Interview with Chef Tracy Miller of Local - Dallas

May, 2007

Antoinette Bruno: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Tracy Miller: I started in a sort of unconventional way. I worked in, then owned, “pro shops” which sold sporting goods. I had two shops, and when I was opening my third, I was asked to include a deli. That was my real debut in the food business, and I was pretty much self-taught. My first total food industry job was as a restaurant manager at the 1717 Restaurant in the Dallas Museum of Art with Kent Rathbun. I managed everything, including catering, and really got a taste for how it worked.

AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
TM: I was doing catering work while I was developing my concept for LOCAL. I was independently funded. I wanted to build a reputation, a destination, and a location so I raised money through catering. In 1998 I got the space at the Boyd Hotel, which was built in 1908, so it needed complete renovations. In 2003, LOCAL was finally born.

AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
TM: I went to Culinary Institute of America, Greystone for continuing education for a couple of months, but it wasn’t culinary school. Seeing how I have struggled without experience from culinary school makes me strongly recommend it to others. If I had to do it all over, I would definitely have gone to school to learn the fundamentals.

AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
TM: Kent Rathbun, the chef at Abacus in Dallas, gave me my first chance in the food industry and I will always be grateful to him for that. I appreciate Danny Meyer. Donna Hay from Australia has really mastered clean and simple Australian cooking. I’m always impressed by Thomas Keller's detail and the orchestration of his dishes. Jean-Georges is great and Alice Waters at Chez Panisse is the ultimate in the California culinary world.

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?
TM: You have to look at their experience and figure out what they are looking for in a job to see if they will be a good fit. There’s way more to the hiring process than just the interview. You have to be confident that a job candidate is clean, reliable, and dependable. There are some key questions, though. Find out what kind of foods inspire them if they can work with small stuff in a small kitchen. If they can follow directions and are consistent, it’s a win/win situation.

AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
TM: Really identify what your personal vision is. Do you just want to coast, or are you going to be truly passionate about what you are doing? You must devour information and read any books and magazines you can get your hands on. You have to read to learn.

AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
KC: Stephan Pyles, Sharon Hage, and Kent Rathbun.

AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
TM: Balsamic vinegar, because it is so versatile. It can be used for color, reductions, salads, practically everything.

AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
TM: Tawny port with lavender and Madeira. I’m a huge sweet person. Chocolate and ice cream are a naturally perfect match. I like grapefruit and rosemary a lot too.

AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
TM: A Kitchen-Aid because I’m always mixing. I love my Global knife, too.

AB: Describe a culinary technique that you have either created of borrowed and use in an unusual way.
TM: I like everything to be clean and tight, and tend to work on a relatively small scale. I encourage practice and repetition on dishes. Prepare it once, test it, and make it right.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
TM: All of Donna Hays’ books.

AB: Where to you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
TM: I always find instant inspiration on my trips to New York. Paris and Australia are both beautiful and inspiring as well.

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?
TM: I love Teppo Sushi in lower Greenville. The soft shell crab, smoked salmon, and spicy tuna are all great. Avila’s Mexican off of Maple Avenue is good old school Mexican. Pam Haskell makes good traditional tamales and pork and chicken enchiladas.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
TM: In the last two to three years, I’ve seen a lot of wonderful chefs going back to basics with modern American cuisine. Also, the dining demographic has changed. Restaurant guests are more educated and experienced in the culinary scene and really want to be wowed when they go out.

AB: Who do you most admire?
TM: Professionally I admire Donna Hay, Danny Meyer, and Jean-Georges. Personally, I love Madonna and Marianne Williamson for her spirituality.

AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be?
TM: A photographer.

AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
TM: I think you’re successful when you can still be constantly inspired and motivated to strive to the next level, of food, restaurants, and your complete vision. I would like to open a bakery, but I do so much here and the menu changes so frequently here that I have my hands full.

AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community? Nationally/Globally?
TM: I’ve not contributed a lot because I just haven’t had the time. I try to do as many charity events as I can, though.

Related Links