For the last 12 years, Chef Travis Taylor has been working at Sunriver Resort cooking up creative, flavorful dishes utilizing seasonal ingredients. While the resort's restaurants may not be the most high profile or recognized in Central Oregon, that changed when Taylor was invited to be a contestant in the Bite of Bend Top Chef competition in June, a kitchen stadium hosting some of the best chefs in town and challenging their speed and technique.
Taylor beat out runner-up Nick Ragazzo from Dogwood Cocktail Cabin and eight other local chefs with a final unique dish of yak tenderloin with fennel, mushrooms, mashed potatoes and zucchini.
His win afforded him the opportunity to compete in a similar statewide competition Iron Chef PDX, which he rolled through and won. The Source chatted with Taylor about the competition and how it felt to bring the coveted Iron Chef Oregon title to Central Oregon.
Source Weekly: Do you have a cooking philosophy? Tell me about the menu you've put together at Sunriver. How long have you been head chef there?
Travis Taylor: My philosophy is simple: incorporate the best seasonal ingredients, create lasting relationships with your producers, be true to the region, surround yourself with like-minded people and above all, have fun—which is precisely what I've been spearheading at Sunriver Resort.
I've served as the executive chef at Sunriver Resort for nearly four months and have been cooking professionally for over 20 years. The resort utilizes regional food sources and rotates menus to reflect the seasonality of key Pacific Northwest ingredients, including fish, shellfish and other native game.
SW: Tell me about competing at the Bite of Bend Top Chef competition? What were the rounds like? Who did you beat? What were your secret ingredients?
TT: Sous Chef Fabrice Beaudoin and I were excited to compete at Bite of Bend's Top Chef Competition. We competed in three rounds against some incredible local chefs. In each round we had to make an appetizer and entrée using secret ingredients. Round one we were tasked with using shellfish, round two we made dishes with pork tenderloin and round three we created an appetizer and entrée with yak.
SW: Tell me about Iron Chef PDX?
TT: Competitors had 30 minutes to complete each dish using a secret ingredient that was revealed only seconds before we had to start cooking. We knew which pantry ingredients we could work with, but only had 30 seconds to decide what to make with our secret ingredients before the clock started.
The first round was against Chef Justin Lee (of The Original in Portland) and the secret ingredients consisted of pork belly and blackberries. The semifinals were against Chef Dustin Farley (of Lark's in Ashland) and the secret ingredients included skirt steak and black cardamom. The final round was against the 2012 and 2013 Iron Chef Oregon winner Jeff Strom (of Koho Bistro in Eugene) and we competed using duck breast and Oregon cherries.
Our winning dishes were a crispy duck with apple arugula garden vegetable salad topped with hazelnut dressing and a pan-seared duck with roasted potato and cherry chutney with cherry chipotle puree.
SW: How much pressure do you feel competing in these Top Chef events? Is it more fun? Challenging? Nerve-racking?
TT: I love the test of incorporating unique ingredients into my dishes while racing the clock to deliver a masterpiece. I have the utmost respect for my competitors, and participating in this year's Iron Chef Oregon and Top Chef competitions proved to be a challenging, fun and completely exhilarating experience.
SW: Would you consider doing larger cooking competitions? Bravo's "Top Chef?" "Chopped?" What are your favorite cooking shows? Who are some of the chefs you look up to?
TT: If asked to participate in another big cooking competition, I definitely would do it again! My favorite cooking show would have to be the original "Iron Chef." I find inspiration from the great chefs I get to spend every day with. I'm also a cookbook junky and have more than 100 great books from my favorite chefs. My favorite is probably one of the first I ever bought, "The French Laundry." After all these years it's still very relevant, timeless and classic. Thomas Keller's style and approach to food speaks to me.
SW: What's next for you?
TT: What's next for me, who knows really? Our culinary team has been focused on refreshing the menus at Meadows and Owl's Nest, two popular Sunriver Resort restaurants. We are having a blast working on this project! In the end, I just want to cook great food and make people happy.