Chef of the Month: ‘Use recipes for inspiration’

Pam Griffin
Chef Tim Creehan’s cooking classes are not only informative, but also fun.

A chef for 32 years, five years at Destin’s Cuvee Bistro, Chef Tim Creehan is The Log’s Chef of the Month for June.

Creehan knew at an early age he wanted to be a chef, as he began his career at the age of 14 at Steak & Ale in Baton Rouge, La.

“I met a chef from Paris and knew that’s what I wanted to do, and one day eventually own my own restaurant,” Creehan told The Log.

He did an apprenticeship with Cordon Bleu French chef Philippe Parola and went through the American Culinary Federation’s certification program as executive chef.

“It was very difficult, as most was done on my own,” Creehan said. “Programs weren’t widely available in the early 80’s, so I was mostly self taught.”

By the age of 19, Creehan had progressed to the position of executive chef at John Folse’s Lafitte’s Landing in Donaldsonville, La.

“John had a fried seafood restaurant and wanted to change to white tablecloth fine dining, and that’s where I came in,” Creehan said. “Philippe rejoined me a year later as well there.” 

Since that time, Creehan has become a man of many talents — restaurant owner, celebrity chef, cookbook author, cooking instructor and more.

Known as Destin’s own “celebrity chef,” Creehan has cooked for high profile celebrities, including Bruce Willis, Jessica Simpson, Debra Winger, Timothy Hutton and Cybill Shepherd.

“Vince Gill and Amy Grant were definitely my favorites as they are so kind and real, and the friendship has continued since we met.”

Cooking with Creehan classes began in 1985 and continue today as people enjoy not only his expertise as a chef and teacher, but also his entertaining style.

“I hope to make people more comfortable cooking things they normally don’t and expose them to ingredients and techniques that will make them more comfortable in the kitchen,” he said.

But if he could only do one thing, Creehan would operate the restaurants.

In Destin, he was executive chef and founding partner of Marina Café for 10 years; reopened Copper Grill in 2007; and then Bluz Grill & Bar. In 1998, he opened Beach Walk, which has since relocated to the Henderson Park Inn, and in 2010 he reimagined, renamed and reopened another local hotspot as Cuvee Bistro.

“I really love the process and the interaction with my staff and guests and always pushing to be the best in our segment of the business,” he said. “I love the teaching as well, but haven’t seen a way to make a significant amount of revenue doing just that.”

Creehan also still loves to cook and does about 80 percent of the actual recipe development and testing.

“I get a dish to where I want it then document with recipes, photos and procedures so my staff can reproduce my cuisine when I’m somewhere else,” he said. “The other 20 percent I empower my chefs to create so they stay engaged, and I approve and tweak their items if they make the menu.”

Over the years, Creehan’s passion for the culinary arts has earned him dozens of awards, including Best Chef on the Emerald Coast numerous times.

Honored by the American Culinary Foundation in 1992 as one of the “youngest and most accomplished certified executive chefs in the United States,” Creehan was one of only five chefs in the United States to be named a Shining Star Chef by Cooking Light magazine in 1999.

Q: What foods are you known for?

A: I have well over 600 published original recipes and three cookbooks published. Fried green tomato with warm Brie; crawfish and hot sauce butter; black pepper seared rare tuna with braised spinach and soy ginger sauce; and venison steak with tomato red wine butter, mashed sweet potatoes and crispy tobacco onions are just a few.  

Q: Are there any foods you just don’t like, either to eat or cook?

A: Not really in regards to cooking. I’m not a personal fan of raw seafood.

Q: What is the most necessary ingredient for the majority of recipes?

A: Butter. It plays so many roles in cooking — flavor, texture, browning and structure. I would struggle to cook without it.

Q: What is your favorite food to eat?

A: Crawfish tails. My favorite way to enjoy the tail meat is in a Creole Étouffée.

Q: What is your favorite cuisine to cook? 

A: Italian, with simple, fresh preparations and great ingredients. 

Q: Best piece of advice you would give a home cook?

A: Be fearless and cook what you love. Use recipes for inspiration, not as a road map. 

Chef Creehan’s Seared Yellowfin Tuna

(Emerald Coast Chef Challenge Grand Award Winner)

Soy Ginger Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 Tbsp. water

1 Tbsp. chopped chives

Pinch of chopped gingerroot

2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes


4 (6 oz.) tuna steaks

1/4 cup black pepper

2 Tbsp. canola oil

4 cups spinach

1/2 diced red bell pepper

10 chopped chives

1/4 cup prepared wasabi

For the sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl; mix well. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

For the tuna, press both sides of the steaks into the pepper, coating well. Heat the oil in a sauté pan until very hot. Add the steaks; sear 10 seconds on each side. Remove to a board.

Add spinach to the pan and sauté just until wilted. Remove to 4 large plates. Slice tuna thinly across the grain and arrange in a star pattern over the spinach.

Garnish with bell pepper, chives and wasabi. Top with sauce. Makes 4 servings.