By Lauren Helmer
On a weekday the Lynes’ Ross Bridge home is part test kitchen, part meeting space, part family den. When I walk in, Pastry Chef Jennifer Lyne answers the door, not in her chef’s whites today, but with her “mom” hat on, chasing 2-year-old TJ (Tyler Lyne, Jr.) around the living room. He’s discovered two equally delightful phenomena: sliding across hardwood on socks and Jackson Pollock-style painting onto said hardwood with his yogurt squeeze pouch. Jen gracefully navigates conversation amid the chaos; while their live-in sous chef, who moved with the Lynes from New York City to Alabama, deftly navigates a kitchen cooking on all burners. Chef Tyler Lyne, engaging and inquisitive, finishes up what was clearly an energizing coffee meeting with a journalist and a photographer. A beautifully laid table of Instagram-worthy fruit-and-yogurt parfaits is evidence of the fact that taking things to the next level is firmly stamped into the Lynes’ DNA.
The guests leave, and Tyler shifts his attention to the kitchen and the constantly evolving dishes on the menu for Saturday night’s Cuban-themed menu for their in-home reservation-only supper club, Tasting TBL. With equal parts playful creativity and focused professionalism, they discuss each dish on the 10-course chef’s tasting menu. Tyler turns to me, as if to test out his audience, and describes the Cuban sandwich: “It has all of the elements of a classic Cuban sandwich, but it is in the shape and colors of a cigar. We bought ashtrays to serve them on with edible ashes. And I bought a 3D printer, so I could print edible cigar labels.” (My jaw dropped too. If it sounds impossible, check out Tasting TBL’s Instagram feed @tastingtbl_bham for proof of this wizardry.)
While Jen caught the baking bug in her early teens, Tyler’s culinary roots are planted in his high-school party days—days he described as being governed by not only enjoying the glory of being the party chef, but also fear of failure. While he put in minimal effort scholastically, he began to toy with the idea of becoming a chef, with his family’s disapproving “interventions” only bolstering his teenage rebellion. The tipping point came one day two weeks before graduation, where the teacher’s daily quote on the board read: “ You can’t discover new oceans if you’re afraid to lose sight of the shore.”
“I’m telling you, like a freight train, it hit me, and I was like, ‘Cool, we’re going to culinary school.’ I had this new vigor and motivation, and I made this mental commitment to just plow through,” says Tyler of the split-second catharsis. “Years later, I recognize that it was a moment of my growth, sort of like in The Grinch when his heart grew five sizes—it was like my maturity grew 10 sizes that day.”
Fast-forward to culinary school at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York, where the couple met and where Tyler was the youngest person to obtain the Certified Executive Chef title in the school’s elite ProChef series. The duo soon moved to the city, where Tyler worked under Michelin-decorated Chef Shea Gallante at CRU Restaurant, followed by tenures at Daniel Boulud’s Bouley, David Chang’s Momofuku KO, and Ciano, before landing his first job as chef de cuisine at La Esquina. Jen, realizing her heart was drawn to the sweeter side of things, began honing her pastry craft at Daniel Boulud’s celebrated Bar Boulud, followed by DB Bistro Moderne and Boulud Sud.
During this time, Tyler began a strategy to “out-learn” the competition, seeking out expensive limited-edition and out-of-print books, mostly from Europe and Spain, on obscure yet cutting-edge culinary techniques. He spent off-hours in the rare books room of renowned Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore. “This was before molecular gastronomy had a name,” says Tyler of the culinary science he was absorbing. “I became the guy that people would go to—to figure out how to execute their ideas. I became the engineer.” Dinner service would end, putting Tyler at home at 2 a.m., when he’d set about his experiments with his Cryovac machine, circulators and chemicals until sunup, when Jen would wake to her frayed and frazzled mad scientist of a husband, who’d sleeplessly stumble to the shower to start the day all over again. But Tyler contends that doing this work that no one else wanted to do put him ahead of the game.
