Ty Thames | Restaurant Tyler | Starkville
by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace
Chef Ty Thames graduated from University of Southern Mississippi before attending a culinary institute in Vermont, followed by an apprenticeship in Italy. When he was in Italy, he said he learned so much about himself, even though it was kind of a “lonely” time for him. He and the other interns didn’t speak Italian, but they didn’t speak each other’s native languages either.
“It was charades all the time, so I’m really good at that game,” he said, laughing.
When he came back stateside, he worked at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Georgetown, followed by a fine-dining Italian restaurant in Maryland, right outside of Washington D.C., before winding his way back down to Mississippi.
“My college roommate at Southern was a lawyer here (in Starkville), and he convinced me that there’s this great little location in the Cotton District,” he said. “So, basically in two weeks, I packed up all my stuff and moved from D.C. back to Mississippi and opened up, now what everybody knows, Bin 612. From the Bin, I moved and opened up Restaurant Tyler (in 2008) and now have Humble Taco.”
With a wide array of food across his three restaurants, Restaurant Tyler offers Starkville a fine-dining experience by serving southern food, with an Italian flare.
“My goal for Restaurant Tyler was to use local and sourced ingredients,” he said.
He works with local farmers like Bountiful Harvest Farms in Starkville to get local, in-season produce.
Can customers expect anything new coming to Restaurant Tyler?
I am going to revamp (it) for kind of like our new grand reopening after COVID in the fall. We will have multiple menu items that are going to be new and just different.
We will also have our weekly chef tasting menus – kind of whatever (Bountiful Harvest Farms) growing at the time or we can find at the time, whether it’s something that I’ll forage in the forest — some mushrooms or whatever it may be — that always winds up on that weekly chef tasting. And then we’ll do major menu upgrades and changes four times a year.
Biggest tips for folks at home?
The first thing I would suggest is that when you get a recipe, no matter what it may be, that you read the recipe all the way through … twice. And then you get everything that you need for the recipe, whether it be a spoon or a pot or a pie pan, you have all that ready to go before you even start to put together ingredients. Have the right tools and everything in place – kind of the number one thing that kind of sets you up for success.
And then when you’re working with ingredients of any kind, my suggestion would be, make sure you find it as fresh and in season as possible.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
The Bar-B-Q okra. We make and cure our own country ham, but we make it more like an Italian-style prosciutto. So I have two/three-year-old hams hanging in my house, so we basically cut those and shave those like prosciutto for our very own style prosciutto. The (favorite) entree would be the cold-smoked pork chop. I usually get that with a sweet potato, just baked, and then seasonal vegetables. Also, we have a very unique cabbage salad that is served with candied pecans, roasted beets and bleu cheese.
When you’re home, what do you make?
Pastas. Simple pastas. My favorite pasta, spaghetti alle vongole, which is like clams and spaghetti and a white-wine garlic broth. If I’m cooking something at home, it’s going to be something pretty quick and simple. I have a lot of venison, where I’ll make hamburger steaks with caramelized onion, white wine sauce, things of that nature.
What’s your favorite ingredient or flavor profile?
One of my secret ingredients — what I put on steak and even season chicken and tomato sauces (with) — is going to be fennel, and more specific than that is fennel pollen. It’s the pollen of the fennel plant, and it has the anise flavor, but it’s more flowery and light, which I find to be really appealing with the aromatics. And I use a lot – (for) meat sauces and different things – nutmeg.
What’s your least favorite?
Shaved coconut, just because it’s just kind of waxy shavings. I love coconut, and I can eat those today, but they’re not on the top of my list, the waxy shavings, but the coconut flavor is good.
I really hate cooking salmon, just because I’ve cooked salmon for 30 years. Everybody loves salmon; it’s salmon this, salmon that, so I’ve done salmon so much I just kind of don’t want to. It’s kind of like flipping burgers, flipping salmon these days.
Do you have a favorite cookbook or resource?
Google and YouTube are pretty much a standard go-to for that. “Food Lover’s Companion” was something I used a lot. (It’s) just kind of a resource, it’s more like a dictionary for food.
Right now, I’m really into wild game, so that “MeatEater” show and some of his cookbooks.