Nathan Brand of Timber Restaurant in Johnson City, Tennessee, got his start in the culinary world when he was 14 at a Häagen Dazs in a mall food court. Although there was no cooking involved, it led to working at coffee shops where he continued to learn.
“I got really into coffee for a while, but I started realizing that just one ingredient wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to do more, and I tried my hand at cooking. I was terrible at it, but I stuck with it. I learned a lot, and my first cooking job turned into my best cooking job. That was at The National, a Mediterranean restaurant in Athens, Georgia. I was there for two to three years and became a sous chef.
“I never went to culinary school. I went to University of Georgia to study English — and ended up cooking and always worked in restaurants. I always had a restaurant job, but then I found cooking, and I was just totally hooked,” Brand says.
In addition to on-the-job training, Brand traveled nationally and internationally learning about food, cooking and beverages. He staged (worked for free for the opportunity to learn) at Moss in Denmark.
“It was a really forward-thinking progressive restaurant that did some really special food that focused on sustainability, which is something that we’re always trying to incorporate into this restaurant. That was a special time. I also got the opportunity to go to The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, which offered a 21-course tasting menu at the time. I learned a lot there. Those were some formative experiences for me, I also cooked in Richmond, Virginia, at The Roosevelt, and Dutch and Company. My training was really just learning on the job. I don’t want to say it’s the best way, but it definitely works for me. I’ve been very happy with my training, but I’ve also really worked hard to supplement it.
“My best mentor was Peter Dale, who was the chef at The National and has gone on to great success. He’s opened all kinds of restaurants and has a chocolate company. We use his chocolate, but I really credit his patience and teaching. I was in my early 20s and he taught me everything I needed to know to be a successful chef,” Brand says.
Timber was started by three friends with a great appreciation for nature, good food, friendship and family.Inspired by the surrounding forests, mountains, rivers and lakes of Eastern Tennessee, the restaurant serves hearty American comfort food made with locally sourced ingredients that have been prepared with passion and love.
“We were driving to Asheville on a regular basis to enjoy a nice dinner, which is kind of odd, sending our money to another state and not having this around the corner. So, I’d been looking for a space when this property came along and seemed like the perfect spot. We describe what we’re trying to do as seasonal Appalachian camp food.
“We’ve really tried to focus on regional cuisine and special products you won’t get anywhere else in town. A great example of that is our fresh trout served with grits and Benton’s bacon. It’s a local trout and it makes sense to serve them in this fly-fishing Mecca, and Benton’s bacon is truly special.”
The restaurant uses vegetables from local farms whenever possible. Their artisanal cheeses are from a dairy in Georgia.
“I grew up with pecan pie and Vidalia onions. So being here in the mountains is very different for me, but it’s been such a learning opportunity with so many amazing people who have come to support us. We have a local forager who brings us Spicebush berries, also called Appalachian allspice. We incorporate those into a yogurt right now that we serve with lamb meatballs. I was blown away by all these amazing products,” he says.
Brand focuses on local ingredients, he also thinks it’s important to be able to bring outside products in, such as the Greenhill cheese from Georgia.
One of the best things about running a restaurant in Johnson City, other than the local ingredients, is “the friendliness of people. I think folks are just so friendly here, maybe even more than South Georgia. That was an important thing for me. People really welcomed us with open arms,” he says.
If you’d like to try Brand’s seasonal Appalachian camp food and handmade cocktails, the restaurant is located at 415 West Walnut Street, Johnson City, Tennessee. They offer vegetarian and vegan options and a full bar. Operating hours are 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information and to see the menu, visit timberjc.com.
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