Professional chefs and musicians have a lot in common. They both should have an understanding and appreciation of the classics and standards. They train to master the technical aspects of their craft. But, to be great, they also need to be willing to take risks; combining chords and instruments or flavor profiles that go against the usual constructs. They need the confidence and talent to be an influence.

So, it’s no wonder the Executive Chef at Harvest in Cambridge, Tyler Kinnett, dreamed of being a rock star in his youth. He may not be hammering out chords in front of sold-out stadiums, but Chef Tyler is definitely creating harmony on the palates and happiness in the bellies of a sold-out dinner crowd in one of the country’s most renowned restaurants. And, he’s getting a lot of attention for it.

Executive Chef at Harvest, Chef Tyler Kinnett

Tyler is a rock star in our eyes not just because of his creative and flawless menus, but because of his commitment to getting it right, because of the way he leads by example, because of his understanding of the necessity of hard work and his gratitude for the success it brings. Tyler has the type of spirit that makes us want to work harder and be better.

With those qualities, it’s no surprise the boy who started his kitchen career washing dishes eventually became the executive chef in the kitchen where culinary legends like Frank McClelland, Lydia Shire, Barbara Lynch, and even the great Julia Child have all cooked.

Here’s the catch, he didn’t start washing dishes to become a chef and he didn’t start in Cambridge. It was in Ohio and he did it to save money to buy a guitar.

An Ohioan by birth, young Tyler lived mostly in Centerville, Ohio. As the child of divorced parents, he split his time between his dad in the countryside, where he enjoyed the outdoors and watching his father fastidiously fix old cars and the rest of his time with mom and her metropolitan family. He helped his grandmother with her bakery delivery service and savored the Greek culture and Greek food that his stepdad introduced into his life.

In fact, it was his stepdad, who worked as a chef, who got him that job washing dishes. In some ways, this was the universe giving Tyler a “taste” of his true calling. It wasn’t long before he set the dish rags aside and slipped into a cook’s jacket to help in the kitchen, putting that dream of being a rock star on the “back burner” and piquing his interest in cooking. But, the universe hadn’t sold him yet.

Tyler took a year off after high school. Let’s be honest, at 18, pinpointing exactly what one wants to do is a challenge. But at least Tyler knew one thing, he wanted to see more than Ohio. So, he enrolled at Wright State University as a Spanish major with a rough plan of ending up in Argentina. But, that fire that started burning during his high school cooking job got bigger. He realized cooking could be that vehicle to see the world, and a lot more than just Argentina. So, he started to look into culinary schools, ending up at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont.

Forget Argentina, Vermont alone was a cultural awakening. With his headphones and music, Tyler explored the small New England town and took in all that was around him. The smell of pine, the rush of rolling rivers, and a mountainous landscape contrasted to the miles and miles of corn in Ohio. And the food! Locally made cheese, fresh seafood, and endless food possibilities at culinary school opened his eyes to his true passion.

Not only did Tyler fall in love with cooking, but he also fell in love with a girl. The pair moved to Boston in 2008, where he secured his first internship at Hamersley’s Bistro.

And so, the college kid from Ohio, still with music coming through his headphones, scoffed down ramen noodles in his basement apartment on Comm Ave, while he helped to prepare some of the most sought-after dishes in Boston.

If you’re a Boston Foodie, you realize Tyler received his first official training in a legendary restaurant under one of Boston’s most respected Chefs, Chef Gordon Hamersley. And it wasn’t easy. Working in a kitchen requires long hard hours, standing, and under immense pressure and literal heat. A well-disciplined kitchen staff quickly put Tyler into his place. The rule was, either do it properly or do something else. After seeing the magic of Hamersley’s, there wasn’t anything else Tyler wanted to do.

So, Tyler honed in on that meticulousness he learned from watching his father’s precision with cars. He focused and absorbed everything he could, and not just about cooking. He also learned what made a great chef, and it was so much more than just artistry in the kitchen. It was about being an affluent speaker, a patient teacher, an author, to have decorum, and the most important quality, leading by example.

