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Hollingsworth Goes to Hollywood

Misha Gravenor

Photos by Misha Gravenor

French Laundry alum chef Timothy Hollingsworth strikes out on his own, bringing the best of American barbecue to LA.

Mentorship isn’t about creating a carbon copy of yourself. Mentorship is about sharing everything you have and igniting passion in other people, then letting them run with it. My world, the food world, is built on these relationships.

Recently, a few notable mentees have loudly struck out on their own. There’s Gavin Kaysen, who late last year opened Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis after seven years at the helm of Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud. Curtis Duffy, once Grant Achatz’s right-hand man, just received three Michelin stars at Grace in Chicago. Now it’s Timothy Hollingsworth’s turn. This talented chef ran The French Laundry, working alongside Thomas Keller for the past 13 years. In November, Hollingsworth opened his first restaurant, a causal barbecue spot in Los Angeles. Though the white tablecloths and four-hour marathon meals are gone, his passion for food, finesse and commitment to excellence are on full display.

A California native, Hollingsworth spent his youth working construction with his father, who instilled in him a strong work ethic. At 18, Hollingsworth fell into a dishwashing job at a local mom-and-pop restaurant specializing in rustic French cuisine. He eventually moved on to cooking; the small, familial environment allowed him to try every job from crafting pastries to making sausages from scratch.

Barrel and Ashes chef de cuisine Michael Kahikina (left) and executive chef/owner Timothy Hollingsworth.        

At 20, Hollingsworth boarded a plane for the first time, heading to New York City. He dined alone at Le Cirque and Restaurant Alain Ducasse and then ventured to Hyde Park to check out the Culinary Institute of America. He opted to forgo formal training, vowing instead to work for either Ducasse or Thomas Keller. Since The French Laundry was close to home, he looked there first. “Part of it was being young and ignorant and thinking that it was even a possibility,” Hollingsworth says.

The aspiring chef dined at The French Laundry on a night that he knew Keller was in the kitchen. He handed him his resumé and, after much persistence, Keller hired him. Hollingsworth quickly realized that he had a serious lack of experience compared to everyone else, but he refused to be deterred. “It’s the work ethic my dad taught me and passion for what [Keller] had been doing that allowed me to thrive,” he says. “If I was a little slower at knife work, I made up for it by running around the kitchen as fast as I could.”

Hollingsworth eventually landed the coveted role of chef de cuisine, but his entrepreneurial desires always had him considering his next move. “I want to have an impact on my industry,” says Hollingsworth. “I can’t be Thomas Keller if I’m working for Thomas Keller . . . not that I’m trying to be him, but I want that kind of success and impact.” After nearly 14 years at The French Laundry, Hollingsworth left for sunny Los Angeles, opening barbecue restaurant Barrel and Ashes.

To some, a barbecue joint seems like quite the departure. To Hollingsworth, it felt necessary. “I missed my entire twenties,” he says. “I missed my brothers and sisters growing up—birthdays, holidays—because I was so driven. I wanted to do something that was for my family.” Barrel and Ashes is just that, a place that reflects the food and traditions of his childhood. It’s communal tables, lights fashioned from 10-gallon barrels and even TVs if you’re wanting to watch the Lakers game.

Hollingsworth swapped prix fixe dinners for the stuff he grew up on, often literally. “We serve Frito pie right out of the bag,” says Hollingsworth. “The chili recipe is my mom’s; the banana pudding is my grandma’s. The style of cooking is something my family relates to and understands, where they didn’t as much at The French Laundry. This is me saying I appreciate the way that I was raised.”

In addition to family recipes, Hollingsworth and his team (which includes former Bouchon chef Rory Herrmann and chef de cuisine Michael Kahikina) are cooking breathtaking barbecue in a “BBQ without borders” kind of way. He did his research, visiting some of the country’s best spots, then created his own riffs on their regional specialties. What’s emerged is a menu that reads like a greatest hits of barbecue list: Texas-style brisket smoked over white oak. Carolina-style pulled pork. Memphis-style ribs. He’s open to anything, as long as it tastes good. “As we grow, we’ll probably add different types of barbecue or even cultures,” he says.

Hollingsworth hasn’t left the fine-dining world behind permanently, however. He’s opening another restaurant in Downtown LA next summer. It will be more of a proper contemporary American restaurant, and philanthropist and mega art collector Eli Broad is an investor. Together, they’re creating a 150-seat restaurant that’s both a destination and a neighborhood eatery. “[Broad] is all about rebuilding Downtown and making it more of a neighborhood place,” says Hollingsworth. “It will appeal to a lot of people.” Seems like that’s the lesson Hollingsworth and this new generation of culinary leadership have learned well: It’s all about connecting food and people.

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