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A&E >  Food

Chef Spotlight: Travis Dickinson

UPDATED: Tue., March 7, 2017

Travis Dickinson is the executive chef at Clover. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Travis Dickinson is the executive chef at Clover. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

This occasional series helps us get to know local chefs.

We’ll learn about where they dine out and who or what inspired them in their culinary careers. Plus, they’ll share a recipe.

Here’s a Q&A with Travis Dickinson of Clover in Spokane.

What’s your favorite dish to cook at home? My wife is from Mexico, and I have always had an obsession with real Mexican cuisine, so we tend to eat just about everything in a handmade corn tortilla. I try to find more obscure recipes for regional and traditional fillings and salsas that I don’t see often here. I love anything slow cooked, smoked or braised for a long time, so it is usually a full-day process when we go all out. I try to keep a decent amount of pork cheek carnitas preserved in lard just in case I need to pull out something quick in a pinch.

Where do you eat when you eat out? We don’t get out as often as we would like to these days, and when we do it is usually late night hours. My favorites in town are Sante, Ruins, Durkin’s Liquor Bar (for that burger), Gordy’s Sichuan Cafe and Downriver Grill.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef, and how? When I was 15 years old, I was breaking skateboards way faster than my parents wanted to buy them for me. I had to get a job to support that habit. I applied at the Coeur d’Alene Resort and at McDonald’s right after my 15th birthday. The resort hired me to wash dishes, and thankfully Mickey D’s told me I was too young. It was closer to home, and I probably would have worked there instead. I was doing well in school, considering different careers and leaning toward physical therapy when I came to the conclusion that I loved the artistry, chaos and personalities in the restaurant world so much that I wanted to pursue a career as a chef. Now, instead of being a physical therapist, I pay one to fix what all of the years of skateboarding and bending down into the oven have done to me.

What are your go-to ingredients? It changes year to year and season to season, but there are some things that always seem to stick around. Balancing flavor in our dishes is the most important part of creating something, and aside from salt, acidic ingredients are the most important to that. I am obsessed with all different types of vinegars and juices to achieve that balance. We always have a good selection of dry chilies; they all give huge deep flavors to whatever you use them in. I always seem to keep Spanish chorizo around. I am also a notorious fennel freak. I even have a hat that an old line cook had made for me; it says “My middle name is Fennel.”

What was the first dish a customer ever sent back to you, and how did you handle it? Oh man, the first special I was ever allowed to run, back in 1999 or so. Not sure how I snuck this one past the chef, but it was some godawful jerk chicken pasta with tropical fruit salsa. I know the chef, who is still my friend to this day, was trying to foster my creative side and let me run with it knowing full well that it sucked. That lasted until the first one came back. The customer was rightly confused by the combination of flavors, and when the chef tried his first bite, he had a visibly hard time swallowing it. He quickly re-did the dish, changing it almost completely and definitely for the better, and it was a few months before I was allowed to be creative again. From then on, we worked together on the dishes I made, and I paid attention to him and learned so much from his palate. He still reminds me of it at least once a year.

What’s a dish you’ve never made but would like to, and why?

There are so many amazing dishes from other cultures that I need to explore. I love Korean food, and while I have cooked quite a few basic Korean dishes, or used flavors inspired by that food, I would love to take the time to dive into the classic dishes and really learn to build the flavors properly. There is so much layering of flavor and complexity to dishes that seem very simple, but take serious technique to do properly.

What dish or ingredient best represents you? My spirit food is my spirit animal, and it’s the pig. Homer Simpson said it best when he learned that pork chops, ham and bacon all came from the same animal, “a wonderful, magical animal!”

Braised Pork Shank

From Travis Dickinson of Clover, Spokane

This is one of the first things I created that has stuck with me, mostly unchanged through multiple restaurants. It is pretty simple and straightforward, but always a pleaser. We usually serve with garlic and herb braised white beans or creamy polenta and winter greens.

20 pork shanks

Seasoned flour, to coat (See note)

Canola oil, as needed

3 onions, medium diced

6 stalks celery, medium diced

3 carrots, peeled and diced

12 cloves garlic, crushed by hand

6 bay leaves

1 ounce thyme

1 ounce rosemary

2 tablespoons whole peppercorns

1 tablespoon juniper

1 teaspoon chili flakes

1 tablespoon whole cloves

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

3 tablespoons salt

6 quarts chicken stock

Water, as needed

3 cups sherry

1 can tomato paste

Tie shanks and dredge in seasoned flour.

Heat a good sized braising pan or rondeau over medium high heat with enough oil to coat the bottom. Sear the pork shanks in the pan until well browned on all sides.

Remove shanks and add the diced mirepoix and garlic. Cook until just softened. Add all of the herbs and spices and sauté 2 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir to coat, cook 2 minutes. Add the sherry and bring to a simmer. At this point, put the shanks back in. Add the chicken stock and enough water to almost cover the shanks. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer and cook 3 1/2-4 hours until fork tender. Remove pork, strain the braising liquid and pour it back over the shanks.

Note: Seasoned flour is just flour seasoned with salt and pepper: 2 tablespoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper per 2 cups flour.

After braising the shanks, if not serving immediately, the sauce is strained over them and they are cooled in the sauce.

Cooling in the sauce is important to keep them from drying out.

Shanks need to be cooled and stored in the liquid to stay tender.

Do not cool them dry or they will eat dry.

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