It used to be that fine cuisine was prepared by French-educated men in white coats who adhered to a very strict set of rules about what food should be. Now, there is an entire generation of young chefs happy to thumb their noses at the culinary establishment's stuffy rules. One of those chefs is The Standard Pour's Cody Sharp.
Most of us are familiar with The Standard Pour as a great place to get a drink, but the menu that Sharp has created is an interesting blend of culinary technique, comfort food and dishes that taste great after you're obliterated on shots of Jameson. We sat down to talk with Sharp about his journey from culinary school and fine dining to the gastropub, the challenges of cooking chef-driven food in one of the city's major bar districts, and how he's managed to elevate the fare at this bustling cocktail den.
How did you make your way to The Standard Pour?
I started cooking professionally in 2009. I'm from Odessa, Texas, and I used to play music for a long time. I grew up in a family that was always cooking, so food has always been something that I enjoyed and I was always around food. But at 17, 18 years old, I thought I really wanted to play music for a living, so I moved to Dallas because I knew some guys here that were playing music. I did that for about five, almost six years, and then I was just kind of over it at that point. I traveled a lot, and I was tired of it. The only other thing I really wanted to do was cook, so I went to Le Cordon Bleu. After about two months into culinary school I was really anxious and wanted to work in a kitchen. I didn't want to wait, I wanted to get started as soon as possible.
I was living in Rockwall, and Restaurant Ava was one of the highest-end restaurants in the area, and I'd always been interested in fine dining. I walked in and talked to Randall Copeland and Nathan Tate, and they told me that all they really had for me was a pastry cook position. They said they'd stick me back there, and on that same day, I had already talked to Katherine Clapner that morning. She didn't really have anything, so I started working and Ava, and two days later I got a call from her saying that she needed help, so I started doing both jobs. I worked with Katherine a little over three years, and per Katherine's recommendation, I went to Stephan Pyles. I worked at Charlie Palmer and did a bunch of pop-up dinners with dudes like Matt McCallister. I went to Nick & Sam's because I thought I wanted to work in this place with massive covers, and I got my ass kicked. So I went to Casa Rubia and opened up there as the sous chef. Brian McCollugh was a friend of mine, and I saw him out on his birthday and he asked me if I wanted to come cook there.
It's interesting that you felt like you got your ass kicked at Nick & Sam's. I think a lot of people would think that Standard Pour would be pretty capable of delivering a beating.
It's pretty gnarly sometimes. Fridays and Saturdays are rough. There's so much that goes on here, more so than what I thought. We're doing these dinners on Wednesday nights where we're doing 150 covers of a 3-course dinner, and that allows me to have a little bit of a pseudo-tasting menu. It gets busy, but Nick & Sam's is a totally different beast. You're looking at seven days a week of doing at least 400 covers, and on Saturdays you're doing as many as 800. It doesn't matter if you're sick or tired or on a 12-day, 16-hour-day binge, you've gotta do those 800 covers.
It was an interesting experience, and Samir Durandahar and those guys that work there, I have so much more respect for what they do. A lot of people just say that's just another steakhouse, but go work there for a while. It's a steakhouse, but they care just as much as anybody else does about the quality that they're putting out. The exposure I had to some of the product there was mind-blowing. Most people don't get to see beef like that, and the truffles and caviar we were bringing in. It was the definition of opulence, and Samir was the consummate host. You walk in that restaurant and there's 375 other people there, but you feel like you're the only person that matters.
So how do you integrate what you love about fine dining into what you're doing at a place that's more of a gastropub?
I've always been a big fan of taking things a little over the top. I love it when people ask for something really simple. In my mind, I'm always thinking about how I can make it really crazy. At the same time, though, it's also given me an appreciation for things that are more simple. Here, we've done a few things, like bringing in truffles during truffle season and I've spent a ton of time sourcing the beef and other products that we use. When I was at Casa Rubia, I was exposed to a lot of purveyors that put just as much time into their product as the chefs who use them. I was able to bring a lot of that product here, but I'm not doing things that are necessarily opulent.
I have brought in caviar a few times, but I'm not getting like royal ocetra or anything. I use things like foie gras for our charcuterie boards, but for me, the fine dining component here comes in sourcing the beef and pork and the rest of the products that I use. I want to pay as much respect to those things as I possibly can, and get away from the idea that Standard Pour is just a bar on McKinney Avenue. I want to be able to give people a dining experience that reflects the places that I've worked. My definition of "opulence" has changed over the past two years.
