Emeril's New Chef Tim Doolittle: A Chat 'Bout K.C. BBQ, Wolfgang Puck & Emeril's Lack of Jambalaya, Etouffé, Tasso Ham

Tim Doolittle has recently been announced as the new chef de cuisine at Emeril's Miami Beach -- although he's been working there since early December. Doolittle started out cooking at some of the finer restaurants of his native Kansas City, including the Beard-winning The American Restaurant. I asked Tim if he ate any good barbecue in KC, and he answered "All the time, at every opportunity." When I wondered if he especially liked Arthur Bryant's barbecue, he explained that there were two Kansas City barbecue camps, Arthur Bryant and Gates, and that "I'm more of a Gates guy." This probably says a lot about Doolittle to those familiar with these two KC barbecue joints.

In 2007, Tim moved to the Las Vegas kitchens of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group -- specifically, Postrio and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. So first thing I wanted to know was:

New Times: Who's cooler: Wolfgang or Emeril?

Chef Doolittle: There's no way I'm going to answer that.

Did you get to work with either one at all?

Oh definitely. They're both very involved in their properties, much more than most people would imagine. Wolfgang used to make it to all of his kitchens, every night. At the time he had four restaurants in L.A.. Wolfgang and Emeril are two of the hardest working guys you'll ever meet.

What was it like to go from Las Vegas to South Beach?

I wasn't a big fan of Vegas. I mean I loved my professional life there. There was a great sense of community between the chefs. Joel Robuchon worked next door to us, and I got to know all of them (the staff). They were a lot of fun. Chefs are...good guys. I like them, you know? So I'm looking forward to being part of the culinary community down here. It's always a fun experience. And I really like Miami so far. It's got great energy, it's multi-ethnic, exciting...

Have you gotten to try any of the local restaurants?

I've eaten at Daniel Boulud, which is something I'm familiar with. I haven't checked out Gigi yet, but I want to. I'm eating tonight at one of my favorites, Pubbelly. I go there a lot. Sugarcane is another one I really like. They're both chef-y kinds of places, they cater to that...I don't know, that paganistic kind of peasant food. They're electric places, they're alive, it's nice to be in there.

You started at Emeril's just after Thanksgiving. Have you become comfortable in the kitchen and gotten to know the kitchen crew?

I think it's a matter of them getting to know me. I'm a pretty demanding guy and I hold people to a high standard -- myself included. The guys I'm working with are inspired and want to do great things, and I'm ready to lead and show them how great things can be. And along the way hopefully we can make some people happy in the dining room.

Are there any things about Emeril's that you plan to change, or any improvements you plan on making?

I always want to do differently or better or faster or smarter or whatever, and I don't think my experience down here will be any different. I'm always trying to evolve wherever I go, I get my staff's an evolution. Are there things I want to change? Not necessarily. Are there things that are going to change just because of the way I work? More than likely.

One thing that has always troubled me about Emeril's Miami Beach is that it lacks so many of the classic New Orleans dishes. Why is that?

Well I think that any chef, myself included, you draw from the environment you're in. It makes good sense for the guests, it makes good sense for the business, and it makes good sense for the community. So we are focused on chasing around the best local fish, trying to get in touch with the farmers in Homestead and whatnot, and see what they have to give. That's how New Orleans food was developed -- drawing from the Gulf, drawing from the farms nearby and creating they're own little thing.

Yeah, I understand that, but there are no New Orleans-style restaurants in Miami-Dade that I know of. Diners here don't have any access to foods such as Tasso ham, andouille sausage, jambalaya, mirliton, etouffé, rice & beans...I mean it seems unusual not to serve any of these dishes, because you seemingly have the market for this cuisine wide open.

I think the lack of New Orleans food is common in most parts of the country. If you go to New York City, you're not going to see a whole lot of New Orleans cuisine, if you go to Kansas City, where I'm from, there was one place that was open forever in a day, so I think you're lucky to have one. I mean that's a good question, one you could pose to cities all over the country.

Are food trucks big in Vegas?

It's taking off in Vegas a little bit. Not like it is in L.A., I mean it's just insane there. I wonder if that's something that can happen down here.

Actually, it has. Food truck courts are very big here now.

Oh really?

Maybe you ought to consider rolling out an Emeril's truck.

I think I've got enough on my plate (laughs).

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein