Jeff Tunks attended the Culinary Institute of America, where he received the prestigious Frances L. Roth Award for outstanding performance. From there, he served an externship under Dean Ferring at the Veranda Club in Atlanta, Georgia, moving with him to the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, where Tunks worked at Mistral, a sister restaurant on the complex. There he met his mentor, the classically French-trained Chef Takashi Shirmaizu. It was under Shirmaizu's tutelage that Tunks was introduced to the idea that at the foundation of every great dish must be superior ingredients and solid cooking techniques. Additionally, Shirmaizu's Eastern influence on Western cuisine became the base for Tunks' cooking.
Tunks first landed in the nation's capital in 1987, having been recruited as opening executive chef at the popular River Club Restaurant in Georgetown, where he experimented with varied dishes of the Mid-Atlantic region. But D.C. wasn't his permanent home base—yet. In 1991 he traveled west to Coronado Bay, and then south to New Orleans, where he earned five Mobil stars at The Grill Room at the Windsor Court Hotel.
Shortly after securing the Mobil rating, Tunks decided it was time to go back to D.C. With the opening of DC Coast in June of 1998, Tunks created the perfect stage for his distinctive cuisine, showcasing ingredients indigenous to the tri-coastal areas. He later opened his Southeast Asian-inspired TenPenh, the Latin American and Caribbean fare of Ceiba, and Louisiana fish house Acadiana, as well as American cuisine concepts District Commons and Burger, Tap & Shake.
Tunks was named Chef of the Year 2003-2004 by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, and Washingtonian magazine named Tunks and his partners Restaurateurs of the Year in 2005. His six restaurants have been featured in local and national publications, including Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Wine Spectator, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.