Meet the Chef

Meet the Chef

Meet Chef JT Simms of Tombo Grille

We love Tombo Grille’s fresh take on everything they serve.  The Summer Menu stands out: Get your palate revved with an appetizer from the Small Bites section: May we suggest smoked salmon spring rolls featuring cabbage, carrots and cream cheese and served with mango chutney.  Then a delightful summertime treat –  heirloom tomato salad arugula, avocado crème, candied bacon and fried onions with white balsamic vinaigrette.  For your entree, you’ll love the Palmetto Farms Cornish hen (much larger than a traditional Cornish hen!) served with ricotta gnocchi, zucchini, fava beans, oyster mushrooms and Madeira jus. OMG!

Tombo Grille’s executive chef, JT Simms, has a food philosophy:

“I believe the key to making great food is to start with the best ingredients – fresh, as local as possible and of the highest quality… then I take those ingredients and don’t manipulate them much.  I let the foods shine on their own by cooking simply – no heavy sauces or spices that cover up the natural flavors. I just do things to enhance the natural flavors.”

Woohoo!! Tombo Grille won the Peoples Choice award at Mac Madness 2015 and will be heading to Kissimmee, Florida to compete in the World Food Championships later this year! JT and Crystal–great job, we are thrilled for you & Tombo Grille! Outstanding. Foodies, aren’t you dying to try their Mac & Cheese now?

Here’s the rest of the story:

Foodie News: Where did you grow up and what influenced you to become a chef?

JT: I grew up in Columbia and Myrtle Beach.  I have a clear memory of trying to get off the school bus fast and hurry home to watch “Great Chefs” on TV.  I have no idea why I got interested in that show.  I just liked it, and I still like it.  My mom was a great baker which inspired me to pursue cooking.

Foodie News: Did you attend culinary school or learn on the job?Tombo Grille's Burger

JT: I learned on the job. I have been cooking for 17 years. I’ve worked a lot of places… my first job as a cook was at Saluda’s. I’ve also cooked in several high end resorts in Las Vegas, a small farm to table restaurant in Wisconsin, and Cyprus in Charleston.  When I moved back to Columbia I got the opportunity to be the chef at Tombo Grille.

Foodie News: Tombo Grille offers guests both daily specials and their seasonal menu.  What goes into developing your daily specials and your seasonal menus?

JT: Daily specials are designed daily – I don’t generally know what we’ll offer each day until I see what  kinds of seafood or meats are available that day.  I am always looking for the best of everything. I choose the daily specials based on finding the best cuts, the best catches, the freshest vegetables.  Our seafood suppliers deal directly with the fishermen… and they know I am picky.  So they only present me with really great catches.  Same thing with meats. And I go to the Farmers Market and pick produce myself.  As far as the seasonal menus, obviously I am thinking in terms of lighter, cooler foods in the summer and warmer, filling foods in the fall and winter. 

Sea Bass dish at Tombo Grille
Miso marinated sea bass with jasmine rice, shiitake mushroom broth and quick pickled Asian salad.

Foodie News: What kind of cooking do you most enjoy?

JT: I really like cooking anything.  I find cooking to be kind of therapeutic.  I like spending 2 or 3 hours on a pot of soup.  And, since I grew up in Myrtle Beach, I love fish.  I like grilling a really great fish, and coming up with an Asian or Hispanic sauce to complement it.

Foodie News: What is most rewarding about your job at Tombo Grille?

JT: Knowing that our customers love our food!  We have clientele who dine with us weekly and some with us daily.  I have come to know some of our customers so well that I can tell you who is in the dining room from the food they have ordered! 

Black Sea Bass Dish at Tombo Grille
Whole Roasted N.C. Black Sea Bass topped with a peach pico de gallo served with saffron rice, local greens and grilled yellow watermelon

I also really appreciate the freedom that Len and Gini, the owners, have given me.  I really feel I am able to cook without limitations.  So many times chefs have limitations put on them, but that doesn’t happen here.  I have worked at very fine restaurants in Vegas and Charleston, but I didn’t have the creative freedom I have here.  I really like that freedom. 

Thanks JT and Tombo Grille for creating food that we all love and congratulations again on winning BEST Mac & Cheese Peoples Choice! *Foodies, if you have not been to Tombo Grille it is a must try—savor every moment + bite.

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