It's never easy being new, but two months into his stint as executive chef at Mangia Italiano
, David Timney
is feeling content. "I think my home is really here," he says. "I'm just as excited being here as I was being at Balaban's seventeen, eighteen years ago."
David Timney, executive chef at Mangia Italiano
"There are a lot of similarities with the quality of food [at Mangia]," he observes. "The people are very committed and dedicated to working here. Once a place opens and it's been there almost nine years, to see people who've been here almost since the beginning -- that's what we had at Balaban's. We had people who'd worked there since day one."
Timney has experienced a lot of change in recent years. His career started with long stints at Detroit's The London Chop House
The Rattlesnake Club
, followed by St. Louis institution Balaban's. In the decade since he
left Balaban's, he has worked at Sqwires
, but now he is ready for
another long-standing gig at Mangia.
"At Balaban's, thirteen
years went very fast," he notes. "It's amazing how, when you really
enjoy something, how time really does fly. There's thirteen years of my
life gone, and it was a great experience. I look forward to that being
the same here."
He started his career at age sixteen, washing
dishes in Detroit, not sure what he was going to do as an adult. Time
spent in the professional kitchen changed that: "There was nothing I
had a passion for until I started getting involved in cooking."
soon found himself with the chance to learn from three-time James Beard
Award-winning chef Jimmy Schmidt at The London Chop House: "I went to work
[for Schmidt] as an apprentice, started working there opening
oysters and clams, worked my way up. He took me under his wing then,
took me to open The Rattlesnake Club in Denver, then he went back to
open The Rattlesnake Club in Detroit, and that's where he is now. I
left Denver and went to work at Balaban's.
to me, 'If you're dedicated, it'll take you ten years to be able to run
a restaurant and be on your own.' So I worked for him for about nine
years and then it was time to leave the nest. For those nine years,
it's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and say, 'Oh, those nine
years were great,' but when I was doing it it was like, this is kind of
a drag. But when you get the cake at the end, that's what waiting for
that day was all about."
It's easy to see how time flies for Timney. In the
kitchen, he is no-nonsense efficient, cooking while chatting with a
hint of a rapid-fire Detroit accent. While an Italian kitchen might be
different from the restaurants of his past, he handles it with ease and
skill, recreating Mangia's much-loved shrimp pasta with vodka sauce.
cubes of pancetta nestle in the curves of conchiglie rigata pasta.
Large shrimp bear the sear of vodka-fueled flame, while pieces of onion
remain slightly crisp. It's a dish of richness, textures and layers of
flavor that betray its five-minute prep time. Even though Timney is
still learning to pronounce the names of some of the pastas, he has
already mastered their preparation.
Next, he plans to expand
Mangia's appetizers and desserts, something he loved during his time at
Balaban's. "One of the things I've created that was the most successful
was the chocolate fritters. If you talk to anybody about what dessert
they know from Balaban's, it's the chocolate fritter. So I'm not yet at
the point of coming up with something to match that, but down the road
we can come up with something that creates that much excitement in
people." He plans to debut some menu changes in early February, finding
the balance between Mangia's favorites while leaving his mark.
Although Timney is still new to Mangia, he is always looking ahead
to where he'll go next. Not surprising, considering his love of travel.
"I love to read, and I love to read a lot about the world. One of my
goals is to take six to nine months and just travel around. It's not
going to happen in the near future, but down the road I want to immerse
myself in other cultures. I think that's the best way to do it, not
just go there and go to restaurants, but to actually stay in towns for
weeks at a time."
As for working abroad, he says, "That would
have been something nice to do after Balaban's, but now that I'm here,
I've really made the commitment of several years here to really give
this everything. I don't see that happening until after I reanalyze the
situation here after four years because this is such a great fit. It's
hard to really find what you really love to do, and you love to do it
every day. There's a lot of people in the world who go to work every
day and they're not happy with what they do. So it's a double-edged
sword. I want to go out and travel and immerse myself in cultures but
at the same time I've got a great opportunity here and I don't want to
walk away from this right now. So I'm going to see where this takes me."Robin Wheeler writes the blog Poppy Mom and is a regular contributor to Gut Check, including the columns The Dive Bomber and Throwback of the House.