With a crash course in fine dining under his belt, Tyler and his girlfriend went back to Vermont to finish the school year.  But, Tyler was now hungry for more of that Hamersley’s experience.

He put himself on the fast track, immersing himself in all things food.  He used every extra dollar he had to buy and devour cookbooks, digesting the philosophies of different chefs. He was eager to get back to Boston with his girlfriend and back to a working kitchen.

Tyler At New England Culinary Institute

After graduation, he met that goal with a job back in Boston and apartment with his girl. They moved back to Comm Ave, and right across from his new job working as a hot line cook at the then Fenway Park’s EMC Club, which was another rare opportunity. The EMC Club wasn’t just any ballpark restaurant. He was back in another fine dining establishment, serving the likes of LeBron James and Dr. J.

Fenway was a massive operation, with a Cadillac of a kitchen and lots of opportunities. Management recognized how serious Tyler was, and so he received more responsibilities, allowing him to learn beyond his station. He tried to be the best he could at each thing he did, and we don’t doubt he succeeded.

The next stepping stone in Tyler’s working education was at Sel De La Terre, Long Wharf. The now closed, but beloved French restaurant owned by another great Boston Chef (and Harvest alum) Frank McClelland, gave Tyler another crash course. Starting off as the vegetable cook, in a high-volume restaurant with massive daily vegetable deliveries from Chef McClelland’s farm taught him how to be quick and precise in a small space. Efficiency and quality – something we should all master.

Tyler loved and fed off the pace and precision, and the passion of those around him. He became a very a shiny and perfect cog in that restaurant’s machine. Once again, staff noticed his immense value and within eight months of graduation Tyler Kinnett made sous chef. He was only 21-years-old.

The role of the sous chef would occupy the next year of Tyler’s life, forcing him to sharpen his management skills. Tyler’s leadership journey hurt at first; perhaps because he was so young. More likely Tyler found it challenging because unlike cooking, where if one follows an exact recipe one can create a perfect dish, there is no perfect or technical way to lead. A leader needs to manage different personalities, in different roles, all with different skills. And here’s why we’re impressed and think Tyler got pretty close to perfect. Tyler realized a leader will succeed as long as he/she cares about the people being managed. And it wasn’t just the more bees with honey philosophy. He meant a leader needs to care about their people. Don’t we all wish we had a manager like that?

Sous Chef Tyler At Sel De La Terre (Wearing Black)

Besides learning to be a leader, Tyler also had his first opportunity to be creative in the kitchen. Seeing how he was basically a kid making it on his own, he didn’t have the luxury of being able to buy a host of ingredients regularly from the grocery store. Nor did he have the time to experiment. But, in his new role, he could bounce ideas off the chef- play around in the kitchen. He wrote his first menu at Sel De La Terre, and while they received it positively, Tyler saw room for improvement. If you haven’t garnered yet, Tyler’s personal criticism is what drives him to be better- he had become a perfectionist.

Sous Chef Tyler Kinnett Rolling Gnocchi At Sel De La Terre

And while he may strive for perfection, life can’t always be perfect. In 2013, Sel de la Terre closed, leaving Tyler disappointed, but motivated to keep working.

He ended up back at Fenway’s EMC Club. This time as a supervisor for the catering that happened at the park, responsible for multiple parties occurring throughout the historic sports arena and for the service of literally thousands of people. But, after eight months of supervising, he craved the creativity of cooking. An opportunity to interview for the position of sous chef at Harvest in Cambridge arrived, and he put in his name.

Harvest, like Hamersley’s, is another acclaimed restaurant. It’s a mecca for foodies and has been home to many well-known chefs. And just like every other place Tyler worked, Harvest saw his talent and passion and gave him the job, but as a junior sous chef. Per the usual routine, they quickly promoted him. Tyler was once again a sous chef, this time under Chef Mary Dumont.

