By any measure, Chef Toby Tindall has had an exceptional career. Most recently, he was (simultaneously!) the executive chef for both the Hilton Fort Worth and The Ashton Hotel, where he managed their kitchens and regularly catered banquets for thousands. In that role, he also traveled the country for his employer, troubleshooting kitchens at other Hilton properties and providing them with roadmaps to success.
His culinary background is both broad and deep. He grew up washing dishes in his father and grandfather’s restaurants and spent his high school years manning the fryers at Zeke’s. After a four-year stint in the Navy, he returned to Fort Worth, where he worked as the chef de cuisine for Louise Lamensdorf, back when she first opened her eponymous bistro. In Sardines’ heyday, he waited tables alongside David Rotman, the man who would go on to open the long-running, though now-closed, Fort Worth institution, Café Aspen.
Which is why his new venture — a modest food truck called “The Beignet Bus” — comes as a surprise. Most mornings, the unassuming green-and-white painted bus can be found at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Park Place, across the street from Esperanza’s. The menu has exactly three things on it — fresh beignets, café au lait, and hot chocolate — all of which are excellent. But it’s natural to wonder what prompted the change.
According to Tindall, it was a family tragedy. After losing his eldest daughter to suicide last year, he — quite understandably — took some time off from his career to grieve. “I didn’t get out of bed for three months,” he says. When he emerged, he found his perspective on life, and on what he wanted out of it, had shifted.
Chef's hours are famously brutal, and he knew he didn’t want to go back to the 90-hour weeks, to going two or three months without a day off. He wanted to spend time with his wife and two younger daughters – to go to school functions, to meet their boyfriends.
And he found himself with new reverence for simplicity, to wanting to “just do something and do it really well.” He does, too. On my first visit, when I ordered a hot chocolate, his face spread into a wide grin as he told me, “You know, I make the syrup myself.” He won’t reveal any details of the recipe, but the drink was creamy, chocolatey and sweet, with maybe a hint of cinnamon and marshmallows floating on top.
The beignets, too, are simple but lovely. The hot dough is crisp on the outside and heavily dusted with powdered sugar, and the interiors are airy, yeasty and just a little bit nutty, thanks to a mix of white and whole-wheat flours and an (undisclosed) blend of spices. The café au lait is strong and smooth, brewed with Café du Monde’s signature blend of coffee and chicory and leavened with a healthy splash of milk.
Even with such a spare menu, it’s easy to see that Tindall is a chef to the bone. When he handles the sticky dough, his movements are delicate but efficient, and his workspace is very, very organized. He gets excited when he talks about his recipes, going out of his way to tell me that he’s had his beignets analyzed and, even with a hefty dusting of powdered sugar, a full order still contains less sugar than a bowl of Frosted Flakes.
Still, it’s obvious that, right now, his family is his priority and his main source of joy. He treasures the time he spends with them, whether they’re working together on the food truck or simply taking advantage of the more flexible schedule that comes with being your own boss. When I ask about his plans for the future, whether he would like to expand the concept, he just smiles. He doesn’t know, yet, and that’s ok. For now, he says, his motto is “worry about today, today. Don’t worry about tomorrow.”
The Beignet Bus posts its schedule weekly. You can find it at facebook.com/BeignetBus.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, or if you just need to talk to someone, help is available via the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.