Q&A with Chef Tim Slavin, Juniper Restaurant & Martini Lounge
Q&A with Tim Slavin, executive chef at Juniper Restaurant & Martini Lounge
I have been eating at Juniper since its much-lauded opening back in the fall of 2011, and have been impressed on every visit. But my most extraordinary Juniper-related dining moment was not at the restaurant, but in a small dining room in north Tulsa at the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.
There, Juniper’s Executive Chef Tim Slavin, a sage 26 years old, wowed a small group of diners with his super-creative cooking style. He was the featured chef for one of Jenny Vergara’s amazing Test Kitchen dinners and served us a seven-course tasting menu, “A Few of Chef’s Favorite Things,” which ended with a crazy miracle berry and citrus tasting. Mind $%!@ was the name of the dish, and that’s how I describe the entire meal.
Judy Allen: You have settled into a rhythm as chef de cuisine of Juniper, which is still considered one of the top spots for dining in the state. What or whom do you look towards for menu inspiration?
Tim Slavin: When I create a dish I draw from other chefs, cookbooks and what is available at the farmers’ market. I can walk through the market and come up with 20 dishes in my head. I love Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook and especially 11 Madison Park by Daniel Humm. That book changed a lot of the ways I think about food as far as technique and plating. He’s the culinary idol in my eyes—he creates simple, classic flavor pairings but presents them in a unique and modern way.
JA: At Jenny’s Test Kitchen dinner you were given free rein of the menu, which is great fun for a chef who typically makes the same menu items on a daily basis. What is it like working in one of Justin Thompson’s kitchens?
TS: We talk a lot about what we like and don’t like, or what we want to change on the menu, but I am given free rein. I look at seasonality, locality and play to those strengths when creating dishes. I am really young for a chef, and I was given an opportunity that I want to share with my cooks here. They get to put their name on their food and their menu items. It helps to build confidence and creativity. My Sous-Chef Matt Jolly and I meet weekly to talk about the menu. Sometimes we feature a friendly competition to highlight certain individuals, such as the line cooks, who don’t often get any recognition. We leave it open to them to come up with the menu ideas. We also had a cook that studied in Italy for a while, so we did an Italian menu when she got back, featuring the things that she learned.
JA: You said that you spent many hours cooking with your grandmothers to prepare you for a future career in the culinary arts. What did they teach you that you use today in your cooking?
TS: They had me cooking at age 4 or 5. We made omelets, which are still one of my favorite things to cook. I helped flip them. Egg cookery stuck with me from the get-go… I’m really particular about eggs! They instilled a passion to be in the kitchen and play with your food. Every time I have an omelet it brings me back to my grandparents. And I have had a lot of good mentors. Philippe Garmy taught me about creating a culinary philosophy and creating the style of chef I want to be, no matter what the cuisine.
JA: I’m sure your two roommates benefit from your home cooking. Are they receptive to your kitchen experimentation?
TS: I don’t cook at home as much as they wish I did… it’s probably only two times a month, but we do have a nice family dinner. I just make something with either what we have at the house or a quick trip to the store ... there’s no rhyme or reason. I also cook for our big group of friends around the holidays.
JA: What do you like to cook at home?
TS: The food I like to cook at work is definitely not the food I go home and eat. I like simple comfort food.
JA: That does seem to be a common thread among chefs. When you are not doing the cooking, whose food do you crave?
TS: I am all about Ming’s Noodle House. I eat there at least once a week. I love Lucky’s brunch. I used to work there so they are like a second family. I also try to eat at our other restaurants (Prhyme Downtown Steakhouse and Tavolo Italian Bistro) once or twice a month, just to keep up with what everyone is doing. I draw inspiration from all the different food I eat. The kimchi from Ming’s inspired me—I came up with an Okie version made with watermelon rind.