By Donna Cornelius
Sept. 19 was prominently marked in my datebook, circled in red ink and decorated with stars – the treatment I usually reserve for my grandchildren’s birthdays and major holidays. That Saturday night, my younger son and I were set to go to Tasting TBL, Tyler and Jennifer Lyne’s new supper club at their home in Hoover.
Tyler, a College Station, Texas, native, and Jen, who’s from Buffalo, New York, met at the Culinary Institute of America; both are graduates of the storied culinary school in Hyde Park, New York. After their time at CIA, they headed for New York City.
“We were going to go to New York for a year to work and learn, and we ended up being there 16 years,” Jen said.
The couple and their 2-year-old son, T.J., moved to Hoover in July. Along with their clothes, furniture and other worldly goods, the two chefs packed some pretty impressive cooking credentials.
One of Tyler’s first jobs was at Cru, now closed but during its heyday a highly regarded NYC eatery. There, he worked with Shea Gallante, a rapidly rising chef on the city’s food scene and a Food and Wine magazine Best New Chef.
“Cru was the chefs’ restaurant,” Tyler said. “If you worked at Per Se, for example, Cru was where you would go if you wanted to see and experience really cutting-edge food. Cru made people’s careers.”
Meanwhile, Jen focused on her love for baking and pastry at the Dinex Group, chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud’s hospitality group.
“I started at the low end and finally became a pastry sous chef for two of his restaurants,” Jen said.
Her first position was at Boulud’s renowned Restaurant Daniel, a three-Michelin star restaurant. Later, she moved to Dinex’s more intimate DB Bistro, which she said was a bit more relaxed environment for learning.
She was with Dinex for six years and then led other high-end pastry programs at several New York restaurants.
When Cru, like many NYC restaurants, was dealt a fatal blow by the 2008 recession, Tyler went to work at Bouley, chef David Bouley’s flagship restaurant, along with Gallante.
“Those were long hours,” Tyler said. “Bouley was open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, so I’d get there at 11 a.m. and go home about 2 a.m. or sometimes later. But it was the most beautiful kitchen I’d ever seen.”
From Bouley, Tyler’s next stop was at another top restaurant: David Chang’s two-Michelin star restaurant Momofuku Ko.
“After that, Shea and I opened an Italian restaurant, Ciano,” he said. “Then we had a glorious blow-up.”
The disagreement with his friend took a heavy toll on Tyler’s psyche.
“I was mentally and physically done and sat in my living room for two months,” he said. “I didn’t even want to cook anymore.”
He eventually went back to work at La Esquina, a Mexican restaurant – a very different place from the Michelin-starred restaurants to which he’d grown accustomed.
“We were shagging out about a thousand covers a day,” Tyler said. “It was awesome. It straightened me out and let me fall back in love with food. I went from super-fine dining to Mexican – and then to catering.”
His first job with a catering company was in 2012 when he joined – and turned around – Cloud Catering, introducing exceptional food to the menu.
“Jen came on board with us about 2013,” Tyler said.
Cloud Catering was a good experience for the couple personally as well as professionally. The company provided all the food for Jen and Tyler’s wedding reception, except for the wedding cake, which Jen created herself.
“It had five layers that included cinnamon apple for the top, strawberries and cream, and chocolate-coffee,” Jen said. Friends she’d made while working for Boulud’s restaurants helped the bride put the cake together.
Eventually, other catering companies started to call the Lynes.
“We moved around, taking our crew with us,” Tyler said.
One of their most valued team members was Micah Cook, a North Carolina native. Cook came to Birmingham with the Lynes and is their supper club sous chef.
During their catering years, Tyler and Jen cooked for an impressive assortment of A-list clients, including actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz and Molly Sims; tennis star Serena Williams; and songwriter Benny Blanco. Williams wanted her bachelorette party to include a cake-decorating contest, so Jen and Tyler hosted the party in their own kitchen. They also catered Williams’ wedding reception in New Orleans.
During a job at Elton John’s AIDS gala, Tyler said he was tapped on the shoulder and turned around to see President Bill Clinton surrounded by a flock of Secret Service agents.
“He told me, ‘I really enjoyed it,’” Tyler said in a Clinton-esque drawl.
Both Jen and Tyler said they learned that most celebrities love food.
“Food is the great equalizer,” Tyler said. “Just imagine that you can have everything you ever wanted. Food gives them something they can’t just buy – it gives them a memory, an experience.”
