Tag Archives: Tim Maides

Southeast Asia One Bite at a Time

May 29, 2019 by
Photography by Tim Maides

Travel is not a new experience for me. I was born and raised in Switzerland and identify as Swiss. My mom learned all her cooking from watching her mother at a young age. Vegetables came from the garden out front, milk from the cows in the barn, and bread from the wood-fired oven. Food is expensive in Switzerland, especially meat, so we ate mostly vegetarian. When we did have meat we all saved it on the plate to eat last so we could fully relish in its flavors.

Whenever I travel, food constructs the framework for my trip. I like to plot out a list of places I want to try on the map and then construct a tour based on what sights there are to see on the way to the food. In most cities this means you have to walk, because if you do not, you will not have worked up enough of an appetite between spots. The only city where I gave up on walking everywhere was Bangkok—it is just too massive. Since food is so ingrained in the culture of a country, this also helps me decide which countries to visit. My endless recreations of the two most known Vietnamese staples, phó and banh mi, made this southeast Asian country a must-see.

Banh mi stand

Ryan Cook, one of my longest-time friends and the original founder of Benson Soap Mill, has been living and working in Shenzhen, China, and ever since coming to visit him in Beijing six years ago, I knew that I would make it a point to see him. The premise of our trip was based around his Chinese New Year holiday coinciding with the end of my busy winter season at the Gasthaus Kröne in Germany (where I had been working). This allowed us to check Vietnam off both our bucket lists. We originally discussed traveling to Thailand together, but I could reach out to a couple of friends living in Thailand to guide me, while in Vietnam we would both be out of our element.

We had only about two weeks to make it from Hanoi in north Vietnam to Saigon in the south. We would not have gotten far without the help of “Snowy,” our concierge at See You At Lily’s Hostel in Hanoi. We landed at 3 a.m. in Hanoi without a single thing planned other than a driver to take us to our hostel. Snowy sat us down the next morning and forced us to make plans since it was Vietnamese New Year, which would cause logistical issues and increase the prices of any tours. Within 30 minutes we had forged a week’s worth of non-stop adventure that would consume our time in the north.

Man on scooter in Vietnamese market

We set out on foot to the Hanoi French Quarter while adjusting to what can only be described as a scooter swarm that moves like a school of fish in one giant entity, ducking and weaving to allow the random pedestrian or vehicle through. The best tactic to maneuver the throng is to pick a direction and walk confidently in a steady pace. It takes some practice, but becomes natural before you know it. We decided to celebrate our first day of vacation by getting actual buckets of gin and tonic, and rubbing it in our friends’ faces that we were wearing T-shirts in the middle of winter.

Karma found us later that evening after eating dinner on the noted Ly Van Phuc Street, otherwise known as barbecue chicken street. Ly Van Phuc is packed with vendors on both sides selling different cuts of chicken on wooden skewers that is then grilled to order and served with a honey-brushed baguette or sweet potatoes. We ordered a few chicken legs and bread, which came with sliced cucumbers and a fiery, tangy barbecue sauce. Everything was delicious and we thought we had a successful entry into Vietnamese culture.

Man cooking barbecue along street

A short time later we started feeling the effects of what we can only describe as being “Hanoi’d.” We started feeling a little funny in our bowels. Flash forward to the middle of the night, and I suffered a fever, sweating, and vomiting. We were forced to abandon our first tour of the trip to Ninh Binh, but it seemed to be a 24-hour bug, and we were able to restore our health with some rest and a bowl of phó (broth, noodles, and vegetables only) for breakfast that cost us $0.86. Once we were traveling again, we continued our culinary journey of Vietnam by eating a banh mi for lunch and eventually mustering up the courage to eat a fancy dinner spread in which we sat on the floor.

As my travels with Ryan came to an end, I prepared for the next leg of my journey in Thailand. I never really grasped why Thai food was so well-known around the globe. The reason why food is so deeply rooted with Thai culture is because a) they eat all the time (food is never out of reach) and b) the flavors and ingredients they are surrounded by stumps even some of the most refined palates. Food exists everywhere you look…in little stalls or pushcarts on the street, people walking down roads holding bags of goodies out for traffic-jammed vehicles, random grills cooking skewered meats, giant courtyards full of people on tiny stools drinking beer with ice while their food is being prepared.