The location of Standard Pour is a really important point, I think. When places like So&So's started to open, I did wonder who was going to fight Uptown drunks to have good food. Do you feel like that perception hurts what you're doing here?
I don't think so, no. When I first started here, it was stressful. I was dealing with something that I wasn't used to, in an area of town I wasn't used to, but at the same time, I think that anybody has the ability to push people's boundaries. It's a matter of how you do it. Here, I didn't try and do the over-the-top or use the really weird ingredients. I served octopus here a couple of times, because I love it. Omar Flores gave me a really great appreciation for octopus and I've served it here. I think one time, I actually had to tell a table it was just gigantic calamari.
My favorite thing about being here is that I love pushing people's boundaries a little and serving them something that they've never had and didn't expect could be so good. I'm not trying to change McKinney Avenue by any means, but I just want to give people a great meal that maybe they didn't see coming. Whether that's a steak or fried chicken or octopus, for that matter, I don't think I'm trying to rewrite this area's book.
Do you think that the location discourages the foodie types from other parts of the city that have a real disdain for Uptown?
I think McKinney has gotten somewhat of a bad rap in the recent past, but I think that's changing. That's really cool to me. I don't think anybody should be discouraged to go to a restaurant because of where it's located. If you look 15 blocks down from us, you see one of the best steakhouses in the city. The Mansion is just down the road, I could hit Fearing's with a rock from here. There are so many stellar restaurants in this area, so people shouldn't be discouraged. Oak Cliff used to have a really bad reputation and now some of the best restaurants in the city are there. To judge a restaurant by its location is really unfair. Brian Zenner was doing incredible things just down the street at Belly & Trumpet --
But Belly & Trumpet closed! Are you fighting this uphill battle in convincing everyone -- the people in the neighborhood, people outside the McKinney Avenue bubble -- to get into this street's restaurants?
It did close, unfortunately. That can happen anywhere. You can have interesting, progressive food in Frisco. I understand that on Friday and Saturday nights it's difficult to think that you can have a sit-down dinner, but at the same time, we're one of the best cocktail bars in the country. We're not getting crazy with the mass drinking crowds of people until later in the evening. From a dining standpoint, we're just like any other restaurant during normal dining hours. People shouldn't think that they can't have a stellar meal because the typical crowd is crazy and it's a very alcohol-driven area. I understand that, but look around. S&D Oyster Company is one of the best in the city, and they've survived for how many decades now? You can get plenty of good meals down here, you just have to get here.
I think you're part of this new generation of young chefs that is really not taking the traditional culinary-school-to-fine-dining trajectory that was pretty much expected for decades. They're moving into interesting spaces, making it work in up-and-coming neighborhoods, and creating innovative concepts. What do you think has contributed to that?
Misti Norris [of Small Brewpub] and I were just talking about that, actually. I think part of it is the challenge of working in these unique environments was big for me. You can do what's expected of you, but I've never really been the person who has done what people expected me to do. I like the element of surprise. For me, coming here was partly because I enjoyed the place, and I enjoyed the people involved here. It was an opportunity for me to really challenge myself. It makes it more fun when chefs do the polar opposite of what people tell them that they should do. They're doing things that are closer to their hearts and the things they want to do, instead of the old-school path.
Look at someone like Misti. People probably expected her to open something very similar to FT33 because of her experience. She came from an extremely stellar fine-dining background, and I'm sure plenty of people expected her to keep working in that space. The fact that she decided to open Small Brewpub with her buddies and serve the same kind of quality of food that people expect, I have more respect for her for that reason. The people who don't do what they're expected to do, I think they're more respectable in this industry. As long as you respect what you've been taught and doing the things that you love to do, I don't think it matters where you go.
Is it harder to get there without the formalities?
It's all about drive and determination, so no. A resume helps a little bit, but if you're passionate about it, it doesn't matter who you work for. I've been massively fortunate to work for the people that I've worked for. Stephen Pyles taught me a lot, Omar Flores taught me a lot. I call Katherine Clapner when I need advice. It helps having people like that in your corner, but do I think it's completely, 100% necessary? Not at all.