I am so VERY EXCITED to finally be kicking off the "Get to know your Chefs" series. It is something that I have wanted to do ever since launching the Gather and Savor website last year, so getting to publish this first post makes my heart so elated. For myself, when I know something more about the Chef who is creating and making the food that I am enjoying I feel that it enhances my dining experience. I assume that I am not the only one that feels this way. So in the months ahead I will be sitting down and visiting with different local chefs around our region and then sharing those conversations with you. I hope you are excited as I am!!
I was thrilled when Travis Dickinson agreed to be the first Chef to be featured for this series. Chef Travis was one of the very first chefs that I connected with when I started Gather and Savor. Our paths continue to cross, the first time being when my husband and I semi-photobombed a picture of he and his culinary team from Clover after they won the first Restaurant Wars in September of 2016. Then we got to visit and hang out during Crave, the food and wine celebration, that took place last June. We then worked together on a Foodie Insta-meet that was hosted by Gather and Savor and held at Clover last July. If you haven't met him, Chef Travis is one of the nicest, most down to earth and humble guys you'll ever meet. Don't let this kindness fool you though, when it comes to his culinary prowess, his passion for it is highly apparent and he SLAYS it in the kitchen. I am excited to share the conversation we had with all of you so you can know a bit more about him and his story and how lucky we are to have him in our city.
So without further ado...
Meet Chef Travis Dickinson
:: How did you get started in the culinary world?
"I needed a job when I turned 15 years old. I was skateboarding and breaking boards, wearing shoes out, all those things. My parents were getting tired of paying for it so I applied for a job at McDonald's and I applied at the Coeur d'Alene resort. I would have been a cashier at McDonald's but they wouldn't hire me because I was too young but the resort hired me on as a dishwasher. I grew into it and loved the pace of it. It was a fun little subculture. I found myself working with people from totally different age groups, cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs, it was a very mixed demographic. I stayed on washing dishes for a couple years, worked my way up. There was a slow steady evolution of people not showing up or quitting and I would step up. I was there at the resort for 2.5/3 years as I worked my way up from the dishwasher to salad prep, prep cook and then running the employee line, cooking for everyone who worked there and then leading brunch which was cool because I was 16 at the time. Once I am doing something I want to be good at it, I want to push to the next level. It was never my ambition to stick with it, I was getting closer to the end of high school. I was leaning toward physical therapy as a career choice but I was really liking what I was doing and decided to check out the culinary school in Portland."
:: You have some very exciting new things on the horizon, tell us about your new restaurant.
"Cochinito taqueria will be a fast-casual, chef-driven taco shop. In Spanish, Cochinito means "little piggy" which is a good fit because I've always been a bit pork focused anyways plus it's a nickname that my wife uses for me. It's a way to take the things I love, the same sourcing, the same techniques and attention to detail but doing it in a way that's a little more accessible than fine dining. People will be able to afford to come and bring their families. I'm excited to do something totally different. For most of my career I've done the sit down, expensive, special occasion, fine dining type restaurants and that's great, I have loved every minute of it but I think it's time to do something a little fresh, a little exciting, a little more low key and accessible. Something that makes sense for everybody. We will be sourcing locally whenever we can and sourcing responsibly. We will be using the techniques of fine dining but folding them into Mexican cuisine. Some of the fancier tricks with cooking styles, some of the braises, some of the molecular gastronomy touches but in a way that still makes sense with what we're doing. At its heart it will be rustic, regional Mexican food but there's a way to take some of those things and put a fun twist on them and make it pretty interesting. Show people things that make sense but totally different then they've seen before." Chef Travis looks forward to getting to interact with his patrons which I think is fantastic! "I love relating with people", he said, "but it's hard sometimes being tucked in the back, I really want it (Cochinito) to be an all hands on deck approach."
::What is your perspective on the Spokane food Scene?::
"I think it's such an exciting time for the Spokane food scene! That's part of what drew me back from Portland (apart from the personal end of being near friends and family again especially as we start a young family of our own) 5-6 years ago I'd see 3 or 4 really good restaurants, there were a couple people doing it right and were really passionate. There was room for growth in Spokane, you come from a city like Portland where every block gets kind of gentrified into this cool zone and every year 5 new restaurants start but then in a year they are closed. It's like this revolving door of really good food. I've always said Portland is that best place to be a diner and the worst place to be a chef or restaurant owner. The competition is just super fierce and that's good thing, that lends to a really cool scene but its really hard to get in and make a name for yourself, put your stamp on something. I always looked at Spokane and thought, 'man you could really start something cool here.' There are so many niche things that haven't been done yet. It seems like everyone for the most part has this mentality and are all about fostering the scene and making it grow cohesively. It's not cutthroat like I have honestly seen in other cities. Here, everyone is supportive, calling one another up and asking 'hey where do I get this ingredient? Can you lend a hand at this event?' It builds a culture rather than a competition."
::If you could go anywhere in the world with all expenses paid where would it be and why?::
"I really want to go to Greece and Turkey. For the food, the culture, the beach and the sunshine. I have also always wanted to go to Vietnam, my father is a Vietnam vet and we've always talked how it would be cool to do a trip where we go back and kind of revisit a little bit. I have heard it's one of the best food trips you can take. To see a totally different part of the world and completely get out of your element."
I was able to stop by and see the space and the work that is in process at Cochinito. I loved hearing so many of the fun details of the plans and let me tell you guys, it's going to be AWESOME!!! Chef Travis has been the executive Chef at Clover for 3 years which he says he has "loved and it was amazing, they treated me super well" and now he's pursuing this dream of owning his own restaurant and it's so fantastic to see that becoming a reality right here in Spokane. Cochinito will occupy a space of 2,500 square feet downtown on the corner of Post St. and Riverside Ave and right next to the bar, Volstead Act. Chef Travis and his team are working tirelessly on getting all the details just so and Cochinito is slated to open very soon. Chef Travis and his wife are expecting their first child, a baby girl, in a couple months so he joked "we are trying not to open the restaurant and have the kid in the same week."
To get you excited and your tastebuds primed here is a little sneak peak of the menu. Prepare yourself, it's going to make you VERY hungry.
Ceviche del atun (seasonal rotation) marinated ahi tuna, tostada, cucumber, onion, citrus, finger lime mango chile gel
Sopes - thick fried corn cakes, duck confit, mole poblano, candied pepita, cotija, avocado.
Elote - grilled corn, cumin and smoked paprika crema, scallion, jalapeno and crispy pickled onion.
Their tacos will be served on fresh, made daily corn tortillas.
20 hour Carne asada - Sous vide tri-tip, chili rubbed and slow braised to Med rare, grilled corn, onions and peppers, chile-garlic oil, asadero cheese.
Fried maiitake mushrooms - marinated in chili garlic oil, manchengo, pepitas, romaine, radish, salsa de arbol , truffle.
Al Pastor- pineapple marinated adobe Snake River Farms pork tenderloin, smoked pineapple and jicama salsa, thyme oil, peanut, white chocolate
Watermelon man - tequila, lime, cider vinegar, watermelon, mint, tajin.
Cucumber and jalapeño margarita - cilantro, basil, lime, pineapple.