Every Thai person I met cares deeply about food and its flavors, explaining every new and bizarre ingredient to me excitedly and with a deep sense of pride. It’s a magnificent balancing act. Virtually every table has a little caddy with a variety of condiments on it to help balance the flavor of one’s dish.

table set for meal, with sides

Some of the dishes I remember best I ate after I first landed in Chiang Mai and my friends took me to their favorite restaurant outside of the city. I told them I would eat whatever typical Thai food they thought was best. We ordered a feast of dishes including beef labb, papaya salad with fermented crab legs, ground pork and green beans, herb-fried fish, and more. It was incredible, and I ate until the spices made my eyebrows sweat. Bold and bright flavors complemented each other wonderfully, such as Kaffir lime leaves punctuating through sharp ginger notes and spicy chilies balancing out a funky fish sauce. It was certainly a welcome change of pace from the rustic German cuisine I had been cooking for the last few months.

Being from smaller places (Switzerland or Nebraska) has its perks because it is a small demographic, and when I do meet people from the same area, we become fast friends. While sitting on the rooftop bar at my hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I met a traveler from Iowa, so I mentioned that I am a chef in Omaha. We clicked immediately. A couple of travelers overheard us and asked if we had mentioned Nebraska. It turned out the two of them had lived in Omaha and had mutual friends. One selfie later, one of my best friends was completely baffled as to why I was in Thailand drinking with his friend Drew.

As I write this, I’m waiting for my connecting flight to Bangkok, my final stop on this southeast Asia adventure. Luckily I won’t have to say goodbye to the Thai cuisine. I have been holding off eating the classic dessert of mango and sweet sticky rice, since I believe March is mango season and I want to eat it as fresh as possible.

My month in southeast Asia was, without a doubt, one of the most culinarily stimulating adventures of my life. The intense Vietnamese and diverse Thai flavors will forever affect how I combine flavors.

Vietnamese meal with beer

This article was printed in the June 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe. See more of Maides’ photos from his trip here

In Bloom

April 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Just as bright yellow dandelions emerge throughout the city in spring, Dandelion Pop-Up will re-emerge in the Greater Omaha Chamber Courtyard, adding a dash more culinary color to Omaha (at 13th and Harney streets).

Dandelion creator Nick Bartholomew says the weekly Friday lunch series featuring an ever-changing menu and rotating roster of all-star chefs is slated to return in late March 2017—though, like its flaxen-hued namesake, warmer weather will ultimately dictate its arrival. Bartholomew, who’s also behind beloved eateries The Market House and Over Easy, launched Dandelion Pop-Up in partnership with Secret Penguin so he could still contribute to the neighborhood after the M’s Pub fire put his Old Market restaurant on hiatus. The golden concept allows chefs to satisfy their creative cravings and lets diners sink their teeth into a unique edible experience.

Bartholomew wanted to offer seasoned chefs and up-and-comers alike the chance to break away from their daily bread, so to speak—to get creative, feed their passion, incubate new dishes and restaurant concepts, and have some fun.

“[At Dandelion] chefs can follow their passion with 100 percent creative control,” Bartholomew says. “They can test ideas and try out potentially off-the-wall stuff, then get feedback on their vision and see how it’s received before debuting it on a broader scale. I think the genius behind it is the versatility, which allows creativity, and that’s really engaging to the chefs. When the chefs are this excited, you know the food will be amazing.”

Dandelion began in July 2016 with Chef Tim Maides and his T.R.E.A.M. (Tacos Rule Everything Around Me) team, who started the party with chicken and vegan tacos that sold out early.

“It’s basically like a little playground for chefs to do something different, with a low risk and the chance to try out new flavors,” Maides says of Dandelion. “It’s similar for the people there to eat; it breaks up their normal downtown routine with a temporary option for lots of different flavors from different chefs in one location.”

“Tim is great, and we love doing the creative process together,” Bartholomew says. “The Chamber of Commerce has also been amazing. When we asked them about it, they didn’t think twice; they totally got Dandelion’s potential as an incubator and shared the vision.”

Since the Chamber doesn’t charge Bartholomew, he doesn’t charge the chefs, who keep all food profits. For his part, Bartholomew designs a signature lemonade corresponding with each Dandelion theme.

“For [Maides’ lunch] I did a cucumber-jalapeño lemonade that went great with his tacos,” says Bartholomew.

Next, Dandelion offered a barbecue lunch from chef Dan Watts, featuring his coffee-black-pepper-rubbed brisket. After a short hiatus, while Bartholomew updated the Chamber Courtyard kiosk’s infrastructure, Dandelion returned with lunches from heavy-hitter chefs like Joel Mahr, Jason Hughes, Dario Schicke, and Paul Kulik. Dishes included bahn mi burgers, pork steam buns, cevapi with pita, soul food such as chicken-andouille gumbo and fried green tomato grilled cheese, Parisian street vendor-style crepes, fried rice, bibimbap (a trial run for upcoming Bartholomew venture, Boho Rice), and other mouthwatering items.

