Chef Danyele McPherson Is Ready for Her Next Culinary Close-Up (Interview)

Chef Danyele McPherson Is Ready for Her Next Culinary Close-Up (Interview)
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Danyele McPherson has been waiting for her turn in Dallas' culinary spotlight for some time. After a stint on Bravo's Top Chef and working in the kitchens of Stephan Pyles and The Grape, McPherson has finally landed her own soon-to-open restaurant on Lower Greenville. The highly anticipated Remedy is McPherson's first restaurant as an executive chef, but make no mistake: If anyone's up for this kind of challenge, it's her.

Over the last several months, McPherson has been working tirelessly to open her new spot while helping sister restaurant HG Sply Co polish the menu. To say the least, she's a really, really busy chef. I caught a few minutes with McPherson to talk about what diners can expect from Remedy, the lessons she's learned in her first restaurant opening, and her thoughts on the dishes that define American cuisine.

It's been a while since we've seen you in a Dallas kitchen. What have you been up to since leaving The Grape? Since I left The Grape, I came over to HG Sply Co, and we've done several iterations of the menu here since I joined in March. We just launched a new menu yesterday. I'm working with my chef de cuisine Giovanni Hernandez, and we've been putting together a lot of dishes for this restaurant. I've really been learning about a style of cooking that I had no familiarity with. At every restaurant I've ever worked at, I've been able to use cream, and butter, and flour, but we don't do that here.

We don't use dairy in batch recipes. If we do, it's a raw milk cheese that can be omitted from the recipe to make it dairy-free. I can't use roux, so I have to figure out other ways to thicken sauces. It's been awesome to learn this style of food, and I've gotten a new appreciation for this style. It's shown me that I can make really great dishes without a lot of ingredients that I would've thought were completely necessary. The dish that I'm most proud of is this vegan nacho cheese sauce, and it's actually pretty amazing. If I didn't tell you that it was vegan, you'd have no clue. The texture is right, the color is right. It's great. It looks like the plastic cheese that is very dear to my heart.

What made this paleo-focused style of dining appeal to you, especially coming from a place like The Grape where the focus is so much on comfort food? We're not a paleo restaurant. That's one of the biggest things that we're trying to get across to people right now. We don't use dairy, and we're trying to be accommodating to people who are gluten-free, but we're not paleo. That may have been the goal when HG Sply Co opened, but that's not what we're doing now. I want everyone to be able to come here and eat, even if you don't have any kind of dietary restrictions. I have no dietary restrictions, I love to eat everything, but I can come here with my vegan friend or my gluten-free friend and we can have a great meal, some good cocktails, and everyone's going to be happy. I didn't even come here to work at HG, I came here to work at Remedy, but I've learned a whole bunch here. The idea that someone who has any kind of allergy or restriction could come here and have a meal is really cool, I think.

Do you deal with a lot of substitutions and changes to the menu from people who do have dietary restrictions? How do you feel about that? As far as I'm concerned, if we have the ability to do it, we'll do it. If you ask for something without mushrooms or onions, we'll do it. You're coming out, you're the one dining, we should be accommodating to you. There are sometimes where I'll be disappointed that someone is taking my favorite part of a dish off, but if that's how you like to eat, we want you to have a good experience. This isn't about me or my dish, it's about bringing you into my restaurant and feeding you food that you enjoy.

Once you transition away from HG Sply Co to Remedy, what's that restaurant going to look like? Is it going to be similar at all in terms of style? I can use anything I want at Remedy. There's no restrictions. I can use butter, flour, cream, whatever. The food is very much inspired by what I grew up eating. I'm from North Carolina, lived there almost my entire life, and my parents are from the Midwest, so you see those cultural influences in my food. You'll see Hoppin' John on the menu, which may not be familiar to everyone, but if you're from the Low Country area or the Southeast, you know exactly what that is. Even down to something like hushpuppies. Everybody knows what hushpuppies look like, we all ate at Long John Silver's, but they're different where I'm from. There are subtle differences that reflect what I grew up eating. I want to make really great versions of these dishes because I know that people are going to love them. It's the food you ate when you were a kid, but we're presenting it in a technically sound way.

What do you think about that style of food will resonate here? Everyone grew up somewhere different, but nobody doesn't know what a grilled cheese is. Everyone knows what a pot pie is, but they're thinking of the Marie Callander's thing that comes from the freezer. We're taking the time to make a really great stock, delicious gravy, and use the freshest ingredients possible. The fried baloney is another great example. It's not going to be this terrifying Oscar Meyer bologna that you have no clue what's in there, it's made in-house and served on this really great bakery bread. It's nothing that is weird or unfamiliar.

