Pastry Chef Tim Butler
Alto | New York
A 1998 graduate of the CIA, Tim Butler joined the Alto
staff as pastry chef after opening the acclaimed LA restaurant Providence
with chef Michael Cimarusti. His resume also includes working as
pastry chef at Aquavit and Daniel in New York
and Bernardus Lodge in his hometown of Carmel, California.
Butler’s desserts are marked by unpredictable flavor pairings. In his Meyer lemon and ricotta tart Butler cuts the soft, mild cheese with a limoncello and gin gelee. The flavors are familiar but not in this context; Butler incorporates them seamlessly, brushing a sable Breton with olive oil, garnishing logically with micro sorrel, and seasoning with salt. His appreciation of spices and interest in the flavors of Southeast Asia come through in a dish of mango, garnished with a bright curry tuile.
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AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
TB: I graduated from CIA in 1998. I don’t think it’s terribly important to hire people with a culinary school background, but I do recommend going to learn the basics.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
TB: Marcus Samuelson at Aquavit is a mentor – from him I learned to look at food differently and experiment with unexpected combinations, and to mix savory and sweet elements.
AB: In which kitchens have you staged? Do you take stagiers in your kitchen?
TB: I haven’t staged anywhere, but we I do accept stagiers in my kitchen.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
TB: Why do you want to do this?
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
TB: Saffron has such a good flavor profile in pastry. It works well with dark chocolate, pineapple, cream – it can adapt to a lot of different flavors. I also use curry with sweet flavors.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
TB: Michel Bras and Paco
AB: What are your most essential tools? Why?
TB: The Pacojet is so versatile – it can do ice cream, granites, mousses, and powders. I also use my microplane and offset spatula all the time.
AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
TB: Cambodia and Vietnam for the spices.
AB: What languages do you speak?
AB: What are your favorite restaurants off-the-beaten-path in your city?
TB: Tulcingo del Valle on 47nd street and 10th avenue. It’s really authentic Mexican food. I get the tongue taco and horchata.
AB: Where do you like to eat pastry?
TB: Room 4 Dessert
and Kyotofu on 48th and 10th. The old Kyotofu
chef, Ritsuko Yamaguchi, is great.
AB: What is your pastry philosophy?
TB: Everything should taste good. If you have to think about a dessert too hard then you’ve kind of lost the concept.
AB: What person in history would you most like to have dinner with?
TB: Jim Morrison. He’s an interesting guy who lived by his own rules – a free spirit.
AB: Where do you fit into your local culinary community?
TB: I don’t know – that’s hard to answer. I hang out with the other guys in the industry and try to keep in touch with what they’re doing. I’ve done a few things at The French Culinary Institute. I take stages in my kitchen. We don’t do that many events, but we did participate in the Tap Project UNICEF event that raises money to provide kids with clean drinking water.
AB: What are your top three tips for pastry success?
TB: 1) Read as much as possible 2) Eat out as much as you can to see what’s going on around you in the industry 3) Keep a good attitude.
AB: If you weren’t a chef, what do you think you’d be doing?
AB: What does success
mean for you?
like to own a small, successful high-end restaurant and be financially
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