Sowing the seeds of Tilth: Chef Maria Hines

Chef Maria Hines of Wallingford’s Tilth, one of only two restaurants in the country certified as organic by Oregon Tilth, has endured a hard journey over the last year of developing her new restaurant, but the road has been a fulfilling one for diners in the little house on 45th.

Hines’ journey into food began at age 17, when she started working in a kitchen and became addicted to the breakneck pace of restaurant life. Her big break came as she took the helm at Earth & Ocean in 2003, named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Top Ten Best New Chefs in America” in 2005. She reflects that “it was great to take that next level of responsibility and intense learning curve, but scary too.”

But in 2006, she decided to leave Earth & Ocean to start her own restaurant. Over the years she had developed a personal commitment to organic and local food. As such, the decision to go all-organic was a simple extension of her own lifestyle. She says, “organic is how I eat at home so if I was going to have my own restaurant it made sense for it to be in line with my philosophy in nurturing our health and the earth.”

The process started with the good fortune of finding a beautiful space in a cozy converted Craftsman house. This too was an extension of Hines’ life, as she says “it’s the kind of place i like to hang out when i go out to eat.” But the luck of the space was soon filled with hardship.

On September 1, 2006, Tilth opened among crisis and difficulty. On Tilth’s first anniversary she wrote on their blogs, “Yep, it was a year ago today that we opened Tilth. It seems like yesterday. We had only three weeks to get the restaurant up and running, so I worked 16- and 17-hour days straight through. Tensions ran high and we were on fumes. My entire staff was pissed at me. They were pretty sure I was off my rocker and that we would never make the September 1 opening date. But we had to make it. That’s when rent was due.
“I opened the business under-capitalized and with high hopes that we weren’t going to go out of business before we even got started. By opening day, some of our china still hadn’t arrived, the back kitchen sink started leaking like a sieve, we were running way behind in the kitchen and then, to top it all off, the pantry refrigeration went out. The repairman came out while the plumber fixed the sink. The cooks had to step over the workmen to get to their stations. It was a goat rodeo.” [#]

But she maintained her commitment to the restaurant, even risking her personal financial security by placing restaurant expenses on her personal credit cards. And over time, Tilth began to succeed with its intimate, diverse menu emphasizing local foods for dinner and brunch.

Today she hopes Tilth will hold a special place in the food community as a whole, hoping to accomplish “continued education within the community about the importance of organics and creating memorable dining experience for everyone who come in.” To its customers as well as the food community, its short tenure has already developed a special place in all of our hearts.

1 Comment so far

  1. k (unregistered) on February 11th, 2008 @ 2:40 pm

    we had dinner there last night for the first time. it was wonderful! each dish dazzled, each ingredient chosen was perfection, dessert was to die for. our meal tasted ideal for the weather we are having. it was wintry and comforting. kudos to chef hines for creating a beautiful, warm space and a tantalizing menu. we will be back!

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