Bartholomew is a proud Omaha native, and like his existing restaurants and soon-to-launch Boho Rice, he wants Dandelion to enhance the neighborhood it inhabits. He’s proud to say that the returning Friday tradition brings the often-dormant Chamber Courtyard to life.

“It’s awesome to see the courtyard with this buzz of activity now, and all these people just enjoying a sunny day, a lemonade, and some great food they can’t get anywhere else,” he says. “It’s a testament to Omaha being ready for these ideas and [customers] being loyal to what they like from certain chefs.”

Like the chefs and restaurants it promotes, Dandelion itself is still incubating. According to Bartholomew, there’s ample potential for the venture to grow like a weed in terms of scope and format, and he welcomes feedback from the public and pitches from chefs.

“I can’t always explain exactly what Dandelion is because I secretly want it to be everything,” Bartholomew says. “If anything, the format will just grow now that awareness is growing, and I hope Dandelion becomes something the city is proud of.”

Fittingly, Bartholomew wants to let Dandelion be a bit of a wildflower.

“We don’t want to tag its ear and process it yet because it’s kinda wild,” he says. “One of the things that makes Dandelion cool is that we’re not limiting it.”

Visit dandelionpopup.com for details and to register for updates on upcoming events.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Soap Dreams

December 7, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ryan Cook was working at Dundee’s Amsterdam Falafel & Kabob when a crowded kabob machine fat trap got him thinking ruefully about the sheer magnitude of the goop that went to waste. So, naturally, he decided to make it into soap.

Perhaps a slight leap of reason, but Cook and Benson Soap Mill co-owner, Tim Maides, quickly realized they were onto something special—creating eco-friendly, handcrafted soap from local, recycled ingredients.

Cook says their foremost commitment is to a global-friendly, sustainable business.

“That’s our ethos,” he says. “It’s about how we can access local, unused resources to create something valuable.”

“We both have culinary backgrounds,” says Maides, “so that’s a prevalent theme. You always want to use everything you have and can get your hands on. Even our labels are recycled paper bags that we stamp and repurpose.”

Cook pushed beyond his original fat-spiration, studying the chemistry of soap-making and exploring superior fat sources from which to render tallow for soap.

“We started collecting from restaurants doing in-house butchering,” says Cook. “Talking to chefs, we realized how much fresh, high-quality, unprocessed, excess fat is just literally being thrown in the trash. It’s dozens of pounds per hog per restaurant, everywhere.”

“Bryce (Coulton) from French Bulldog really got us started,” says Maides. Cook concurs, calling Coulton a “very encouraging mentor.”

The duo practiced rendering high-quality, fresh tallow, while also exploring regional nut and seed oils. By summer 2013, Benson Soap Mill sold its first bars, fittingly, at Benson Days.

Early on, batches were made in one huge block then cut into bars with wire or a samurai sword. While a decidedly hilarious tool for the job, the sword produced inconsistent bars, so Maides suggested moving to 4-ounce silicone molds, guaranteeing a uniform size and shape.

“Our soap is a unique, Midwestern soap,” says Maides, “because we’re using our own formula and not importing the same oils everyone else uses.”

Cook believes the positive feedback on their soap is due to quality materials, plus the absence of chemicals, detergents, and unnatural ingredients. Reading the ingredients of commercial soaps is enough to make one stop gleefully singing in the shower and start pursuing an advanced chemistry degree to decipher the contents. Counter to that, Benson Soap Mill’s Coffee Soap, for example, includes Blue Line Coffee grounds, sweet almond oil, and purified tallow. Period.

Other varieties include a red clay-colored Benson Bar and a black-flecked, navy blue Charcoal Soap, made with Nebraskan hardwood charcoal. There’s also Peppermint, Citrus-Ginger, Tea Tree, and more. Each variety has no more than five (totally comprehensible) ingredients and is made in small, patiently cured batches.

“[In the future] we want to forage and distill naturally growing wild plants in Western Nebraska and create own our own scent patterns, unique to the region,” says Maides.

Cook envisions expanding that template nationwide, using each area’s local fats, nut and seed oils, herbs, spices, mosses, and flowers.

“We’re always learning, getting better and more efficient,” says Cook, “which will ultimately allow us to broaden our comprehensive, sustainable concept.”