Chef Tre Wilcox
Abacus | Dallas
Tre Wilcox began his culinary career at the age of 17 when
he started working at several fast food restaurants and landed a
position at Eatzi’s. Fluent in both English and Spanish,
Wilcox worked his way up to a corporate trainer position and was
sent all over the country to assist in opening five new outposts.
The immersion in Eatzi's rigorous training meant focusing
on organization, knife skills and team management.
Determined to fully explore the culinary world, Wilcox’s career
goals led him to his first foray into fine dining at David Holben’s
Toscana Restaurant. It was during this experience that
his interest quickly turned into a true passion – just look
at the tattoo down his forearm, which reminds him every day: "Gotta
Have Passion." Wilcox found his way to Abacus under
Kent Rathbun, who would polish his skills as a cook. Beginning as
grill cook, Wilcox quickly moved up to Sous Chef and then to Executive
Sous Chef in 2003, and most recently was promoted to Chef de Cuisine,
as position in which he continues to refine his skills by creating
precise and well-executed dishes.
In 2003, Tre worked with wine manager Matthew Scott to develop the
menu for Dallas’ KRLD Restaurant Week where he received the
“Best Food and Wine Pairings” distinction. This recognition
won him a scholarship for continuing his education at the Culinary
Institute of America in Greystone, California. Today Wilcox is Abacus'
self-confident Chef de Cuisine who’s not afraid to discuss
how corporate training for a national food chain shaped his skills
as a leader. But his skills in the kitchen truly impress: every
element on the plate is cooked to point—from the starring
protein to the minutiae of the pearl onion garnish. Garnishes are
always functional and no unnecessary elements find their way to
the plate. His dishes, like his duck three ways, shows off not one
but three perfect cooking techniques as well as a sensible, pleasing
geometry, are driven by an obvious passion for food and showmanship.
AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
TW: Little Honda’s
Southern Chicken was my first opportunity. I moved to Boston
Market Chicken. My job was to break up the whole raw chicken
in to pieces. It was gross but I mastered it and grew past it. I
worked as a night manager in a bunch of places, which taught me
the corporate aspects of the industry. I learned how to operate
a kitchen and make it function. My first fine dining job was at
David Holben’s Toscana. Then I went on to Abacus.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you
hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
I am partial to culinary school kids but nothing can replace real
kitchen experience. Culinary school and plenty of externships make
the ideal combination.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
TW: Kent Rathbun, the chef
at Abacus in Dallas, really helped to train me. I came
to him entirely unpolished and he helped me out. Thomas Keller is
someone I respect as well.
AB: What question gives you
the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for
a position in your kitchen?
TW: It’s pretty simple: I make sure they love to cook and
are ready to work.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
TW: Try to figure out early if cooking is a true passion. If you
don’t absolutely love it, get out early because it will wear
AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
TW: Sharon Hage at York
AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under
appreciated or under utilized?
TW: Organs. It shows a lot of skill to be able to utilize every
part of an animal.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
TW: I’m in to mixing different textures a lot, but I like
sweet, savory, and spicy flavors all mixed together
AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
TW: Hot food has to stay hot
so a hot plate, as long as it doesn’t spit or sizzle, it's
AB: Describe a culinary technique
that you have either created of borrowed and use in an unusual way.
TW: I like to mix unexpected
ingredients, like cheap and impressive. I use potatoes in sauce
a lot, like in my white truffle and potato sauce.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
Culinaire by Escoffier and Meat
and Game by Charlie Trotter.
AB: Where would you like to
go for culinary travel? Why?
TW: I like to go to France,
somewhere outside of Paris. I recently went to the Alain Ducasse
training center for four weeks.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants-off the beaten path-in your
city? What is your favorite dish there? What are your favorite after
hour places and bars?
TW: My wife and I love Fuse.
It’s Tex-Asian fusion. Blaine (Staniford) is really good.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry
TW: Californian health consciousness is in full swing in Dallas
now. People are manipulating ingredients for that ultimate “wow”
factor, like making edible paper.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
TW: Cook for a woman if you want an honest and accurate opinion
of your food. Their palates are more sensitive and they have more
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be
TW: Maybe I’d play soccer.
I’d be way more popular!
AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for
TW: I’d like to own my
own restaurant, and maybe have a TV show...
AB: How are you involved in
your local culinary community? Nationally/Globally?
TW: I work at Central Market
and the Dallas Farmer’s Market.
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