Back in 2012 Ferrell Alvarez, executive chef at Rooster & the Till, participated in our series on Tampa Bay’s Best Dish. The former executive chef at Cafe Dufrain also worked under Marty Blitz at Mise en Place. He even launched a sustainable food magazine, The Local Dirt, with his friend and colleague Ty Rodriguez. The publication took a backseat to their newest venture, Rooster & the Till. The two opened the new restaurant in Seminole Heights in late December 2013 and, not surprisingly, they have received tremendous reviews.
Here’s an interview we did with Ferrell about one of his favorite dishes in Tampa Bay, the Singapore Noodles from The Yummy House.
When did you first get into cooking?
I got into cooking when I was 15 as a dishwasher/prep cook at a deli in Cincinnati. In freshmen year, I moved there from Spring Hill and that was the first job I ever got. It was called The Cutting Board and it was an independently owned deli. From there, I went to Riverview Revolving Restaurant, which was a restaurant on the 18th story of a hotel in downtown Cincy that revolved. I got that gig through a special program from the National Restaurant Association and the Northern Kentucky Restaurant Association and did a 450-hour internship at a hotel. I did everything from laundry to forecasting to maintenance to kitchen. I really dug it and worked there all throughout high school and while I was enrolled at the Cincinnati Culinary Art Academy. I put myself through culinary school and worked full time for 18 months straight.
When did you come back to Florida?
After culinary school, I came back to Tampa and got a job at Saddlebrook as a sous chef tourant, which is the lowest man on the totem pole for sous chefs. On everyone’s day off, I had to cover their kitchen and there were five restaurants on the property. So everyday I was running a new kitchen. I was there for four and a half years and worked my way up the ranks before landing a job at Mise en Place as a line cook. I worked my way up to sous chef after about three years and then took over as chef de cuisine. I spent over seven and half years with Marty. I left there to take over at Café Dufrain over three years ago.
Did you know right away that you wanted to give Café Dufrain a sustainable spin when you took over?
I didn’t put it out there that that was the angle that I wanted to go with. I always had that in my back pocket so once I took the job and it was time to transition into what it was that I wanted to do, I went ahead my plans to make the restaurant heavy local-forward. And then of course in 2011, that was when we developed the concept of The Local Dirt, a sustainable food magazine, and started doing that as well.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
Probably something with cars or something medical. I almost quick everything at 23 and went to med school because my dad’s a physician and my mom’s a nurse. My dad was really pushing me to do it. But I suck at books. I’m intelligent but I’m not the kind of guys who sit in the back of the class and take notes. I’m hands-on and that’s why I like working on cars and cooking.
When’s the first time you came to Yummy House?
Back when I was working at Mise en Place. Years ago, I came here with Marty and the kitchen crew. I had heard they had really good Chinese so we decided to check it out. Salt and pepper calamari was the first thing I ever had. I also had the corn and crab soup, the kung pao chicken. Then I had the Singapore noodles and they’re banging, man.
In your opinion, what makes it one of the best dishes in Tampa Bay?
The reason I like it is because it’s a little bit curry; it’s a little bit spicy; it’s a little bit salty; it’s got pork in it, which I’m a big pork fan; it’s got Asian noodles, which I’m all about; and it’s got bean sprouts and plenty of vegetables. It’s a well-composed and well-rounded dish. It’s salty, spicy, porky and texturally great.
The Yummy House is located at N. 2620 E. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, FL 33610 and 2002 W. Waters Ave., Tampa, FL 33604. For more information, visit www.YummyHouseTampa.com.