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Chef Tre Wilcox at starchefs.com
Patrick Langlinais

Tre Wilcox
Abacus
4511 McKinney Ave,
Dallas, 75205
(214) 559-3111

Recipe »

Interview:
Antoinette Bruno: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Tre Wilcox: After high school graduation I was really torn. I knew I really loved to play in the kitchen, but I wasn’t so sure it could parlay that in to a legitimate career. Once I figured out I could maybe make a living doing what I loved, I was hooked.

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Chef Tre Wilcox
Abacus | Dallas


Biography
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.

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Interview Cont'd
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?
TW: 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 you down.

AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
TW: Sharon Hage at York Street.

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 so important.

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?
TW: L’Art 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 now?
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 delicate tastes.

AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
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 you?
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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  •    Published: April 2007

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