Declaring that “Texas Food Conquers the World!” in her 1996 feature story of the same name, Texas Monthly’s Patricia Sharpe described “a loosely knit group of…young Texas chefs” united in “the realization that each, in his or her own restaurant or hotel kitchen, was doing something exciting and very new with Texas food.”
Forming the group’s core was the “Texas mafia” of Dallas chefs, Dean Fearing and Stephan Pyles, Houston’s Robert Del Grande, and cookbook author and restaurant consultant Anne Greer. In the 1980s, they began blazing the culinary revolution known as Southwestern cuisine. Reinventing Texas tradition with outside ingredients and influences, from Mexican to French, this is the group responsible for putting chipotle, jicama, mole and other Southwestern signatures on menus around the world.
How does the epicenter of the revolution fare today?
“Dallas has definitely matured over the years, becoming a culinary destination recognized for ‘being local’ within Texas,” said Donald Chalko, executive chef at the 1,001-room Omni Dallas Hotel headquarters hotel.
“Once, the thought process for many restaurateurs was to go for the best product available,” continued Chalko, whose resume includes The Mansion at Turtle Creek (where Fearing ruled for 20 years) and Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas. “This has evolved to wanting to know who the farmers and ranchers are, and making sure products are truly local. Our story at the hotel, ‘Let’s Make it Dallas,’ is about providing guests with a true local culinary experience.”
That theme echoes across the Metroplex, where to borrow from Mesquite’s brand name, groups will discover plenty of “Real. Texas. Flavor.”
Past Meets Present
Announcing the rebrand of the Dallas CVB to VisitDallas at the organization’s annual meeting last month, President and CEO Phillip Jones commented that “Dallas is catching on, and we must discover the social currency and triggers that will make Dallas a must-visit destination.”
Count Big’s D dining diversity among the lures already in place.
“Dallas is an innovative and fresh culinary city,” Jones said. “From the incubator concept at Trinity Groves to famous chefs like Dean Fearing and Stephan Pyles, the fathers of Southwestern cuisine, Dallas offers great culinary variety for locals and visitors. Yes, you can find the expected fantastic steaks, barbecue and Tex-Mex, but Dallas also delivers many surprises, from Asian restaurants to vegan foods.”
The original masters are still going strong. This year, Fearing marks the 10th anniversary of his eponymous restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, which is available for private events, while serial restaurateur Pyles (who just closed his own long-revered self-named restaurant), is firing up Dallas at group-capable concepts including Stampede 66 and the brand-new Flora Street Cafe.
Another Dallas veteran, Jason Weaver, opened the Omni Dallas Hotel in 2011 as executive chef and now serves as director of food and beverage for the LEED Gold-certified hotel (see Zoom In, page 72), which is skybridge-connected to the Dallas Convention Center and offers multiple dining concepts, including farm-to-table Texas Spice.
The next generation of chefs and restaurateurs, meanwhile, present innovative new concepts to experienced chefs via the incubator program at Trinity Groves. Located at the base of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in West Dallas, this growing complex features a collection of restaurants, a brewery and the 3015 at Trinity Groves event center. Providing gourmet catering, cooking classes and culinary-themed teambuilding activities, 3015 also routinely hosts premier and corporate gatherings.
East of downtown in Deep Ellum, the city’s historic nightlife center, gastropub-style Independent Bar & Kitchen is the latest concept from star Metroplex chef Andrew Dilda, hosting 50-plus guests for private events. Serving home-style cooking with local beers and cocktails, The Rustic, with a spacious open backyard for live- music events, welcomes private groups of 20 or more people.
At the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University, Cafe 43, named in honor of the 43rd president, is a full-service restaurant with a “local first, Texas second” menu flexibly accommodating up to 150 guests for evening events. Pioneering, too, is Cafe Momentum, which provides intensive culinary, job and life-skill training to at-risk youth who have spent time in juvenile facilities, and offers on-site and off-site catered events.
Since 2000, when local and state culinary ambassador Tim Love helped raise the city’s profile with his flagship Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in the Stockyards National Historic District, Fort Worth has extended its range well beyond its chuck wagon yesteryears.