“It’s fun to be able to get to a level of mastery and manipulation,” he says. “The ‘molecular gastronomy’ really just pulls from things that have been used for hundreds of years. I mean, look at it through the eyes of an organic chemist: Everything is a chemical—flour, salt …” He pulls the Handbook of Hydrocolloids off of his bookshelf. It is worn and well-loved, and its contents look utterly boring, but Tyler’s eyes contain a spark. “If you’re a food scientist, this is your Bible.”
He continues like an enthusiastic and exhilarated chemistry teacher you only wish you could’ve had in school, likening the structure of polysaccharide amylose to interviewer and interviewee suddenly ambling around the room with our arms out and its sister, amylopectin, to lone tumbleweeds in a Western scene … He talks about how understanding the pH of a system enables him to do things like add baking soda—at precisely 5 percent—to certain noodles like an Italian extruded bucatini to enhance its chewy characteristic … We wander into fermentation, nitrates and nitrites, lactobacillus acidophilus … I’m feeling impostor syndrome, thinking that a UAB scientist should probably be sitting in my chair, but I’m doing my best to keep up with this dreamscape of science and food alchemy swirling between us … conversation turns to how good and bad bacteria evolve in your gut flora … I must admit his exuberance, intensity, and the vivid metaphors—like “you’re constantly cultivating a garden inside of you”—are like savoring a grilled cheese where I detect new depths and complexities of flavor, yet ignorant of why, I contentedly nosh on the dulcet morsel …
Then, as if to wake me from our tour through his gastronomical mind-palace, he says, “What makes our world special is very simple.” I wait with bated breath. “It’s one element: water. Water is the ultimate solvent.” I thought he’d say butter or salt or maybe fire or wine, but this distilled insight is the poetry of a food scientist.
Much like the constant ebb and flow of our gut flora, our minds are constantly working too, Tyler points out, recording the memories, smells, tastes, emotions, sensations of that familiar dinner that grandma cooks every Sunday. Time flurries about us and flies past us, and one day 50 years later, you smell that dish that granny used to make, then taste it. “And it’s like, boom, immediately. You have zero power over it. It transports you there in your mind’s eye, I mean, perfectly. You remember every detail, every grain of flour on that surface. That’s how powerful what we do is. That is what I love about what we do—it’s creating that memory.” Like an artist of any stripe, the Lynes are driven to create with the goal of stirring something inside the archives of the human heart.
The Lynes have a lot to be proud of: their adorable son, TJ, of course, as well as their laundry list of professional accomplishments and enough accolades to clutter a mantelpiece twice-over. But they also take pride in something much more telling, something that makes them extraordinary. “It’s not that we don’t fear things; we fear and have doubts just like any normal person,” he says. “We know we’re not going to win every battle, but it’s overcoming those voices, still choosing to push forward, unapologetically and with rigor—that is what I’m most proud of.”
Seems like his once fearful teenage heart not only left the shore to discover new oceans, but harnessed the ultimate solvent to fear along the way.
Tasting TBL is a reservation-only supper club held every Saturday in the Lynes’ home. The chef’s tasting menu consists of eight to 10 courses and lasts 2 to 3 hours. The dinner is $125 with an additional $30 for beverage pairing. To book your spot or to learn more, visit tastingtbl.com.
- Chef Tyler’s won Food Network’s Iron Chef America in “Battle Pasta,” beating Chef Geoffrey Zakarian. He has also been recognized by ZAGAT as one of New York City’s 2013 “30 under 30.”
- After honing their culinary chops in NYC’s top restaurants, Tyler and Jen branched into the world of high-end catering, taking a distressed company from $3.5M to $12M in four years. Larger catering outfits quickly came calling for their consulting services.
- As the current VP of Culinary at Neuman’s Kitchen, Tyler’s clients have included Nasdaq, Facebook, the NFL and various red-carpet A-List events.
- Tyler serves as culinary director for Bamboo Asia in San Francisco and Lucky Rooster in Miami, Chicago, and South Carolina. He also has Jalapa Jar, a line of fresh-made salsa.
- The Lynes plan to make their mark in Birmingham with their dynamic brunch concept, Frenchie Bar + Restaurant + Patisserie.