Drake Tillman

Chef Drake Tillman gained fans in Springfield through his Canvas pop up.

Chef Drake Tillman has ideas – a lot of ideas. Last year, Tillman announced plans to open Elkhart and The Robberson, a new American concept in Springfield, Missouri’s Historic Commercial Street District. Elkhart was originally scheduled to open this summer; however, the 146-year-old building is currently undergoing extensive renovation that will likely push the opening to late 2020.

In the meantime, Tillman is keeping busy. By day, he’s a line cook at The Order. By night, he juggles projects like Via, a mobile wood-fired pizza project he recently concluded for the summer, and Margot, a permanent pop up opening in mid-September. Margot, a French-inspired spot with New American, Italian and Asian influence, will share space with The Artisan’s Oven on Commercial Street. While Artisan’s Oven will still operate during lunch hours, Margot will open for dinner Thursday through Sunday with lunch on Saturdays and Sundays. “I want Margot to have a warm, almost California feel,” Tillman says. “I’m playing with a French-inspired menu, but we’ll still offer locally-grown ingredients with takes on dishes that people may recognize. We’re going for a laidback, a la carte feel.”

If you ask 26-year-old Tillman, his already extensive project portfolio has been in the works since the very beginning. “I looked up the legal working age in Missouri when I was 13,” he says. “It was 14, but I still went to work at a small café in Branson. I got paid under the table to wash dishes.” Now, after a stint in culinary school and more than a decade in the industry, Tillman is ready to branch out. Although the timeline for Elkhart is still shaky, one thing is certain: Tillman is exercising his creativity any way he can.

What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? It’s truly crazy how much I love fresh basil. The smell of it, everything about it. I tried having my own garden at one point, and it was fun and rewarding, but I’m not very good at it. In my mind, it’s better to just pay for produce from the people who know what they’re doing.

What’s your perfect day of eating in Springfield? I love good diner food, so I’d probably go with Gailey’s [Breakfast Cafe] for breakfast. I’m not big on the weird brunch stuff people are doing – it’s a little too over the top and super heavy. I do love mimosas, though. I don’t eat lunch that often – I usually just drink coffee all day – but I do love ramen for lunch. Skully’s is definitely my favorite I’ve had in Springfield. For dinner, I finally ate at Progress and it was really good. I had their strip steak with a green garlic chimichurri. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air for someone in Springfield to have an ultra-modern concept.

How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? I definitely think people are becoming more adventurous with what they're eating; more aware of what they're eating. There will always be old-school folks – my mom still likes her steak well done, and that will probably never change – but there are people becoming a lot more adventurous. Social media is a huge advantage that allows people to see what’s going on in other areas of the country and the world. I think as a whole, people want more variety, a more open-minded approach – more of a story behind the food they’re eating.

Who are Springfield chefs you admire at the moment? Obviously, Daniel [Ernce of Progress]. Craig Von Foerster [of Harvest Restaurant] has also always been the most legit guy around. Those two for sure.

What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in Springfield? I would like to see everyone put meat on the back burner. I was a vegetarian for four years, and although I do eat meat now, I only buy it from local small farms. I’d like to see people focusing more on buying local. People will buy one thing from a local farm and say they’re doing local food, but that’s not enough. I’d like to see people trying harder to support local farms instead of just buying one thing from the farmers' market and calling it good. I’d also like to see people taking more risks with modern food – there’s a lot of white noise out there right now. A lot of deep-fried business.

What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? I honestly don’t cook at home as much as I wish I did, but I do like to make pasta for myself. That’s the most relaxing thing.

What is your first food memory? When my family had big holiday get-togethers, everyone would bring something. My mom always made Gulliver’s Corn, which is basically a creamed corn casserole. My grandma also used to make this dish she called "Chicken Divine" – it had broccoli, chicken and Cheddar cheese. I looked it up recently, and it was actually invented in New York City at a place called the Hotel Divan. She had been calling it Chicken Divine, but it was Divan all along.

What’s the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently, and why? I recently did this sourdough ice cream that turned out really, really well. I’m not a big pastry person, but I’m trying to get more into it, so that was a fun success. I also did a beet panzanella dish I liked a lot – it had this really pretty mosaic presentation. Millsap Farm has, like, three different kinds of beets right now. They’re not just a winter vegetable like some people think.

What are your future plans? Hopefully, Elkhart will be open. Then, we’ll be hopefully opening another restaurant – maybe an Italian place. An Italian place is maybe what I should have done first since I’m so crazy for pasta and pizza, but here we are. [Laughs]

Elkhart and The Robberson, 300 E. Commercial St., Springfield, Missouri, 417.848.4360, elkhartsgf.com

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