Cedarcrest grad heads to Culinary Institute of America

The teenager has been working for the past two years at The Grange farm-to-table restaurant in Duvall.

Most high school graduates are not caramelizing turnips for puree, julienning radishes to be pickled, and committing up to 11 hours a day crafting unique dishes for one of the most authentic dining experiences in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Then again, most high school graduates are not Tillman Yowell, the local teenager who has been working for the past two years at The Grange farm-to-table restaurant in Duvall.

The exact moment in which Tillman fell in love with cooking is up to debate. While his older sister Jaylin Yowell — who works her college breaks serving at The Grange — points to his earlier years as a child always playing with kitchen knives, Tillman instead claims that the long, monotonous days of the Covid lockdown were when his love for cooking “snowballed.”

Beginning with the sparky, unconventional wisdom of YouTube chef Joshua Weissman, Tillman would look to Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain and Grant Achatz as he became more obsessed.

Tillman’s experience growing up in a small rural community shines through his cooking. Given that The Grange harvests their own produce and sources products from several local businesses, Tillman deeply respects each ingredient to cross his station: “To me, since we are getting such local and fresh produce, I don’t want to manipulate it a ton. I want that certain ingredient to be what the guest sees on the plate first … and then you go to sauce, and then it’s like, okay, what’s in season? What texture are we going for? Are we going for velvety, are we going for thin, thick, crunchy, right? All those aspects go into my mind.”

The people of the community have shaped his path just as much as the produce. From the old teachers and coaches who get to see how far Tillman has grown, to the new guests at The Grange who return because they love his style, Tillman’s proximity to his clients allows him to appreciate his art to a finer degree.

His best clients are — if you’d believe it — his own parents, who have largely given him control of managing and preparing all of the family meals. Although the grocery bill in the Yowell household has increased as Tillman’s journey leads him to new tastes (think lacto-fermented black radishes), their support is unwavering.

“My parents have always been like, ‘when you open a restaurant, what are we going to do?’” he said. “My mom and my dad have already set out their plan… I’ll do all the cooking and managing, my mom will do the decorating and set out all the tables, and my dad is going to be the bar manager… It’s just like that kind of obviousness to them is very special to me, because like, wow, they do really believe I’m going to open my own restaurant and do what I want because they have that faith in me.”

Nate Allen, head chef at The Grange, has played a significant role in role in guiding Tillman through the high-heat situations found in a fine dining kitchen. He has helped harness Tillman’s passion into precision. When Tillman began at The Grange as a broiler cook, he was only running two items off of his station. Today, the broiler position runs up to seven items at a time.

“Nate Allen … I consider him a second father. He is one of the smartest and most tactical people I have ever worked with, ever. He will take any situation, no matter how hard, and just simplify it. He is going to be someone I remember for the rest of my life,” Tillman said.

Looking forward

This past Sunday, Tillman Yowell worked his final shift at The Grange after two transformative years of serving the local community. Surrounded by friends, family, and his co-workers whom he loves as family, Tillman’s last day marks a major milestone in a career of many. He is set to attend the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Napa Valley, one of the most prestigious culinary schools in the world.

After shutting off his grill and wiping down the counters for the last time, Tillman received an apron covered in handwritten messages from each member of the restaurant staff, containing their sage advice and best wishes for his future.

“Reading what Chef Nate wrote to me, I started crying. That man is not very emotional with his words, so whenever he says something important and meaningful to me, it’s more valuable than any other piece of advice I have received,” he said.

Above all, Tillman’s humility and love sets him apart. When originally contacted for an interview, his sole condition was that he was not to be referred to as a chef, but as a cook. Looking forward to his upcoming education at the Culinary Institute of America, he chooses not to frame it as a major achievement, but just another step on the lifelong path of cooking. As Tillman has come to learn, the greatest chefs are more than the awards, glitzy restaurants, and fame they command. They are those who continue to get their hands dirty, try something new and crazy, and bring pure joy to those they provide for.

And for the people of Duvall, it is incredibly clear that Tillman Yowell is all of those things.