Interview with Chef Tre Wilcox of Abacus - Dallas

May, 2007

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.

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.