Whether at Knollwood Club or away, Executive Chef Tim Rios takes an active role in the development of young chefs. When not at the club, he has been an adjunct instructor at a community college and an accreditation evaluator for the American Culinary Federation. He shared his thoughts and experiences with Chef Jerry Schreck.
The Knollwood Club was founded in 1924 on 240 rolling acres in Lake Forest, Ill., north of Chicago. Besides its championship golf course, Knollwood has an extremely active racquets program.
Tim Rios has been Knollwood’s Executive Chef since 2015. Chef Rios has an extensive resume and has continued to raise the level of cuisine at the club every year since his arrival.
What strikes you first about Chef Rios is that he really takes his craft seriously and strives to take an active role in the development of young chefs. When not at the club, he has been an adjunct instructor at a community college and an accreditation evaluator for the American Culinary Federation. Refreshingly, he doesn’t complain about the level (or lack) of talent and commitment among younger culinarians—instead, he works tirelessly to do his part to help train and mentor up-and-coming chefs for the rigors and demands of today’s foodservice business.
While Chef Tim was extremely busy at the time I requested this interview, he graciously shared his thoughts and experiences with us.
C+RB Chef, you have a saying in your kitchen: “Simple and Sexy.” What’s your intention when you use this phrase and preach it to your chefs?
Rios Almost five years ago when I arrived at Knollwood, with a high percentage of Hispanic-speaking cooks, I needed a phrase to teach our new philosophy. “Simple and Sexy” worked. It conveys the basics: hot food, hot plate; cold food, cold plate; taste, taste, taste; and flavor is king.
Whether it be a fruit cup, chicken fingers and french fries, or a wine dinner for $150, be proud of our food, take pride and ownership, and respect the great products that our purveyors provide. We always try to convey this to them, and to remember where we came from.
C+RB You’ve been at Knollwood long enough now, with five seasons under your belt, to understand where to be and when to be there. It’s a sometimes-overlooked talent to be at the right place at the right time when overseeing a campus with four kitchens like yours. How do you prioritize when all events go off simultaneously, no matter what the prearrangements were?
Rios Remember the saying, ‘What can go wrong will go wrong.’ It has taken awhile to know where to be, but I try to be everywhere. I will check with the pool at the same time every day, because I know that’s when we get hit there. I also check the weather forecast every day, and also our BEOs, to ensure that I am up to date with everything that is going on at the club.
Our men’s locker room changes daily depending on our golf operation, with no tee times, so it’s a big guess some days. Our main clubhouse is always busy for the culinary team because that is where the main kitchen is, so it’s the workhorse of the club and the commissary for the rest of the operation.
We use radios to communicate and that usually gives us an indication of who’s the busiest. I try to visit each area several times a day, to see what’s going on and if they need help, or if things are working correctly. There are a lot of moving parts and our Executive Sous Chef Gilberto and Sous Chefs Patrick and Salbador play a major role; we couldn’t do it without them. We have a very experienced team with a lot of seniority, so they know where to be and how to react, which is a big asset.
C+RB Talk to us about the constant interaction you have with your members, whether it be food-related or personal, and the positive vibe it produces for you and your team.
Rios This was a hard one for me to learn—as we all know, members have their own opinions. I always enter the kitchens from the back and leave thru the front, so I can talk with all members and meet their guests. In being visible to all members in each area, I can talk about our food program and what we are doing that is new and exciting, and what will be on the upcoming menus.
Most of the member interaction is positive and allows me to get instant feedback. Once in a while, as we all know, nothing is perfect, but being visible also lets me take care of the not-so-good opportunities myself and face-to-face. Then I can pass information along to other department heads if necessary.
C+RB Your work as an adjunct culinary instructor and ACF accreditation evaluator speaks to your passion in getting the next generation of chefs ready to take the baton. Talk to us about your work in these extremely important areas.
Rios I have been blessed to have had four women in my life who have taught me and guided me to better myself every day: my wife Laura, my mother Barb, and both grandmothers. One grandmother being Italian and the other being Mexican, they inspired me to love the kitchen and supported me to where I am today.
Every day we educate, train and recruit to make our teams better. I have in the past had ACF apprentices, apprentices from the Balsams, culinary students from various culinary schools, and those who just enjoy cooking.
In being a hard critic to some, I always believed I wanted to be a part of the solution, and not the problem. Therefore, I felt that teaching as an adjunct would be an excellent Idea.
Teaching was not as easy as I thought, but from that, I truly felt I learned more from my students than I taught them. Everyone had different backgrounds and experiences that allowed them to express themselves, and it made me see life from a new perspective. Through teaching I started bringing students to the club to learn hands-on, and some of them ended up on our culinary team.
Sharing our knowledge with high school and college culinary programs, along with ice-carving and competition demos, coaching local ProStart programs and most importantly, getting our culinary teams and chefs involved—it’s all a big part of a whole process that helps our team grow and to give back and pay it forward. And I’d like to also thank our General Manager, Randy Harper, CCM, and the Knollwood Club’s Board of Directors for all of their support and guidance, and letting us push forward to be the best club on [Chicago’s} North Shore.
C+RB You are not only all about the development of the next generation, but also your own self-development. Tell us what you demand of yourself on an annual basis.
Rios After graduating from culinary school, of course I “knew everything.” But I soon learned just what I didn’t know, so I started reading and watching videos of cooking or anything cooking-related.
When I joined the ACF, my mentors at the time, Max Behr and Jim Miller, helped me get involved with our local chapter, and then to move on to the national level. I eventually got certified and started to go to culinary competitions, which helped me to improve my skills.
