At Vista Springs, we love showing appreciation to our incredible staff. And, at Vista Springs Wyoming, we are lucky enough to have the services of Chef Tim England in the kitchen. Chef Tim is a decorated culinary professional, with a long history of awards and accreditations. For over 40 years Chef Tim has been cooking and instructing other chefs in Michigan, and now is the head chef at Vista Springs Wyoming.
His credentials include qualifications as a Certified Executive Chef, a member of the American Academy of Chefs— one of only around 900 in the country— an Approved Culinary Evaluator, a Certified Dietary Manager, and a Certified Food Protection Professional. With such an impressive array of credentials, we wanted to sit down and learn more about Chef Tim.
Tell us about your family and life growing up.
“I am from Oceana County, up north of Muskegon. My family is still farming on some of the original land that my family settled on in 1866. So they’ve been farming in Michigan since then. It was my great-great-great-grandparents. In genealogy on my mother’s side of the family we’ve done research back that we know that the family came to America in 1746. So 30 years before the American Revolution of 1776. And for them to gain passage from London to the New World, the prerequisite was the trade of farming. So we’re less than 25 years from my family farming in America for 300 years. Which is pretty cool.”
When did you decide you wanted to become a chef?
“As a kid I’d go to my grandmothers’. Both my grandmothers loved to cook and were great cooks and my mother is a great cook. And as a kid they said they’d set me in the middle of the floor with toys, I’d push the toys out of the way and I’d climb in the kitchen cupboards and haul out every pot and pan. As young as I can remember I’d stand on a chair next to the stove with one of my grandmothers and watch them cook or assist them when they were cooking. And in the winter of 1980 I started at the Westshore Community College in Hotel/Motel Restaurant Management.”
What is your cooking style?
“Everyone talks about farm-to-table, farm-to-table. I talk about farm-to-fork. I want it to be even faster than the table. I want it to be that we have a garden that we planted, with 5 different kinds of tomatoes, 3 different kinds of pickles, 4 different kinds of peppers, I think we have 8 different kinds of herbs out there right now. And zinnias that will grow and we’ll be able to cut flowers to put on the tables. So, we could feasibly go out there, pick the herbs, bring them in, cook them, serve them right away. So that’s the farm-to-fork, instead of farm-to-table. It just needs to be as fresh as can be.”
How do you get fresh produce that you don’t grow yourself?
"I like to go directly to the farmers, farmer’s markets, and roadside stands. But there’s also a company in town called FarmLink that acts kind of like an hourglass, and on the top of the hourglass they get ahold of smaller farmers. That comes to FarmLink in the middle of the hourglass then FarmLink will get ahold of us and say “We’ve got this, this, this, and this that’s going to be available, or we’ve got this coming in the next week” so we can plan meals accordingly. It gives those farmers that normally wouldn’t have an outlet directly to the chefs in this city a way to get their food to market. But it also gives us the chefs a way to get all of that food delivered right to our backdoor."
Why does farm-to-fork cooking matter to you?
"I grew up on the farm, and when you do that type of farm-to-fork, you have that connection. You take a chef out to the garden, and you show him plants that have been planted and they see the blossoms form, then they see the small little tomatoes and peppers start to form. They get a whole different appreciation for when that product comes in. They don’t just take a pepper and cut it and throw the rest away. They have a firmer and stronger understanding of what it takes to get that from dirt to product. So there’s a whole different appreciation to food."
What other initiatives have you taken at Vista Springs?
"One of the things that I’ve really been trying to bring here is recycling. When I first started they were just recycling cardboard. Now we recycle all of our glass jars and bottles, and all of our metal cans and our plastics. We’ve done away with the big styrofoam cups because it’s horrible for the environment. It just never breaks down, it doesn’t digest into anything. So we’ve changed to a washable glass with a disposable lid that actually has some compostable factors to it. So really reducing our carbon footprint as much as we possibly can. And then set a model of what we’re doing here, for other locations through Vista Springs."
What other values influence your career?
"Once you reach a point in your career where you’ve learned so much, if you don’t start sharing it you start to lose it. I learned a dynamic that I’ve coined as “cooking through other people’s hands”. If you looked at me and said “Chef, what can I do?” and I say well here’s a dish and all of the sudden you come back to me and say “Chef, can you taste this is, is this how you remember it?” and lo and behold, if I’ve guided and directed them and gave them the right instruction, they come back with something that’s made as good or better than what I remember making… how can that not be a win-win? How can it not be, knowing that you are giving of yourself and sharing that knowledge?"
What’s an example of a special menu you would do here at Vista Springs?
"We’re doing a full-French themed family night dinner tonight. I taught them how to make classic French onion soup that’s still simmering on the stove, cordon bleu with a classic suprême bechamel that will be served underneath it, and French-style green beans and potatoes dauphinoise. I made 130 white chocolate creme brûlées that we’re going to hopefully caramelize the sugar on top of and serve with fresh raspberries, and then serve a framboise lemonade, or raspberry-flavored lemonade for dessert. With Eiffel Towers on the tables and French flags and red roses, so they have this experience of something different. When we do the themed events, you want them to feel a bit transported."
What do you like best about working at Vista Springs?
"The interaction of all of the team. In the face of struggles or adversity is when people learn to truly rely on each other, and try to respect each other more. No job is too big or too small for anyone. If something’s happening and you need tables moved or chairs, everyone is willing to dive in from the president and CEO, down to the chefs, to the servers, to the dishwashers. Everyone is willing to work together to make sure the common goal is being met."