By Gemma Simko
Chef Tess Middlebrook did not come to New School of Cooking looking to design a whole new restaurant menu.
One day while driving down Washington Boulevard, Chef Tess saw the awning for the school and decided to find out more. A chef instructor audition was arranged, and soon Chef Tess was in the Main Kitchen preparing a variety of bistro and classical dishes for veteran chef instructors and CEO Chris Becker. Chef Tess’s talents were quickly made clear, though she was new to teaching and the summer months would be quiet class-wise. Becker had the perfect job for her in the meantime- overhaul the café menu next door.
Chef Tess decided she was up for the challenge. Over the summer, she spent endless hours pouring her energy into crafting new recipes, trying and tweaking and tasting until every dish was just right. Determined to work with most of the same ingredients the café was using before, Chef Tess skillfully engineered the kitchen’s ingredients into more innovative and interesting dishes.
“I come from a fine dining background, but the type of food I love to eat is Bistro food. It’s been a little bit of a challenge to take complex flavors and reverse engineer them for a sandwich, but it’s been an enjoyable challenge,” Chef Tess explains.
Chef Tess’s talents didn’t come overnight. For the past fifteen years, she has been bouncing from kitchen to kitchen, working with some of the most renowned chefs in New York City, including Mario Batali, Kurt Gutenbrunner, and Wylie Dufresne.
Like many, Chef Tess completed a stage early on in her career (French for “apprentice”, a stage works for little to no pay). “I finally got a job offer a year later…I had to deliver a pint of carrot brunoise every day by 3 PM. And they would measure it. They were really tough on me because I think they knew I could handle it and they knew I could do it.”
A few jobs and a lot of experience later, Chef Tess found herself face to face with Chef Mario Batali. “I met him at a party…I said, ‘Hi I’m Tess,’ and talked to him and he was a really nice guy and he said I want you to work for me.” It was at Batali’s restaurant Lupa where Tess would learn more about Italian cuisine, now one of her favorite types of food to prepare.
Chef Tess’s overall goal is to encourage her guests to learn more. “I want guests to ask us, ‘What is a rusk? What does salt roasted mean?’ We are connected to a school. The learning doesn’t have to stop next door.”
If I can teach my cooks or students technique, they can always use that.
When asked what new item Chef Tess is most excited about, she had no hesitation. “The veggie burger. It’s really hard to do a green burger right. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make a good green burger because I’ve never done it. The one thing that’s nice about being a chef is even if you’ve never done something, you have technique and you can always fall back on that. If I can teach my cooks or students technique, they can always use that.”
What began as a small coffee shop two years ago has grown into much more. It’s a learning ground for chefs, an inspiration for students, and culinary destination for the Culver City community. Please enjoy our new menu, and keep an eye out for Chef Tess in our kitchens and classrooms.