I still try to volunteer to help chefs at other clubs, in their competition prep or wherever I can, to cook with better culinarians or people who know more than you and can help you improve and cook better.
For the past several years I have also attended the Chef to Chef Conference, which has allowed me to learn and meet new chefs and network with others with whom I can exchange Ideas. It’s also a place to find contacts for sous chefs and other kitchen help. I believe most chefs are busy learning more now than ever before, with the changing of memberships, boards of directors, health laws and workforce regulations.
C+RB You’re also a Board member of the Chicago Chefs Association, and I know that your group is one of the largest and most well-organized of its kind. What can you tell chefs from around the country about the opportunities they may be missing out on by not having and being part of an organized local group?
Rios This is the hardest one of all. When I came to Knollwood from the Cleveland area, being the new person in a new area was hard, especially with clubs spread out all over Chicago as well as the suburbs. Thank God for Google Maps and Waze. At first, I was very intimidated by the large group of well-known chefs and pastry chefs in the Chicago Chefs group, but after a few meetings I felt more welcome and very comfortable.
In all, it is one of best groups of human beings and chefs that I have ever met. It is truly an honor to be a part of this group. The sharing of information and recipes (I’m still trying to get Chef Laura Herman’s chocolate-chip cookie recipe, which is to die for), and the camaraderie that comes with being a part of the group is worth its weight in gold.
Please get involved, remember where you came from, and don’t lose the passion. And finally, ask for help—and stay uncomfortable.
Timothy Rios, CEC, AAC, HGT
Executive Chef, Knollwood Club, Lake Forest, Ill. (2015-Present)
• Executive Chef, Canterbury Golf Club, Cleveland, Ohio (2009-2015)
• Corporate Executive Chef, Bucci’s Restaurants, Middleburgh, Ohio (2007-2009)
• Executive Chef, Shaker Heights Country Club, Shaker Heights, Ohio
• AOS Degree, Culinary Arts, Johnson and Wales University
• Assistant Instructor, Johnson and Wales University
• Adjunct Instructor, Cuyahoga Community College
• Accreditation Evaluator, American Culinary Association
• Past President, Cleveland Chapter, American Culinary Federation
• Current Ambassador to Johnson and Wales University
• Inducted into The Honorable Order of the Golden Toque (2017)
• Inducted into the Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of Chicago (2019)
Curly Spinach & Red Quinoa Bowl
1.5 cup curly spinach (Chefs Garden)
5 small vine-ripe tomatoes (Chefs Garden), cut in different shapes
1 tbsp. grilled red onion—marinate with EVOO and herbs, salt and pepper
1 fried, sunny-side-up egg (do right before)
1 tbsp. local goat cheese, crumbled
Sprinkle of espelette pepper (for egg) to taste salt and pepper
1 tsp. imported sherry vinegar
1 tbsp. Greek imported EVOO
2 tbsp. good cooked red quinoa (vegetable stock, fresh thyme, basil leaf, mirepoix)
** Add choice of: grilled marinated 6-oz. breast of chicken / grilled marinated Gulf shrimp / Grilled verlasso salmon
(** Member’s/guest’s preference)
In a large stainless-steel mixing bowl:
1 Add spinach, quinoa, tomatoes, red onion
2 Season with salt and pepper; add sherry vinegar and EVOO
3 Toss well
4 Meanwhile, cook egg to sunny-side-up (or member’s/guest’s preference); add salt and pepper
5 Place dressed salad in appropriate china bowl
6 Add goat cheese
7 Season egg with espelette pepper
8 Add additional protein if ordered
Braised Beef Perogies
5 ea. made perogies, blanched first
1 tbsp. imported sun-dried tomatoes
1 tsp. black truffle butter
1 tbsp. shiitake, sliced
¼ cup curly spinach
2 tbsp. leeks, julienne
1 tbsp. veal reduction
1 tsp. sherry (Harvey’s Bristol Cream)
1 tsp. chives, parsley, chervil chopped mix
as needed fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese
to taste salt and pepper
2 tbsp. chicken stock
1 Heat sauté pan, add clarified butter, then add blanched perogies, face down
2 Cook until brown, then turn over
3 Add leeks, then mush it, cook until tender, add salt and pepper and taste
4 Add spinach and sun-dried tomatoes
5 Deglaze with sherry and add truffle butter
6 Add spinach, taste
7 Add veal reduction and chicken stock
9 Garnish with fresh grated Pecorino and chopped herbs
Chargrilled Verlasso Salmon
6 ozs. bias-cut verlasso salmon, cooked medium-rare
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. shelled edamame
to taste soy sauce, low-sodium
1 tsp. wasabi, cube on side
1 tbsp. club-made hoisin
1 tbsp. seaweed salad
4.5 ozs. rice noodle (soak in hot water 20 minutes and rinse)
1 cup vegetables (snow peas, carrots, shitake, bok choy, red pepper), cut thin
to drizzle ABC soy sauce
as needed thin-bias scallions, to garnish
as needed micro wasabi and cilantro
1 Place sesame oil in hot sauté pan, Cook vegetables until done; deglaze with hoisin
2 Add rice noodle and toss to just heat through; taste
3 Sauté edamame and add Soy Sauce; taste, adjust
1 Place vegetables and rice noodle mix in first
2 Place verlasso salmon on top
3 Next add seaweed salad on top of salmon
4 Place edamame on side with cube of wasabi
5 Drizzle ABC soy sauce
6 Garnish accordingly
Submitted by Timothy Rios, CEC, AAC, HGT, Executive Chef, Knollwood Club, Lake Forest, Ill.