By far, the position at Harvest held the most opportunity and responsibility he had ever had. He had the chance and challenge of creating a tasting menu that changed every week. Tyler once again moved beyond his comfort zone, pressing himself to do new things. Let’s not forget the physical challenges of working long hours in a kitchen. But, he loved it.

It was those moments when he pushed himself creatively that he realized what he didn’t know. He used those moments to learn more about cooking, about culture, and about himself. In that year and a half as Harvest’s sous chef, Tyler grew as a chef organically. Remember, just like being a great musician, a great chef needs to have the confidence to take risks with trial and error and think outside of the standard training.

And Tyler was glowing with ideas. He was like a creative freight train, but one that was excessively disciplined. In his opinion, staff may have misinterpreted his need for technical precision, yet drive to create new things. Basically, they might have thought he was a crazy person, and, maybe he was. But, we think in the best possible way. Someone who is mad with passion for their craft is a special sight to behold.

Tyler was also still mad with love.

Despite being content in the NorthEast, he agreed with his girlfriend to pack up and head to Chicago. Back to the MidWest. Back to a place he really didn’t want to go. But love is powerful. And, Chicago is also a great city. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. No big deal that he didn’t have a job. He had his love and they did secure an amazing apartment on the 13th floor of a unit that offered both a lake and skyline view.

The job thing wasn’t panning out though. Tyler just left the most challenging and enthralling job of his career at a renowned restaurant. He didn’t want to take steps backward and be a hot line cook again.

But, that pretty apartment was pretty expensive.

Being a responsible person, Tyler took a job at a hotel as the one sous chef for several on-site restaurants. But, he didn’t ask the right questions and only a few days deep he immediately recognized his mistake. The first glance at the ingredients immediately spoke to the standards. Farm fresh deliveries were laughable, never mind the allowance for creativity in the kitchen. Instead, he saw “food crimes.” He would head home to his beautiful apartment and look at his Harvest sous chef jacket, which was framed and hanging on the wall and hang his head. For him, his career was now depressing.

And, if he didn’t do something soon, his career would be gone. All of that hard work and resume building back east for null if he stayed too long at a sub-par establishment. So, he quit. He didn’t just want a paycheck, he wanted passion.

A job as a line cook at The Publican in Chicago offered that passion. Tyler was once again working in a well-known restaurant doing exciting things. The menu changed daily depending on what fresh ingredients came through the door, and it felt good. That good feeling solidified Tyler’s commitment to never go back to a place like that hotel. The sourcing of fresh and sustainable food excited Tyler, as he would watch Chef Paul Kahan move through the kitchen complimenting and leading his staff, Tyler thought, “This is what I want when I am a chef.”

He eventually worked all of the stations at The Publican. But with all of that work, he wasn’t seeing his girlfriend. Both were busy; that was all.

Was it? One day everything seemed fine, and the next Tyler was heartbroken with his mom helping him pack up his stuff. An abrupt breakup left him distraught and homeless. Since he had opted for passion and not a paycheck, he was also broke.

Being in the midwest, it made sense to go home. As he drove past the Chicago skyline toward Ohio, he felt like an emotional wreck. At 25, all the time he had invested in love and passion seemed wasted. Even though many 20-somethings move back in with their moms and don’t give it a second thought, Tyler felt like he failed.

Let’s not forget Tyler Kinnett’s personality. There are dreamers and then there is the type of dreamer who makes his/her dreams come true, only through constantly improving themselves and not giving up. So, Tyler called Chef Mary Dumont back in Cambridge.

Without a firm job offer, and only a friendly acknowledgment that he was missed, Tyler hopped in his car and drove 17 hours (straight) to Boston with just his car and suitcase.

