Ferrell Alvarez is the Chef and Co-owner of Rooster & the Till, one of Tampa Bay’s hottest chef-driven restaurants. Inside, he has created a very personal space. Like him, it’s at once unpretentious and sophisticated, centered around great local food, good wine, sharing and community.
Photographed at Rooster & the Till in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa.
Give us 10 words to describe Rooster and the Till. Fresh, local, warm, inviting, unique, creative, vibrant, genuine. Damn, I’m at a loss!
How did the restaurant come about? My business partner, Ty Rodriguez, and I have worked together for 12 years, first at Mise en Place and then at Cafe Dufrain. We learned together and had a lot of fun. Eventually it was time for us to create our own restaurant with our own vision. It’s still a constant process of learning and teaching ourselves and those around us. Ty handles the management side of things and the wine and I handle the food.
Tell us about the space. The space itself is a big part of the experience of our restaurant. The kitchen is wide open, behind the bar. This allows people to see what we are doing and it allows us to interact with our customers. The design is DIY with an upcycled, creative twist. The wall behind the banquette is made from old wooden fencing we found in the neighborhood. The light fixtures are upcycled chicken feeders. Our wine rack is made from bent rebar by a local craftsman. All of it gives the restaurant its casual but cool vibe. Creating a great environment that people want to be in is incredibly important to the overall experience.
What is your earliest food memory? As far as professional food (opposed to eating as a kid) it would have to be dining at Michael Mina’s when I was 23. It was my first “real meal” from a serious culinary standpoint. It exposed me to a level of dining that I’d never seen before. At that moment I knew I had to always try harder day-to-day and may never reach a level of that caliber but would always strive for such, and I was cool with that.
Where did your love of cooking begin? My mother is Italian and my father is Columbian. I grew up in a house where there were constantly 40 people gathered together with my mother, grandmother and aunts all cooking big family meals. This is where I was introduced to old world cooking styles. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be somebody in this field—way before it was popular or lucrative to be a chef.
How is the local food movement progressing in Tampa Bay? Is it getting easier to obtain local ingredients? Local food is everywhere. It takes a bit more effort to source and costs a bit more then items of lesser quality, but that should be expected right? Better always costs more.
Name three ingredients are you jazzed about right now. Edible flowers (again), agar agar, anything tasty and super seasonal.
Where do you find inspiration? From constantly reading and staying current with culinary trends, much like fashion. I also never feel completely satisfied with my culinary progression, so I strive to better myself so we can all grow as a restaurant and family.
What does Tampa Bay need to become a real “food city”? Tampa Bay has just recently started to get a food scene. It’s still very small compared to other cities. What we need is for more people to open places that reflect their individual personality and their passion. We need people that are cooking what they believe in rather than trying to create safe dishes that they think people want. Of course the food needs to be creative and properly cooked, but creating a cool environment is equally important. We have customers that drive all the way from Riverview and Dunedin to dine with us. The demand is out there and ready for something unique!
What has surprised you most as an entrepreneur opening your own restaurant? The amount of challenges the city purposes for development. It’s not surprising that we lack cool, independent businesses of all kinds considering the criteria that one must meet before they can open for business. It’s really difficult here.
Why did you choose Seminole Heights for the Rooster and the Till? First of all, we live here. But mainly the neighborhood matches our vibe. It’s unpretentious and free-spirited. The people that live here are open to trying new things. It’s up-and-coming and we wanted to be a part of that. Our careers, for the past 12 years, have been in South Tampa but it’s not our style, not who we are. Here, I am can play hip-hop or whatever music I like!
When you break away from the restaurant what do you like to do? Fish, spend time with my family, eat out, hang with good people, learn.
Do you have a favorite spot in Tampa Bay? Not really. I love it all. From St. Pete to the waters of Tampa Bay, I’m a proponent of everything Tampa Bay for real.
What might you whip up for dinner at home with your daughter Eva? Roasted potatoes, fresh green beans with lots of butter and chicken cutlets with lemon wedges on the side (our favorite).
How has Tampa become part of your identity? From my Latin heritage to my days partying in Ybor, Tampa is truly who I am.
Where might we find you dining out? Refinery Brunch, Sideberns happy hour, Yummy House carry out, Ella’s after work and all other independent restaurants around.
What’s the best advice you have ever gotten? Never settle! – Dino Cerrone.