Chef of the Month: Chef Tidwell adds love to his cooking

Pam Griffin
Chef Darek Tidwell will unveil a new menu at George’s this month.

Executive Chef Darek Tidwell knew when he was a busboy at the age of 12 he would pursue a career in restaurants.

“My first night on the job was life-changing,” said The Log’s Chef of the Month for October. “Cash at the end of the night, talking to everyone in the dining room, and hanging out with older, cool servers and pirate-like cooks was awesome. It was a dream.”

While growing up, Tidwell’s parents both worked during the evening, giving him a chance to follow his dream.

“I had ample time to play mad scientist in the kitchen,” he said. “The first thing I ever cooked was mashed potatoes. I was drawn to the old school beaters.”

By the age of 16, Tidwell was a prep cook. After that, he developed a wealth of knowledge about products and ingredients available to chefs while working at California Fruit Market, a global food distributor. At Coleman’s an Irish bar, he learned the ins and outs of restaurant operations, and eventually went on to work in Dallas as an assistant manager at Bucca di Beppo.

Formally trained at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, Tidwell credits each place he’s worked throughout his career with training him for something.

“The most difficult training was when I was the executive chef at Sequoia in Washington D.C.,” he said. “A slightly larger restaurant than George’s at Alys Beach, with about 3,000 seats. I learned some things, especially the economy of scale.”

Tidwell, at the helm of his own kitchen since he first opened Bistro Arielle in Rhinebeck, N.Y., in 2008, began as executive chef at George’s on June 2. He will unveil a new menu at George’s this month, with the primary focus centered around the best of what’s local and fresh.

“That’s what drew me to George’s in the first place,” he told The Log. “I want to take that a step further by really digging deep into the local agricultural scene. I’ll be exploring the area to cherry pick the best of what our region has to offer and enhance those ingredients in taste and presentation.”

Tidwell likes to travel “back to the future” to collect cookbooks from as far back as he can find them, and he then reinvents the dishes.

“There is always something to learn and flavors to revisit from the past. I like it eat it all, but the more foreign, international, or indigenous the better.

“I have a great love for Latin flavors from my upbringing in Texas, an appreciation for the Rat Pack era Italian houses, Sushi from my time in New York, and, of course, classical French nouvelle cuisine.’

Chef urges customers to try the Beef Shortrib Wellington at George’s.

“Do it. It will change your life.”

Q: Do you have a signature recipe you are known for?

A: Butter poached lobster with citrus grits, Brussel leaves, and blood orange. It’s food for the wicked — definitely a “misbehave” type item. It says Florida all the way.

Q: Are there any foods you just don’t like?

A: Black eyed peas. As a child, I tried to hide them in my applesauce, so I was forced to eat them together. Scarred me for life.

Q: What is the hardest part of cooking for a beginner?

A: My favorite questions are “how long do I cook it?” and “how much do I put in?” The answer is until it’s done and as much as you want. Taste it throughout the process and trust yourself — you’d be surprised at the results.

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

A: Love! It’s always love. And definitely salt. Bringing some bacon to the party is always a good idea.

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

A: Eat at George’s! We do the dishes.

Chef Tidwell’s PB &J Hummus

Green Peanut Hummus

1 1/2 cups green peanuts, boiled and shelled

1/2 cup garbanzo beans

4 cloves roasted garlic

2 Tbsp. grated ginger

1/2 Tbsp. cumin powder

2 Tbsp. lime juice

2 Tbsp. Tahini paste

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Dollop of love

Combine all the above ingredients, except oil, in a food processor and puree until smooth.

With the processor still running, slowly drizzle oil in a steady stream until combined.

Muscadine and Herb Pickle

2 cups muscadines, cut in half and seeded

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy)

1 Tbsp. chili sauce (garlic Sambal)

1/4 cup Sesame Oil

2 sprigs fresh mint, roughly chopped

2 sprigs fresh basil, roughly chopped

1 sprig fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

1 Tbsp. fish sauce

Remaining love unused from green peanut hummus

Combine all ingredients, except the herbs, and marinate overnight.

Fold in herbs just before serving to retain the flavor and color.

To serve:

Spoon hummus into your favorite bowl. Top with a generous heap of the muscadine and herbs.

Stylishly arrange some Indian-style Naan bread, pita bread, or lightly toasted Lavash around the plate. I like to make it look like flower petals around the hummus bowl, because that’s cool.

Note: This goes great with a refreshing Vinho Verde, a wine from Portugal that will cool your taste buds and refresh your palate as you devour the hummus. As a bonus, its low alcohol content pairs nicely with the spice.