite upscale dining, while Toronto has given me the best ethnic food experiences of my life. It’s so multicultural you can literally travel the world in one day.
Which 5 Caribbean islands would make up the stops on your dream Caribbean island yacht tour?
Some of the most beautiful places on earth are right in my home country. For sure, Harbour Island and Exuma in The Bahamas would be on there; then probably St. Maarten, Anguilla and Jamaica, as they all have outstanding food scenes.
What is your signature dish?
Grilled calamari with brown butter powder, confit garlic, heirloom tomato, capers, spherical olives, caramelized lemon. A version of this dish has been on every menu I’ve ever done for 17 years. Modern techniques have allowed us to make it texturally more interesting; but it’s just plain delicious, regardless how we make it!
If you were only allowed to have a choice of one or the other for the rest of your life, which would it be — rice or pasta?
That’s a no-brainer for me – rice for sure. My wife is allergic to wheat protein so we don’t eat pasta now! But I couldn’t live in a world without sushi.
Name your favorite Robin Williams movie.
It’s too hard to name just one – he was my favorite actor. His death was very difficult for me, as he represented all that is good and beautiful about the human spirit. His sole purpose was to make people happy – you have to love someone like that. If I have to narrow it down to five, it would be: Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet’s Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook and Patch Adams.
What are five ingredients that all amateur chefs should always have on hand in their kitchens?
The most important ingredients in cooking are salt and acid. My favorite acid is lemon. The combination of salt and lemon can make anything taste good. Add pepper (black, white or cayenne), butter, and my unusual favorite – honteri style mirin from Japan. With these ingredients, you can make anything taste good with a great balance and depth of flavors
What’s your favorite beer?
It depends where I am, but when I’m in The Bahamas, it is definitely Sands Light, from Bahamian Brewery and Beverage company. It is the most refreshing and clean-tasting beer for a hot climate.
What’s the last movie you saw in the theatre and did you enjoy it?
I don’t really go to the theatre, but the last movie I saw was Chef with Jon Favreau. It was so good I watched it again the next day. I have been in his character’s situation before, so it really hit home for me. And it was really funny, as well.
If you had to sum up your culinary career thus far with a music title, what would it be?
“We’ve Only Just Begun” – The Carpenters
If you weren’t a chef, what other career path might you have chosen?
I would definitely still be playing music. Music is a huge part of my life, and I still play at the restaurant every Sunday afternoon on the patio, just to keep my chops up.
If you could drop everything RIGHT NOW and go on a mini 4-day getaway in the Caribbean (assuming, money and travel time, to and from, were not limitations), where would you go?
Anguilla or Puerto Rico – the food scene in these two places are most intriguing to me right now. For an island as small as Anguilla, to have 4 chefs listed in the “Top 25 of the Caribbean” is a major accomplishment, and speaks loudly to the quality of food they have there.
What’s your favorite sports team?
I was a big hockey fan when I was living in Canada – the Pittsburg Penguins are my favorite team in the NHL. I love the New Orleans Saints, in the NFL, as well. In the early years, it was tough; they never seemed to get the whole package together. It’s been much better in recent years, though.
Who would be your dream celebrity client to cook a dinner for them and their friends/family?
It would have been Robin Williams, for sure. I can only imagine how much fun that would’ve been. I would do Vietnamese flavors for them… as a reminder.
What’s the best thing about being a chef in the Caribbean?
The freshness of the seafood is astonishing. You can’t imagine the difference in quality between ordering fish and having it delivered, and catching it yourself. It’s magical to be able to get seafood that fresh right at the dock of the restaurant. People just pull their boats up and we unload. Awesome stuff! I caught a huge spiny lobster by hand the other day, and I fed 7 people with it.
Which celebrity chef do you most admire?
Jean Georges Vongerichten – no one else on earth has been able to keep the level of excellence he has over so many restaurants around the world. It’s astonishing to me how good so many of his restaurants are. He has 14 AAA 4 Diamond-rated restaurants, as well as a 5 Diamond. I know how hard it was to get 4 Diamonds – I can’t imagine doing that 15 times over! He is truly one of the greatest leaders of our generation to manage to get a team together that can run all of those places, at that level.
What’s one food or dish that you’ve tried that you never, ever thought you would eat?
As a young apprentice, my chef made us eat everything – raw first, then cooked – everything! Everyone always said raw chicken was dangerous, and that’s not true at all. If the product is fresh, maintained at the correct temperature and is of very high quality, you can eat anything. I have no fears of eating anything. I figured after eating raw poultry, there wasn’t much else that can scare me. I love a lot of foods most people can’t stomach. Offals are great, and as a kid, my favorite sandwich was garlic butter and sautéed chicken hearts on white bread. I’m a bit of a weirdo.
What’s the most common misconception that you think people have about chefs?
I think people think being a chef is a glamorous life, and it’s really not. It’s hard, physical labor that takes a toll on your body, your mind and your relationships. I don’t know many chefs who have successful marriages because people who aren’t in the industry don’t understand the hours. I’ve put in my time and been very fortunate to have the ability to travel, do appearances, have a TV show etc. – but that is definitely not the norm. And when I’m at the restaurant, I’m still the first one in and last one out, over 100 hours a week, every week. You really have to love it to be successful at it.
What’s one ingredient or spice that you can’t get enough of?
Salt. I use more than a dozen different kinds of salt in the restaurant. We even sell it at the front desk, for those who are interested.
What’s new in the food industry that you’re really excited about?
I don’t really know what’s new other than what we create. We are in a fortunate position to be able to do our own R&D and make stuff up every day. There are some really cool things we’ve done that are only available here at Flying Fish and nowhere else. We get excited about finding new concepts and techniques every day.
For more on Chef Tim Tibbitts and his Bahamas Restaurant Flying Fish visit http://www.flyingfishbahamas.com/