Smoke Chef Tim Byres on His New Place for Chicken, the Importance of Nostalgia and a Fried Chicken Roadtrip
After recently opening the new bar The Foundry, Chef Tim Byres is trying to finish out a family-style casual fried-chicken joint called Chicken Scratch, both of which are just around the bend from Smoke in north Oak Cliff. In the interview that follows, we discuss it all, including the best fried chicken he's ever had.
Chef Byres in his big new dining room.
When did you first get interested in cooking?
I had an interesting upbringing in the sense that my dad was an Irish-American from the Bronx and my mom was from a farm in Idaho. My mom worked, but she was also always cooking. There was like the "tin-foil surprise" -- dinner from the last three nights into one night. She always wanted to have these big family dinners, which reminded her of her big family meals back in Idaho. So, we'd have these big Sunday dinners, she was just always cooking and I loved it.
What was your first job at a restaurant?
When I was 16 I realized I could have kept mowing lawns or go work in a restaurant. So, I started working in restaurants and loved it. Right after high school I went to culinary school.
What drew you in so quickly?
I was really infatuated with the entertaining and hospitality aspect. The idea that you can get 30 or 40 people together at a time and they're all having a good time together and you're the orchestrator of it all.
You're busy these days with running Smoke and getting Chicken Scratch ready. Are you burning the midnight oil?
I'm focusing on the project at hand. We've developed a team of managers that are really good at what they do. I just keeping making the circle and checking on everything.
With so many irons on the fire, what's key to managing it successfully?
I don't think it's possible at all unless you have people on board that believe in what you're doing. If I can win, they can win. If we put another iron on the fire and it's an opportunity for growth, they grow too. We have this group of people that are bought into the cause. We have fun here too. We try not to be too serious about any of it. We're not saving any babies here.
How do you manage your crew?
"Honest, genuine and real" is a core concept. That carries through to all employees. I still want to see my family and have time off and if everyone else involved isn't happy, there's no way to do all this and have a separate life.
This is a unique spot. Sort of wide open with a bar in one spot, a fried-chicken shack next door, a stage and a courtyard with picnic tables. What are you trying to create here?
I really want to focus on family-style entertaining. Just like how it's awesome to have a big 20-person spread at your house. I want to have that same feel here -- "C'mon in, hang your jacket it up. Can I get you a beer?"
We'll have fried chicken, tamales, farm-fresh sides, and biscuits right out of the oven, some cool whiskeys, beer and live music. I want it to be a big spread with a lot of people. It might not be a fine dining experience, but it's valuable. We want to have a fun down here.
We might even bring Smoke down here sometime (pointing to courtyard) with a big long fire pit cooking goat, lamb and beef. It's a huge place for large-format entertaining. We can have big cookouts and big tables with watermelon all over them. It won't just be chicken, even though Chicken Scratch will always be there. The compound is so big, we can bring the cavalry from Smoke.