Before the pandemic, chef Tyler Minnis had a reputation for creating great dishes on the fly. The shutdown has only amplified his creativity.
Tyler Minnis has always disliked to-go food. The Market Italian Village chef and culinary lead for A&R Creative Group, who’s spent his career in fine-dining kitchens, cringes at the thought of one of his dishes arriving on someone’s doorstep cold, soggy or a dropped mess.
But as the COVID-19 shutdown shuttered dining rooms across the state, Minnis had to embrace the idea of takeout. He boxed up The Market’s rib-eyes and pizzas. Offered charcuterie, cheese and meal kits. It worked for a while, he says, but it wasn’t enough work for his team. Big, heavy, expensive meals simply aren’t appealing right now.
So, Minnis shifted again, pitching a temporary rebrand of the Mediterranean restaurant as a nostalgic, small-town dairy stop with ’60s and ’70s acid trip vibes. It’s inspired, in part, by the dairy stand in his Zanesville hometown and by the jam-band music Minnis and his team like to play in the kitchen.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
The owners of A&R Creative Group, who also operate The Crest Gastropub and Hoof Hearted Brewery & Kitchen among other restaurants, loved it. Within a week in July, Minnis and his team had a menu written and developed. Dairy Dose was ready to serve elevated fast food—think corn dogs, burgers and fries—and boozy slushies with tongue-in-cheek names from The Market’s window. There’s a Fried Phish Filet doused in green tomato-ramp tartare, Shakedown Street Corn covered in tomato mayo and waffle fries drowning under a Cheez Whiz-like sauce made from pungent Délice de Bourgogne cheese.
This ability to adapt with the tides surprises no one who knows Minnis, whose twin brother is beverage director for A&R Creative. In the same breath, friends and colleagues refer to the chef as professional and cheeky, both rock steady in the kitchen and a little chaotic in his mind. At 35, he’s built a reputation in the industry for his creativity on the fly, developing entire menus in one day for No Menu Mondays at The Market, pushing boundaries at his previous restaurant, Angry Bear Kitchen, or making biscuits at a Brewery District pop-up on the weekends.
The hand the COVID-19 shutdown dealt Minnis has simply brought what he’s been doing for years into the psychedelic limelight.
“You talk about adaptability. [On] Mondays we were making a menu every week—brand new, right on the spot,” says The Market’s chef de cuisine, Evan Jones, who’s worked alongside Minnis for seven years. “That’s where I learned the full capacity for what Tyler can do. He can imagine things in his mind, the flavors and tastes. I clearly admire that.”
Minnis is proof that true creativity happens inside the box, Jones says. He knows how to work within his limitations—namely not being able to serve customers inside the restaurants—and innovate from there.
“I don’t really think there’s a limit to what he can do,” Jones says.
Thriving under pressure is just how Minnis operates. He was that guy in college who’d wait until the night before to write a paper and then get high marks. “There’s definitely high stress and anxiety that comes with [creating on the fly]. But that’s when I do my best work,” Minnis says. “Maybe it came a bit natural for me as well, but as chefs we are always thinking on our feet.”
Minnis found his way into the kitchen while at Ohio University, working as a dishwasher at Lui Lui, the sort of restaurant that serves a little bit of everything, from wood-fired pizza to sushi. He’d jump on the line every now and then and soon switched his major from political science to hospitality. He was all-in, moving to Portland, Oregon, after graduation to attend the Art Institute of Portland and stage (or intern) at as many restaurants as would let him in the kitchen door—filing every lesson learned, every technique shown away in the Rolodex of his mind.
When he moved back to Columbus, Minnis landed a job at Latitude 41, cooking for two years under one of the most notable chefs in the city at the time, Dave MacLennan. After that, he became the sous at Basi Italia, then left to start his own restaurant, Angry Bear Kitchen, in 2014 with chefs he met at Latitude. (The chefs were named Columbus Monthly Tastemakers not long after.)
Cooking at a more fine-dining restaurant was just the lifestyle Minnis wanted to live. “That’s what’s challenging to me. Learning those old French or Middle Eastern techniques and finding ways to elevate them appeals to me,” he says.
That’s the hook for Minnis. He’s not interested in emulating. He wants to learn the techniques, the rules, understand how and why they work, so he can bend them to make a dish his own.
For example, beef Wellington isn’t likely to make an appearance on The Market’s menu. But a carrot Wellington just might. “I like to transform things a little bit,” Minnis says. “Once you get comfortable, you can find a style. I think that’s something young chefs can have trouble with—how to find that style or break those rules.”
On his mornings off, Minnis supports another pop-up in town, Boxwood Biscuit Co., run out of the side door of Brewery District cocktail-bar-turned-bodega, Law Bird. For owners Luke Pierce and Annie Williams Pierce, there wasn’t another chef in town they wanted to help bring Boxwood to life.
“If we get to make a wish list of people we want to work with in Columbus, he’s been on the top of it forever,” Williams Pierce says. “We love his style, his creativity, his temperament. His style mixes comfort and nostalgia but with a little bit of chaos and a little bit of whimsy. It feels familiar without being done before.”
Boxwood served its first flaky, slab-cut pastry to the public at the end of August. Admittedly not a baker, Minnis worked through roughly a dozen versions until he landed on the final—a mix of two flours (for an airy texture) and two types of fat (for extra flakiness). His biscuits are going like hotcakes, selling out every morning since Boxwood started serving.
There’s something about the impermanence of Dairy Dose and Boxwood Biscuit Co. that appeals to Minnis. If he had his way, his menu would always be written on chalkboards. “I just get bored,” he laughs. “I don’t even have a dish I’m attached to.”
As for what comes after Dairy Dose, Minnis isn’t entirely sure. “This is a cool moment in time,” Minnis says. “But I am certain that The Market will come back.”