One celebrity chef who’s well known to most Food Network viewers didn’t have such a good experience with Tyler. “Chopped” judge Geoffrey Zakarian and his sous chefs lost out to Tyler’s team on an “Iron Chef America” pasta-battle episode.
The Lynes decided to leave New York for several reasons: the impact of COVID-19 on the food industry, the uncertainty caused by civil unrest within the city, and the fact that they’d never planned to raise their child in NYC. They ended up in Birmingham thanks to Tyler’s sister, Laura Lyne; they said without her involvement, the move likely wouldn’t have happened. Jen was in Birmingham visiting Laura, who lives with her family in Hoover’s Ross Bridge neighborhood, when she learned that the house next door was for sale. The Lynes bought the house without Tyler seeing it.
Tyler and Jen, who own restaurants at Hilton Head, South Carolina, and in San Francisco, said they came to Birmingham with plans to eventually open a restaurant here.
“We still want to do that, but we’re in no rush,” Tyler said.
Meeting Hoover realtor Allison Burleson and hosting a party for her at their house gave them the idea to start a home-based supper club. That’s how Tasting TBL was born. The dinners are held on Saturday nights.
“It keeps us busy and has allowed us to assimilate into the community,” Tyler said. “We know so many people now.”
The “TBL” in Tasting TBL stands not only for “table” but for the name that Tyler and T.J. share: Tyler Burks Lyne.
A Dinner to Remember
And finally, back to our own supper club experience.
Wade and I arrived with other guests at the Lynes’ house at 6:30 for mingling and this night’s specialty cocktail, a watermelon margarita. In the large room that includes the kitchen, we could see Tyler, Jen and Micah hard at work.
The Lynes can seat 38 people at three different tables: in their dining room, on the screened-in patio, and at the Chef’s Table near the kitchen with a bird’s-eye view of the workstations. We found our seats on the patio and quickly made friends with our fellow diners – and that’s one of the most fun parts of supper club.
Our conversations ranged from the heat properties of various peppers (we learned from the guy across the table that Carolina reaper is the hottest pepper out there), where to buy honeyed mead (at Sprouts Farmers Market), and that the name of the spice sprinkled on the lime wedge served with our Modelo beer was called tajin. There was also a spirited debate about the merits of Taylor Swift’s music, with my son firmly in the singer’s corner. A couple who had moved to Birmingham from Boston asked us for local food recommendations and were a little taken aback when, after giving them a lengthy list that included the likes of Highlands Bar & Grill, OvenBird, and Automatic Seafood, we also gave a shout-out to Popeye’s chicken sandwich.
The menu for the evening had a Latin flair – but the food was a far cry from run-of-the-mill Tex-Mex.
Our trip into culinary bliss started with a trio of treats: a miniature BLT with those letters stamped onto the bread, a pork tostada pork with salsa verde and pickled red onion, and salmon tartare with cucumber and sesame aioli. Next came a lusciously cheesy Parker house roll followed by a spectacular salad: beets with buttery cana de cabra goat cheese from Spain, membrillo (quince paste), sherry vinaigrette, and, underneath it all, onion ash and a pecan praline.
Herb-crusted cod, with confit heirloom tomatoes and coconut broth, was light and refreshing but still packed with flavor, and the rice course included a skewer of tender pork belly and shrimp, poblano rice and avocado aioli. Melt-in-your-mouth short ribs were the star of the meat course, with a strong supporting cast of huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn, but don’t let that deter you from trying it – it’s a delicacy in Mexico), tamales rajas con queso, red mole, lime crema, and asparagus.
At this point, we all were wondering how on earth we’d ever make room for dessert, and I was wishing that stretchy-waisted sweatpants had been an acceptable form of dress for the occasion. But when Jen’s creations arrived, our appetites and our taste buds were re-energized. She’d made an almost-too-pretty-to-eat crème Catalana with berries, elderflower melon, raspberry cream, spiced red wine sauce, and caramelized white chocolate, which were tiny mounds of pure delight. The sweet treats kept coming, and we kept eating. A basket of warm Madeleines was passed around the table, and a smoking box gave a dramatic presentation to the meal’s finale: smoked S’mores.
For those who love food, it was a night to remember. We can’t wait to go back.
To buy supper club tickets, visit tastingtbl.com. Individual tickets are $125, and you can pay an extra $30 for beverage pairings (highly recommended). Saturday night dates are now available through December. Check the website, too, for updates about the cooking classes Tyler and Jen plan to offer in the future. Follow the supper club on Instagram @TastingTBL_Bham.