If I had known as a child that growing up with a dad who worked as a chef would inform food choices for the rest of my life, I might have paid better attention. I admired my father because no other person in my limited universe could cook the way he did.
I fortuitously recently met Tom Peacock quite by accident. His wife, Barbara Peacock, is a well-known photographer I had met with to discuss her work. When Barbara learned of my industry background, she insisted that I meet her husband Tom. Tom soon cooked brunch for me and shared a business idea.
Fortunately for me, he was not looking for an investor — that would have made our first meeting awkward. He was, however, looking for a concept reaction from a fellow food enthusiast.
It’s a lot easier to discuss food with someone while being fed. Tom is light hearted, very articulate, and has a fascinating food background. I was happy to hear about Dizzy Birds Rotisserie, but I wanted to learn more about how and why Tom got into cooking.
When I asked Tom about his training he replied, “I learned most everything I know at the school of hard knocks.”
I, of course, thought that he was telling me that he was not formally trained; not so. It was at his grandparents’ home on Nantucket during his summer vacations where it all began. He started as a dishwasher at age 13 (probably not legal, but I believe the statute of limitations has run out). His closing duties included bleaching and scraping grease-saturated wooden platforms from the busy fry and grill stations.
By age 14, he moved on to the fry and salad stations. He shares that his parents nor his grandparents had a wide range of culinary skills (think creamed eggs on toast and salted cantaloupe for dessert), but he looks back fondly at the fellowship when the family would come together and close out the day. After he shared this, he laughed and told me about the coffee jello his grandmother made for her bridge club.
After high school, he tried the Hotel School at UMass; however, he knew after only one semester that he was not where he was meant to be. In 1982, he completed a Hotel-Restaurant degree at Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York. From there he went on to take a sous chef position at a small resort in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. He left this position and moved to Boston, a more culinarily sophisticated city, when he was 23. There he took the banquet chef position for Creative Gourmet at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a cerebral setting for a cerebral chef.
Creative Gourmet was considered a high-end boutique food service business at the time and Tom was learning his craft. They liked Tom and he was ambitious. They quickly moved him into executive chef position at Bay Bank, one generation removed from Bank of Boston which eventually was absorbed by Bank of America. He met his wife Barbara at the Creative Gourmet commissary. In 1986 Tom took a production sous chef position at St. Cloud Restaurant in Boston’s South End — his cooking skills were more sophisticated by this time and he was exposed to the finer “contemporary American” style of food preparation.
If you’re thinking that Tom moved around quite a bit, you’re right. Most people do not understand that the only way to gain knowledge and be promoted is to take a position somewhere else. The opportunities presented themselves to Tom because he was dependable and learned fast; he has admittedly never considered himself a fine dining chef. In my experience, the most modest chefs are usually the most talented.
Like so many these days, Tom came to Portland without a job lined up. He and Barbara thought that opportunities would be in abundance in this food and arts town. Tom’s last 20 years in the food business was 75 percent management, so he was certain he’d land a decent management position; Barbara continued her success as a photographer and that kept them afloat. While Tom looked for a job, he spent a good deal of time in his home kitchen just having fun with food. On a trip to Home Depot he came upon a rotisserie attachment for his Weber grill and decided he should experiment “spinning chickens” at home. While working in the field, he recalls using the term spinning chickens for rotisserie chicken.
Needless to say, Tom was hooked. It was time to gather all his lifelong experience in cooking, management, and kitchen design and do his own thing. Barbara has been very supportive; her own baking background and foodie family history has made this joint venture a new and realistic dream come true. And reality soon set in.
Dizzy Birds Rotisserie concept is elevated comfort food from a scratch kitchen. The food will not sit for long as they will practice smallbatch cooking. The modern brasserie-influenced environment will feature a carvery with sides displayed in colorful enamel clad cast iron pans and the rotisserie oven will be featured. Counter service will make ordering quick and easy. Various ethnic themes will be introduced throughout the week with a staple of customer favorites always available. Flavor profiles will be distinct, unique, and always fresh. Tom knows he would be cooking for our regions educated palate: simple and appealing to a busy lifestyle. Options will include whole rotisserie chicken dinners with sides, plate lunches, and carvery sandwiches of roast beef, turkey, lamb, and occasional roast pork and brisket. Frozen entrees for easy heating up will make life easier for many. Social media will announce the dishes of the day and other specials. Tom and Barbara expect to feed over 150 people a day.
Peacock is targeting early November for the opening of Dizzy Birds Rotisserie. Lease negotiations are underway for a location just over the Casco Bay Bridge in South Portland that features close to 1600 square feet of space. In addition, he hopes to offer outdoor seating next Spring and drive-through pick-up. Website and app development for online ordering are already underway.
I asked Tom how he will measure success and he replied, “When the players and individuals in our industry make Dizzy Birds Rotisserie a regular choice on their day off, that will be all the success I can hope for.”
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