Are you going to be making most elements in-house? What can't you make in-house? We're not going to be making our own bread at Remedy because that requires someone to come in at the crack of dawn and just make bread all day. Things that take an inordinate amount of time that aren't your focus are something you should source elsewhere. Outside of that, I think we're probably going to source our breakfast sausage from Brian Luscher. I can make a really great breakfast sausage, but he's making great stuff, and we can support people in the neighborhood, so I love that.

Speaking of Brian Luscher, what was it like to work in a kitchen with him for so many years? How did he shape who you are as a chef? I learned the most about actually being a chef from Brian. I learned crazy culinary techniques from guys like Matt McCallister and Stephan Pyles. But where I was at in my career at that time, I didn't truly learn what it means to be a chef until I worked with Brian. He taught me that it's not just about putting out great food. It's about changing the light bulb and plunging the toilet when it's clogged and doing things that are needed because you notice them. He used to say that cooking was the easiest part of his job, and now more than ever, I truly believe him. The scheduling, typing recipes, doing inventories, and balancing that with being creative is hard. He taught me the most about what a great chef is, especially to the people that work under them.

Remedy is your first restaurant opening as an executive chef. Can you talk about what that experience has been like? We're still very much in the throes of it now. You realize exactly what you know and what you don't know when you're opening a restaurant. I can tell you that I need fifteen saute pans and ten small pots, but what does that mean? How many inches across are those saute pans? How many quarts are those stockpots? When you're a line cook, you know what you can produce out of those materials, and now I have to know everything about the product. When you work in a restaurant, all of those things are already laid out for you, and you just start cooking. But now I can choose the equipment that I want?

Is there anything that you feel like you've had to compromise in your vision for Remedy? Maybe manage a few lofty expectations? Honestly, no. Everything has pretty much worked out how I want it. [Owner] Elias Pope is amazing. I don't ever want to not work with him. He's hugely creative, and he gets it. He understands that it's not just about being open and making money, he wants it to be as perfect as I do. We all have this goal to make a fantastic restaurant top-to-bottom.

Do you feel like that's new for you? Not really, but whenever you're not the top dog in charge, you don't get to make all the decisions. That's not your place yet. When you work for somebody else, you put in your input, and that's it. But that's also how you learn to hear other voices and take criticism well. Now that I've been under someone else for a long time, I feel like I'm better at listening to positive and negative feedback from people and using it to positively drive my food.

When you imagined Remedy in your head, what is the overall concept that you have? I would say that it's American food. Lots of people claim to be American food, but they're using dishes and components from other cultures. We're celebrating food that is truly American in its roots. We're not making bouillabaisse. We're not making food that is culturally positioned from other places. We want to take American ingredients and make great, simple food.

When you think of Italian or French cuisine, it's easy to think of a few master dishes, like coq au vin or beef Bourgignon. What do you think those are for American cuisine? There's nothing better to me than eating fried chicken. Fried chicken is the pinnacle of all great food. Mashed potatoes, pot pies. Things that are simple. Some of these elements may have come from other cultures, but at this point, we've made them their own. The BLT. It's bacon, lettuce, tomato, and bread, but you can take that simple stuff and make it so much more.

That all seems like relatively casual food. Is there fine-dining American? Look at what Matt McCallister is doing at FT33. That's American food. He's making it out of stuff that he's growing in his back yard. That is exactly what American food is. You can take these elements and make these crazy, creative dishes, but that doesn't make it not American. That may not be exactly what I would do, but you can definitely have fine American food.

So you think you might like to fall somewhere in the middle of totally casual and fine dining with Remedy? The awesome thing about Remedy is that we're going to have something for everybody. If you want a sandwich or salad, you can have that. If you want an all-out dinner, you can have that. You can make your own experience.

How has been building your kitchen team for the restaurant? This whole time, we've been focusing on creating a balance on our team between what I can do in the kitchen and everything else we need. We've hired people who are incredibly responsible and can make sure that everything is operating efficiently so that I can spend more time being creative and working on menus.

Which side is more suited to you? Are you more creative or operationally-minded?

I think I'm good at both. I'm not good at everything. I'm not going to be over there rolling out the pie shells, but I'm pretty good at being organized. I'm always making lists and I have tons of spreadsheets that help me stay on track. At the same time, I'm always coming up with ideas in weird places and writing them down or going into the kitchen to cook something on the fly. I like doing both, and I like that my job now means that I get to do both.

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