Chef David Trubenbach at Asador on Sourcing Locally and Grass on the Side
Originally from Williamsburg, Virginia, Chef David Trubenbach got his first job at an IHOP when he was 17 as a way to save money for a car. However, it turned out to be the beginning of culinary career. After high school he enrolled at Johnson and Wales and from there moved to Orlando, Florida, where he worked at Primo with Chef Melissa Kelly, a true pioneering spirit in the farm to table movement.
Since moving to Dallas a year ago to lead the kitchen at Asador in the Renaissance Hotel, Trubenbach has carried over what he learned at Primo by sourcing locally when he can and, though it's difficult at times, he is trying to bring the farm to table.
How did you initially get into cooking?
When I was younger I needed a job. My dad rebuilt old cars and I wanted one, so I got a job at an IHOP busing tables and washing dishes. I started watching the cooks because I was drawn to what they we're doing. Eventually I started helping them prep, served some, then over time I got into management, but I was always drawn to the kitchen.
What is it about the restaurant business that you like so much?
I love not knowing what's going to happen day to day and how at a restaurant things are always changing. After high school I went to Johnson and Wales University and while I was there started working for some guys who had their own place that were graduates. There were two other guys helping out as well. One was a CIA grad with a thick résumé and the other was a self-taught chef. I loved watching the differences in how they worked. Unfortunately the restaurant didn't make it. But I learned so much by watching them.
You've mentioned that with a lot of your early gigs, you started out washing dishes. Is that part paying your dues?
Part of it is that it's a way to get in. But it also definitely makes you appreciate every aspect of the restaurant more. If you can't wash dishes, then you're not going to respect your people. As a chef, you have to be able to help in every part of the kitchen. It's a respect factor because it's all teamwork.
With the increase enrollment in culinary school over the past few years, partially due to food TV, do you think there's disillusionment about that aspect of the job?
Definitely. And Food TV has changed it. I have some friends who are on the shows, who did well and went on the great things. But it's not that way for everyone.
I work 12 to 13 hours a day, six days a week. I usually get a day off. When we first opened we didn't have the staff we needed here, so I had to work more. A couple of months I worked 7 days a week, 18 hours a day. Chefs have to expect that coming into a new place.
Sounds like a recipe for burnout.
You really have to take care of yourself. I eat the way I cook and I'm very active on my days off.
One of the major themes here at Asador is eating local.
"Modern farm to fire" is our tag line. We have a smoker in the back and we use mesquite wood to grill everything. I learned so much about local sourcing and the farm to table movement from Chef Melissa Kelly at Primo.
Is the local movement different in Florida?
In Florida it was obviously easier to find produce and seafood, but harder to find beef. But, here there's no produce and lots of beer and cheese.
How did you start the farm to table process when you moved here?
When I first came here, I was on the Internet looking up slow foods. Literally, scouring the Internet and on the phone calling people, trying to find different foods.
Was that a hard process since there's not one central hub?
Yes, it was hard. But, I just kept calling people I knew to see if they knew anyone. Just asked around and eventually I found people. Then, we started visiting farms and getting to know the farmers.
We went to meet this one farmer and he told us about some friends down the road that were raising grass fed cows, so we went down the road to meet them. (The Hudspeths in Forestburg, northwest of Denton.) We started talking with them and they are a super sweet family. They worked for one of those major corporations for a long time then realized that they weren't treating the animals right, so they decided to get back to basics. They raise grass-fed turkey, chicken and pork now too.