10 Questions: David Holben of Del Frisco's

Believe it or not, the executive chef for Del Frisco's trained as a saucier in France, where he worked for Michelin three-star restaurants.

When he came to Dallas in the mid-80s, he opened The Riviera, for almost a decade one of the city's premier restaurants. After that, he ran the kitchen at Mediterraneo and Toscana. Five years ago, this classically trained French chef walked into the world of big Dallas steakhouses--and the praise followed.

Really, few chefs in Dallas can match Holben's reputation, both with diners and amongst other chefs. Maybe that's because he's never tempted to put McCormick's seasoning on a piece of prime beef...

1. So many chefs and other industry people mention you as their mentor. When you hear all that praise, does it make you feel old?
You know, not at all. It makes me feel really proud. I've only worked for three different restaurant companies in Dallas. It's so cool to be able to walk into a place and know the chef, to have worked with the chef. It's a great feeling.

2. Has the smoking ban affected you?
Not the restaurant. It's affected the lounge. We completely redid the lounge--it's sleek and modern; it's really cool. It is taking time to build a clientele. Since Addison is so close, it has affected us a little, yes.

3. People sometimes separate fine dining and steakhouses into two categories. Does this bother you?
Sometimes it does. But this is another extension in my learning process. This is like the second busiest restaurant in Dallas--besides the Men's Club and those places. I get to learn to deal with the volume consistently. And I get to do features. Plus I'm taking care of my family and, bottom line, that's the most important thing.

4. When no one's looking, ever grind up some of that prime beef into meatloaf?
No. But I tell you, our staff eats the best. You get really spoiled here.

5. Why do places with great wine lists serve asparagus?
I don't think it has anything to do with developing a wine line. It's that asparagus has always been a staple on steakhouse menus.

6. Just what is so compelling about cooking steak?
Well, how many big steakhouses do we have in Dallas? A lot. Most of us get beef from the same places. It's doing it well, doing it the best, getting that perfect blister. The challenge is you have to make it better, consistently.

7. The secret to good steak isn't McCormick's seasoning, is it?
Absolutely not. Salt and pepper, my friend. That's all.

8. How long does it take to gain that consistency?
For me, it wasn't that hard. My kitchen staff has an average of six years here. My broiler staff nine years. Consistency is everything. It's difficult for a 50-seat restaurant. Try doing it for 450.

9. Is it the same learning to expedite for consistency?
From when I walked into this place for the first time, it took four to five weeks to really master the nuances and the things that happen when 150 people walk in at one time. It takes awhile.

10. Is there a restaurant you miss?
The Riviera, in its time, was a complete restaurant. I have people who still come up to me and tell me they proposed in the Riviera. And look at the chefs that came through there--Garza and Fleming and so many others. They're all throughout Dallas. It was such a great package, and the perfect size.

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