Methodical. Driven. Dedicated. How Tim Moore went from aspiring rocker to rock-star chef.
by Eric J. Wallace
Chef Tim Moore stands on the patio of an 18,000-square-foot stone chateaux, watching the sun set over colorful gardens and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. He sips a glass of 2017 Rise, the house flagship red wine – a Bordeaux-style blend that holds its own against world-renowned Virginia vintages like Barboursville’s Octagon.
The wine helped Early Mountain Vineyards become a finalist for Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2018 Best American Winery Award. The chef was hired soon afterward to capitalize on the notoriety and bring fine dining to the winery.
Moore, 35, was an inspired choice for the job. The former aspiring rocker got his start in restaurants as a dishwasher and worked his way methodically from hired hand to
respected chef at one of the most prestigious restaurants in the country.
“Sometimes I come out here and it’s so beautiful, I think, ‘When am I gonna wake up?’,” Moore says, alluding to his quest to transform Early Mountain into one of the East Coast’s most unique gastronomical destinations. Then he remembers the hard work, determination and one-in-a-million chance that brought him here.
“My wife likes to say I clawed and scraped and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” he says. “But to me, it’s like I’m living inside a real-life fairytale.”
Moore was introduced to the restaurant business as a teenager washing dishes in a Culpeper dive bar. The aspiring punk-rock guitarist and skateboarder found the hours and lifestyle alluring. He enjoyed teaming up to meet the rush and occasionally filled in for cooks and servers. Celebrating after weekend shifts became a favorite ritual.
After graduation, Moore moved to Richmond to pursue music, parlaying his restaurant experience into side gigs at Carytown eateries. Years passed and his dreams of stardom died, but Moore’s work ethic and team mentality earned him a reputation at his day job. And meeting up-and-coming star chefs like James Beard Foundation Best Chef nominee Travis Milton in the late 2000s brought new insight. The eat-local and farm-to-table movements were blossoming. A new generation of chefs and agricultural producers were revolutionizing American dining.
Moore had an epiphany, one that changed his life. He realized that you could be a rock star in the food industry, too. But to get there, Moore had to up his game. He took side jobs with higher-end local restaurants and caterers whenever possible. He bought cookbooks written by Julia Child and James Beard, and worked through them, recipe by recipe.
“It was a lot of 14- to 16-hour days,” Moore says. “Probably it was unhealthy, but I couldn’t help it, I was obsessed.”
That dedication started to pay off in 2011 with a job as a line-cook at Cous Cous, a hip Moroccan fusion eatery in the heart of Richmond’s Fan District. It wasn’t fine dining, but it was a step in the right direction.
Moore treated the job like an educational experience. He learned to source meat and produce from regional farmers and artisans from then-head chef Charlie Williams. He picked owner John Yamashita’s brain about running a restaurant.
A year later, the 27-year-old and recently married Moore was expecting a child, and started looking for a work-apprentice situation. “I knew culinary school was no longer an option,” he says.
Moore applied for a low-level cook position at Michelin 3-star winner The Inn at Little Washington, one of the most-respected restaurants in the country and one that only employs the best in the industry. He sent off a fiery cover letter outlining his ambitions and pleading for an opportunity.
A week later, he got an unexpected call. Though his cooking experience was subpar, the Inn needed an expeditor. Among the job’s responsibilities are managing communication and food flow between the dining room and kitchen, and ensuring proper presentation. Moore’s jack-of-all-trades résumé made him a candidate.
He took the position in August 2012 and was soon working alongside culinary icon Patrick O’Connell, who won a James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.
“That first night was the most intense of my life,” Moore says. “O’Connell stood beside me, scrutinizing everything I was doing.”
But conquering the pressure and winning approval from a living legend?
“It was the ultimate rush,” says Moore. Reality set in over a shift beer. He felt like he’d woken up inside a fairytale. “I told myself, ‘This is gonna be your Ph.D. program. You’re gonna stick it out, work your way up, learn everything you can, then go do your own thing.’”
Moore manned the expo station for more than a year. He spent much of that time studying cooks and poaching tricks. He routinely arrived early or stayed late. And he spent his free-time perfecting Inn-quality recipes at home.
“Tim worked incredibly hard,” says current director of culinary operations Andrew Wright, who was hired in 2011. Moore’s humility, determination and drive made superiors want to help him. “He was definitely the ideal student.”
The dedication didn’t go unnoticed. Moore was awarded the lowest-level cook position, helping to prep cold foods, in 2014. Eighteen months later, he was promoted again.
“Eventually I realized I was going to be the only guy – like, ever – to work every position in the kitchen,” says Moore. He took it as a blessing. The knowledge would help him create a similar system in a place of his own.
A huge break came in 2018. O’Connell called a meeting to discuss an upcoming top-restaurant competition. The chef was bringing two assistants. He announced that, as the Inn’s new sous chef, Moore would be one of them. Moore received a standing ovation.
“It blindsided me and I got really emotional,” says Moore.
He’d spent 10 years dreaming about this moment. The sacrifices and long hours had finally been validated.
Moore’s Virginia Table at Early Mountain Vineyards is a work in progress. When the program launched in late 2019, he was essentially starting from scratch. Then the pandemic waylaid plans for expansion.
“There was a culinary program before I came, but it was grilled cheese, tomato soup, stuff like that,” says Moore. The kitchen was equipped for coffee-shop cuisine, not fine dining. From equipment to training servers, everything had to be overhauled.
Moore worked with tasting-room manager Jenna Ford, to create a phased plan. They would launch with a small, full-service menu that complimented tastings. It would
feature locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, and upscale versions of familiar foods.
“We wanted to sort of gently introduce some of our existing clientele to the idea of a full-scale fine-dining experience,” says marketing director Aileen Sevier.
Menus change with the seasons and feature a sophisticated blend of approachable hors d’oeuvres, shared plates, mains and sweets. More than 90 percent of meats, cheeses and produce are sourced from regional artisans. Familiar dishes are given the fine-dining treatment and cater to specific wine pairings.
Take, for example, Moore’s show-stopping pork chop. A milk-fed piglet tenderloin from Whippoorwill Farms is served in a pool of dark, bourbon-apple veal demi-glace over an autumnal medley of heirloom red cabbage, roasted sweet potatoes, shallots and winter squash. It’s topped with a lovely stack of pan-seared heritage apples, chopped bacon and a garnish of edible flowers. The plate arrives with a glass of 2017 Rise.
The pork melts in your mouth. It’s enveloped in a rich, smoky-sweet earthiness that tastes as beautiful as the landscape looks. The wine brings subtle aromas of plums,
blackberries, cedar and wood spice. A sip echoes the nose, with a silky finish and tannin that’s ample, persistent, and marvelously layered.
Moore hired former Inn at Little Washington pastry chef Kristin Hall as his sous chef. The two focused on expanding wine dinners and in-house catering options for weddings. They drafted plans for a restaurant-grade kitchen to be installed in spring 2020. Next would come formal dinner service.
Then COVID-19 struck. And everything went on hold.
“That was a scary time,” says Moore. Had it been a mistake to leave the Inn? Owner Jean Case, who co-founded AOL in 1985, assured him it had not. “She went out of her way to let me know my job was safe and that plans hadn’t changed.”
With the vineyard reopened, Moore things are again moving forward. Plans include a new cooking space in 2021 and at some point, a kitchen garden and prix fixe dinners in the vein of the acclaimed Restaurant at Patowmack Farms. Early Mountain hopes to add a boutique inn by 2030.
“The goal is to take what’s already a very special culinary destination and make it absolutely extraordinary,” Moore says.