When one Sidecar door closes, another one opens
Ventura Chef Tim Kilcoyne discusses his adventures in the culinary arts
By Michael Sullivan 04/25/2013
It’ll be right about 10 years to the day when Chef Tim Kilcoyne will have to close up shop at the Sidecar Restaurant in Ventura on May 14, and it wasn’t for the lack of business — quite the contrary. When it came time to sign another lease on the space, the landlords made themselves scarce and then sent him a certified letter telling Kilcoyne he had to move. One theory is that the property and the space next to it may go under construction soon and the landlords needed to move out the tenant. Nevertheless, Kilcoyne remains optimistic.
“Change is good,” he said.
Ten years is a nice round number to complete his venture at the current location, he said. But for the years leading up to the Sidecar, the restaurant industry had proved to be a bit tumultuous.
After having grown up on a lilac farm in Acton, Calif., and doing related chores for cash, he pleaded with his parents to get a job out in the real world — he found a job busing, doing dishes and eventually serving tables at a local eatery while also working at a nearby grocery store. From there, he went to Kinko’s in Santa Clarita to work as an assistant manager and was transferred to the Kinko’s on Main Street in Ventura but found himself lured back to the restaurant industry. He found a job working in the kitchen at Favorites in Thousand Oaks in 1998, adding homemade soups to the menu. The business has been poorly managed, however, and it went under shortly after his arrival. One of his biggest complaints was the fact that the owners didn’t aim for fresh food, but rather everything came frozen — this apparent shortcoming would later inspire his culinary preference.
After spending a short stint (two weeks) in Oxnard College’s culinary program, he made his way back to Valencia to work as assistant manager at Louise’s Trattoria, which shut down shortly after his arrival, and then to the Crab House, which had a sister location in Camarillo. Bouncing from one restaurant to another was rather frustrating, but he was determined to stick with the culinary arts. In a fortuitous moment after the Crab House in Valencia closed its doors, he had been mailed a brochure for a culinary school in Portland, Ore. And that’s when his life as a chef really started to gain ground.
After one and a half years at the school in Portland, he graduated in the top five of his class and was offered three prestigious internship positions at French Laundry in the Napa Valley, the Pebble Beach Resort and the Playboy mansion. While some might default to the Playboy mansion for obvious reasons, he opted for it because of the comprehensive internship program that utilized all of his skills rather than monotonous activities such as peeling and dicing carrots for the next several months. While all of his work at the Playboy mansion was strictly business, he did get to learn some interesting aspects of the people inside.
“I would have to know which girl wanted seedless jelly or smooth peanut butter,” he said. “Either one night a week or every night, Hugh Hefner would have a Shake ’n’ Bake pork chop fried in an old skillet that plugged in.” Kilcoyne said Hefner would know whether or not his pork chop had been cooked to those specifications. Kilcoyne was later hired to help with parties.
After working at the Playboy mansion, he returned to Valencia to work at another restaurant but was ready to open up a business of his own. His mom and stepfather, who had been living in Ventura, were scouting for a place to set up a hot dog stand and ended up finding the Sidecar location. They knew they couldn’t sell enough hot dogs to keep up with the lease but thought it would be a great place for Kilcoyne’s vision. The space had been boarded up for a couple of years and needed some work, but Kilcoyne felt it was the right opportunity to open an eatery in Ventura.
In his time working for various restaurants, the fresh ingredients he bought at the farmers markets in Santa Monica weren’t actually from local farms in Los Angeles County — the produce had been coming from farms in Ventura County. When he opened the Sidecar Restaurant, his goal was to keep it fresh and local. He became a regular at the local farmers markets and not just to keep everything fresh — the Sidecar Restaurant didn’t have a walk-in refrigerator so it was mandatory that he would cook with only the freshest ingredients.
Over the years, he was able to grow and expand his business with his culinary expertise and also opened doors for the jazz scene with regular live shows every weekend. His busiest nights were Tuesdays, with his grilled cheese sandwich menu.
“We kept it super simple,” he said. “It was about the music, to drink, to wind down. Simple and comforting.”
He did some unique menus throughout the years, such as a menu built around bacon, which ran through the month of August last year. He relayed, though, that he didn’t get to do everything 100 percent the way he envisioned.
“There are a few things I would have changed,” Kilcoyne said. “I never tried to be fine dining. I don’t like the table cloths but I was cooking for the space.”
As time winds down for the Sidecar Restaurant, 19 days and counting, Kilcoyne said he plans to take off the month of June (though he will be available for catering) before making any major decisions about his next venture. He said the former Tutti’s location in Downtown Ventura may be a good place to go next, but he has also been offered opportunities to revamp menus at various restaurants or to become head chef at other restaurants.
One thing that is certain, Kilcoyne will stick with the farm to table cuisine or, rather, local farmers market to table.
Chef Tim Kilcoyne will be available for catering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org