Harvest welcomed him back as the Executive Sous Chef, and even though he was back at the pinnacle of his career, he was entering an unhealthy phase. Crashing at a friend’s place only to sleep, adrenaline kept Tyler working around the clock with laser focus. And, if he wasn’t at work, he was at a bar with friends. He didn’t want to stand still.

Back In Action At Mach Speed

If you’ve ever been broken-hearted, you can empathize with Tyler’s situation. If you stop and take a moment, then you can feel the pain of losing out in love, and that can REALLY hurt. So, he didn’t stop. But, eventually, Tyler realized the only way to let the heart mend, is first to feel it breaking.

After working at a dizzying pace, he discovered a better way to handle his emotions. He used the creative energy to grow even more, and when Chef Mary left to do her own thing, Harvest offered the position of Executive Chef to the young, but now brilliant Tyler. In hindsight, perhaps the cosmos had a hand in that unforeseen breakup. Chicago taught Tyler what he never wanted, and also what he was destined to do. It also made him a stronger person.

With The Team At Harvest

As a 26-year-old Executive Chef running a restaurant with an extremely discriminating audience, he faced quips about his age- just another millennial who probably did not get the gig through hard work… This only made him work harder. We can tell you after spending a couple of hours with this “millennial,” Tyler has more wisdom and maturity than most 40-year-olds.

Two years into the job, he never pats himself on the back. He tells us he’s always learning and will continue for the rest of his life because that is what life is – a continual self-journey. He respects his staff, cooks to make the guests happy, and lives for the fresh food deliveries.

He meets the people who grow and forage Harvest’s fresh ingredients with a big smile every day, excited to see what they have. The use of fresh and sustainable food is of utmost importance, and he loves connecting with the story behind the food.

Tyler’s process of creating starts with those fresh ingredients. He then chooses a technique and what thing will balance the two. Flavor profiles are combined and the creativity begins. The dish is almost never what it started as. We had an opportunity to taste this creativity, and now have insight into how he came up with his version of meat and potatoes. Smoked carrot puree? To. Die. For. (Tip- If you haven’t had any of Chef Tyler’s dishes, make a reservation at Harvest immediately.)

Miso Crusted Beef, Smoked Carrot, Roasted Onion, Scallion Relish, Potato Pave and Red Wine Jus

After tasting the equivalent of a symphony on a plate, we couldn’t help but go back to the chef-musician analogy. So, we asked the chef who calls pasta, “personal,” what musicians influence his cooking. He had a great answer.

Most of us now recognize the musical genius of David Bowie. But, when the lanky, Brit, and his androgynous alter-ego Ziggy Stardust first appeared, people said he would fail. Bowie chose not to listen. He’s a fantastic example of not being afraid of people telling you can’t. He transcended the criticism and actually became the mainstream.

Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots is his next big influence. He was a maniac on the stage and constantly evolving. He carried a sense of freedom and confidence to just go for it.

So, how does this translate in the kitchen? For Tyler, it means to live in the moment and believe in yourself.

In this moment, at 28-years-old Tyler is doing exciting things. He’s on the cover of magazines and traveling the country serving as a guest chef at some of the most well-known restaurants. He’s creating beautiful dishes and making people happy.

Tyler First In Portland, Oregon And Then "Getting It Right" At Harvest

Chef Tyler Kinnett put in a lot of work to learn a few key simple philosophies. But, philosophies others will barely ever glean.

What’s next for this philosophical chef? For one thing, we hope a cookbook, because he has so much wisdom to share. And just like Scott Weiland, Tyler is still constantly evolving, constantly learning. He says he still has so much work to do with investing and believing in himself. Because nothing happens without first starting and believing in yourself (just like Bowie). He hopes to be one of the best chefs, but on his own terms- a compassionate competitor as he puts it. He wants to make an impact on his profession.

Tyler you’ve already made a major impact on us. We’re pretty sure with your drive, and the care you give to your team, your customers, and your food, and with your undeniable talent, the sky is the limit.


The Haute Life

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