Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Pan Planner

Bear Creek Country Club Chef Toby Tindall’s got the touch — and he’s always ready to use it.


In Bear Creek Country Club’s steaming hot kitchen, Chef Toby Tindall scoops huge ladles full of beans from a five-gallon pot and dumps them into a serving tray — not a drop spills. Even as he removes eight racks of cooked chile-and-lime-glazed chickens — all 50 of ’em — the lean 40-year-old is graceful. His staff of a half-dozen is equally precise. Within a few hours, an extravagant barbecue buffet for 250 will be served, and everything will go as planned. The smooth efficiency with which Tindall’s kitchen runs is a direct byproduct of his work ethic — plan, plan some more, and execute.

“It’s all in the preparation,” he said. “You do the preparation, the planning, and then the execution doesn’t have to be done with the stress you see in so many kitchens.”

A father of three and former second-class petty officer in the Navy, Tindall didn’t always run a tight ship. “I used to throw sauté pans and scream and rant, but then I had kids, and they slowed me down some. These days I’d rather be done before the last minute.”

Planning is what brought Tindall to the unique world of corporate chefdom from years of cooking at independent restaurants. Working for hotels afforded him the one thing he couldn’t get from the indies — solid medical insurance coverage, which became incredibly important in 1999, when his first daughter was born.

His first stop back then was at a local Marriott that served only high cuisine. “Everything was fresh, made from scratch, and the menus were interesting.” His next gig reinforced what he and a lot of us feel about hotel food — blech! “Everything was frozen, even the vegetables,” he said. “We were serving dry chicken breast with potatoes, same thing every day.”

Tindall quickly began applying the knowledge he had accumulated from years of work at various local haunts. His resumé includes a stint at the legendary Bistro Louise, where Tindall has the distinction of being the restaurant’s first chef de cuisine and reportedly the city’s first source of tapas.

“I began to teach the [hotel] staff that we could do great food just by changing things up a little,” he said. “Fresh ingredients, not frozen. A little spice here, a dash of something there. It just takes attention to detail, a love of cuisine, and the desire to serve something you’re proud of.”

Like a lot of the best chefs, Tindall has no formal training. In addition to now having worked for over 25 years in variously sized kitchens, Tindall has cooking in his blood — his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all worked in the food service industry. One of his earliest memories is of watching a chef deglaze mushrooms in brandy. When 5-year-old Toby saw the eye-popping pan fire, he said, “Wow! That’s what I want to do when I grow up.”

Grown-up Toby is doing it, all right, and well. In foodie talk, Tindall’s got the touch, the ability to take the same ingredients as other chefs and turn out dishes that are a cut above. You can attribute some of his skill to his advanced palate. Some, to experience. And some, to ... who knows? It’s a gift.

With his good looks, affable manner, and penchant for planning ahead, Tindall could easily handle any kitchen in town. “Some days I want to get on the line and cook a la carte and rifle fine dishes out like a gunslinger,” he said. “Some days I love working banquets. And some days, like today, I love just making a knock-out barbecue. I love it all really, from the front of the house to designing a new kitchen to coming up with flavors no one’s ever tasted before. Just depends on the day.”

But he’s extremely happy with Bear Creek. Before he began work at the public golf course about a month ago, Tindall cooked for three years at Café West in the Courtyard by Marriott near Ridgmar Mall. For a brief period at the beginning of his Café West tenure, he was quite literally the talk of the town. Who would have thought that a location out by a Wal-Mart and a sea of chain restaurants was the place to get some of the most adventuresome cuisine in town. From the tilapia torta with homemade aioli to the fried quail with habanera plum glaze to the smoked salmon salad with a blood-orange vinaigrette and roasted pears, Tindall’s fare was truly a pleasant surprise. He managed to attract a decent-sized lunch crowd every day, but dinners were hit or miss. When the Bear Creek job opened, he was ready for a change of scenery.

In fact, you could say he was prepared.

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