Texas chef Tim Love on ‘Texas food’ and the best Tuaca cocktails

If you happen to have visited Fort Worth, Texas recently, chances are you visited one of Chef Tim Love’s five restaurants—from one of his Love Shack burger joints, to The Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, an acclaimed eatery located in the historic Fort Worth stockyards.

Love agreed to talk to us about working on the line, misconceptions about the meaning of “Texas food” and, of course, the best ways to enjoy his favorite drink: Tuaca.

Let’s start broad: how did you become a chef?
Man, you need a couple bottles of wine for that.

I went to University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and I paid for my college by cooking. I didn’t plan on that. I applied to be a bar tender, a server or a host, but I took a job making salads.

My first day on the line was a Sunday after a football game at University of Tennessee. So there are like millions and millions of people in this restaurant and I’m working salads and, of course, I know nothing about food. People were screaming at me, yelling at me, wanting all kinds of stuff, and I just fell in love with it.

I’m a big sports guy. I grew up playing soccer all over the world and I’m very competitive so I kind of found that being in the kitchen is the same situation.

How did you go from making salads on the line to having your own restaurant?
After that first shift I really felt that’s what I wanted to do. My dad had a farm in Tennessee that I spent all my summers on. We raised every domesticated animal there was. We had a big one-acre garden. I started realizing, Hey, this is something I have to do. I’m good at it, I know more about tomatoes than every other guy that’s here. So I gave it a shot.

I worked my way through college cooking, cooking, cooking. My whole idea at that point was: I want to be a chef. So everything I did was based around that. I taught myself a bunch about wine and cocktails as well as cooking all the way through.

Then I went to Breckenridge, met my wife, messed around a little bit. Started running two restaurants out there, then moved to Fort Worth and opened Lonesome Dove which is my flagship restaurant.

So now we’ve got a few restaurants and I do more business than I want to do and a little bit less cooking than I want to do, but I do enjoy what I do.

What’s “Texas food” in a nutshell?
“Texas food” is a pretty large statement. The ethnic diversity of Texas is similar to what New York is. Does that make sense? People think it’s just things like chicken fried steak, or large pieces of meat, or, you know, Tex Mex and barbecue. But really Texas is made up of six or seven different ethnic groups that create what the food is. My original restaurant, Lonesome Dove, represents all the ethnic groups. From the Chinese workers, to the German settlers, to the folks that came in from Louisiana, to the Spanish to the Indians.

You sell the frozen shots of Tuaca at Lonesome Dove, right?
Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s on our shortlist. While we were in Colorado, the guy I worked for—his name was Wayne Spaulding—he opened two restaurants there, one was called Blue Bistro, and the other one I opened up with him as a Chef was called Uptown Bistro.

He and I would cook on the line. He was a badass line cook this guy, and I prided myself on being a really good line cook as well. So he and I would sometimes run the line at one of the two restaurants. It would normally take four people, but he and I would just run it together. We always had tons of Tuaca in the freezer, and we’d just do shots all night while we worked

He didn’t really drink much, but when he drank, he always drank Tuaca. So, not being a dumbass, I decided, Hey, if I want to do something here, I gotta figure out how to do stuff with Tuaca. And I invented the chocolate mousse layer cake for him.

Tuaca Image

What’s that?
It’s a triple layer chocolate cake that we soak in Tuaca. We layer it with a Tuaca chocolate mousse for three layers, then on top of that we do, Italian butter cream, then chocolate ganache on top of that.

So yeah, that’s the first thing I made with Tuaca. I’ve since done tons of stuff. My signature dessert is a Tuaca Cappuccino Flan. It has Tuaca caramel on the bottom, flan made with Tuaca and very finely shaved espresso beans. It’s a beautiful little dessert.

And of course we do Tuaca margaritas. But my favorite is—we’ve got a couple machines at my other bars (and I have one at my house for that matter) that keeps the Tuaca at about zero, and we pour it into a frozen shot glass. And that’s really where it shines in my opinion. It’s almost syrupy it’s so cold.

Do you recommend using a chaser?
No, absolutely not. The only thing you should chase Tuaca with is another shot of Tuaca.

What food would you recommend having a Tuaca cocktail with?
Preferably I think Tuaca belongs in the food more than beside the food. However, things that are real creamy like ice cream or a Tres Leche cake are really great with Tuaca on the side.

Tuaca and tequila mix very well together, too. I really like a shot that’s half Tuaca, half Herradura Silver. It’s a great, great shot. You have the vanilla and you add tequila and you’ve got some oaky notes to it. It’s a really complex little cocktail. But very simple.

We’ve noticed people are interested in DIY mixology. Could you give any tips for how someone could get started and the kinds of flavors they should start experimenting with?
I think the best advice for cocktails is the same thing I give people about food, which is the same advice some people would give about fashion. Everyone wants to use all the cool shit all the time. In making a cocktail, or in making food or in designing an outfit, you get so excited you put too much into it. But quite frankly it’s the simplicity that makes everything beautiful. So when you make your cocktail take one ingredient out, just like you wanna take one accessory off. That’s really what makes the cocktail right. If you add too much you lose everything you designed in the cocktail. So my advice is always to make the cocktail and take one ingredient out. That’ll make it shine.

Tell us about the night life in Dallas and Fort Worth.
In Fort Worth the rodeo is going on. It’s the home of the first rodeo hundreds of years ago—so it’s a scene. Cowboys and agriculture and everyone coming to town. It’s very lively. Real cowboys everywhere. People forget cowboys are the reason why half the food in the world exists.

Dallas is more of a passer’s town. The nightlife scene is much more vibrant, the cocktail scene is bigger, faster, somewhat transient.

Fort Worth is a slow-moving food city, Dallas is a fast-moving food city. They feel like anything New York can do, we can do. But they don’t always take the time to learn all the moves. But Fort Worth is a little bit behind—or maybe a lot behind—but is slowly pushing forward with people who move slowly and learn the techniques the right way. Fort Worth is kind of the turtle in the race.

I read that you like to wear a cowboy hat instead of a chef toque. Is that true?
Absolutely. Especially if I’m outside.

Do you listen to music while you cook?
Absolutely. I’m a big Kings of Leon fan. Black Keys. The Roots. Miranda Lambert. I’m a big music guy, so I kind of run the gamut. I cook for all the headlining bands at A.C.L.O. at Lollapalooza every year so I get to meet a lot of great musicians.

What’s the best thing about your job?
The people. Obviously. I could sit there and cook great food all day, but it doesn’t make a difference if there isn’t anyone to eat it.

My staff starts the shifts with a shot of Tuaca every night at all my spots. That’s just what we do. It started with me doing a shot before we started every shift, and I just included everybody. I’ve passed that on to all my teams. It’s just something that brings everyone together. It’s not about having a shot of alcohol. there’s a reason why I drink that particular drink, and I want to pass that along.