It started with a bit of a Lazy Susan-style idea. Ask a bunch of Dallas’ best chefs, one at a time, some questions ending with, “Who will you be watching closely in 2016?” Then we’d (oh so cleverly) ask that very chef the same series of questions. Wouldn’t that just tie everything up in an adorable little bow? Well, it turns out that so many chefs are going to be watching Small Brewpub’s Misti Norris that we almost had to scrap the whole concept. Instead, we asked just three simple questions: 1) Looking back, what do you think you will remember most about Dallas dining in 2015, 2) What are your predictions for dining trends in 2016? And finally, 3) What Dallas chef has been kicking ass this year?
So to sum up: 1) Looking back, 2) Looking ahead and 3) Looking good. Feel free to come back to those three Q’s when reading through the A’s down below. Ready to hear what the best of the best have got to say? Let’s do this.
Chef Danyele McPherson (Remedy)
1. 2015 was the year of Southern cuisine. Rapscallion, Ida Claire, Pink Magnolia and now Filament. Dallas has embraced a fresh new perspective on traditional Southern dishes and seems more open to lighter fare that doesn't rely solely on fat to create flavor.
2. I think 2016 will usher in more health conscious or light fare in the general restaurant landscape. I think diners are becoming more focused on dining that allows them to have a good time, but still maintain their waistline year round. Not necessarily diet or nutrition-driven fare specifically, but I think more diners are seeking out foods that eat on the lighter side.
3. David Pena at Braindead Brewing. I can't think of anyone who works more tirelessly than he does. He is always evolving what he does and continues to get better and better at his craft. He's also a super genuine, down-to-earth person. It is often hard to find someone who is both talented and humble all at once. David is the complete package.
Chef David Pena (Braindead Brewing)
1. For me personally it has been the re-emergence of Deep Ellum. [It's] a neighborhood that is near and dear to my heart. I remember seeing Jimmy Eat World at the Gypsy Tea Room [and] numerous bands I can’t remember at The Rock. Deep Ellum has culture all its own and even when it saw worse times, places like Angry Dog and Adair's have thrived and stayed true to the neighborhood. In the past year, Luscher’s has opened and given a Texas take on Brian’s Chicago roots. Pecan Lodge has driven traffic to the area and created a cult following so definitive of Texas BBQ. Cane Rosso has risen to make authentic Neapolitan pizza in a beautiful oven. We have opened at Braindead with the vision of being a community gathering place for all walks of life. Matt, Cody and Joel have pushed Filament to be excellent and will continue to do so. The culture so indicative of the Deep Ellum heart has resonated with numerous chefs and businesses as a place to express their passion through whatever their filter may be. Basically, it’s badass to be a part of Deep Ellum.
2. I believe many diners have grown up in an environment where food and cooking is much more available to everyone. The home cook can pull up YouTube and learn how to truss a chicken or dice an onion. In doing so, you find more people aware of their ingredients and how to use them. The gap I truly believe exists is our reliance on fast food and poor food choices. The removal of the mask that hides the sources and reality of cooking is needed. At Braindead, as at other restaurants like Small Brewpub with Misti, and FT33 with Matt, we choose to buy whole animals, process and share the process with diners. We know the rancher or farmer, and how they treated the animal or vegetable we may be breaking down. But ultimately the important point is respecting your ingredients and utilizing every scrap to make something delicious. (That’s our job as chefs.) So many people will gladly eat bacon, but cringe at seeing the whole animal separated to get that beautiful belly. Very few will appreciate the jowls, the head, the trotters, the shanks. Our culture in the U.S. is driven by want: I want a filet, I want a pork chop, I want a chicken breast. The great food cultures — Mexico, Italy, France, Spain, and frankly the U.S. in its Creole, BBQ, Southern cuisine, etc. — used every scrap of the animal they could, because if they didn’t, not only would an animal’s life be wasted, but also your ability to feed your family.
3. Justin Holt. Truly a talented, intelligent and passionate chef. He uses his pop-up dinners to stretch his culinary talents and expose others to his point of view. He has all the ability, generosity, creativity and drive to open his own restaurant. Can’t wait to be there when he does.
Chef Graham Dodds (Wayward Sons)
1. Charcuterie. Everyone's doing that now. I'm bucking the trend with a garden-driven veggie version. Mine doesn't have to hang for six months.
2. Healthier menus. In general I believe people are much more interested in knowing what they are eating is good for them. We are really focusing on vegetable-forward dishes. I believe plant-based diets are much more sustainable for the earth and much better for our systems.
3. Peja Krstic of Mot Hai Ba. Wonderful and extremely talented chef who is doing really unique and truly delicious dishes, stuff that dreams are made of.
Chef Peja Krstic (Mot Hai Ba)
1. I think 2015 was the year of festivals in Dallas, or so it seems to me. Even though [we're] in the South and in full bloom of modern [Southern] cuisine, I couldn't help but notice more of an Asian influence in Dallas, as in quality of the food that is served as well as new places that opened such as Uchi. Pushing the envelope and making it better for the culinary evolvement of [the city's] talent and restaurants. Also, there was a good number of new restaurants that opened delivering some pretty delicious plates.
2. Honestly, I don't have any predictions, but what I do hope is to see more Dallas chefs follow their inner instinct. I would really love for chefs not to follow the "trends," but to be open-minded and bold and cook their hearts out. This city has so many talented individuals. Why not show more of that?
3. I would say there are a couple. Misti Norris of Small Brewpub and Graham Dodds of Wayward Sons. Chef Norris showed how it's done and made it easier for coming chefs to cook a little more open-minded. I'm sure there are a lot more coming. Chef Graham goes the great distance in sourcing his ingredients. He has a pretty big garden in the back of the restaurant, so I’m very interested in seeing it in full bloom next year. Sustainability. That's the trend to follow.
Chef Junior Borges (Uchi)
1. For me it was great to have the opportunity to open Uchi and get to be embraced and be received so well by such an amazing community. The hospitality around town, the festivals and events were awesome. Also, cooking at Cafe Momentum was a great experience and that really stuck with me.
2. I think Dallas is evolving. Deep Ellum and the Design District continue to grow and develop, and with that I think we will start seeing more restaurants with a casual feel but executed with a higher focus. We need more of the middle range kind of places.
3. Bruno Davaillon as he is opening his own restaurant. Excited for what he's going to do.
Chef Joel Orsini (Filament)
1. The influx of new restaurants in town, all of which brought a new light to the dining scene.
2. Care and love of fine dining will shine in more casual environments such as Deep Ellum.
3. Cody Sharp.
Chef Cody Sharp (Filament)
1. What I remember most about the last year was the influx of new restaurants in town. It’s always exciting to see friends opening their own places or taking over kitchens and doing really cool things.
2. Deep Ellum is going to blow up, chefs are going to start going back to much simpler cuisines and cooking methods and chefs are going to start bringing a much more fine dining mentality to casual dining.
3. Misti Norris. I love her food and I think she is doing some really exciting shit. Not to mention, she is just a really cool person.
Chef Misti Norris (Small Brewpub)
1. What I will remember in 2015 dining is smaller restaurants in Dallas getting more national exposure, which I think is a great thing. People are opening really great spots and doing interesting things that people should know about.
2. In 2016 I think that casual dining with attention to detail will be more of a trend. We are already seeing it in other parts of the country. I feel like the younger generation has been exposed to more food knowledge throughout their lifetime, but want a more casual environment.
3. I will definitely be watching Cody Sharp. He is so passionate and has such a love for food and finding out the origin of whatever he is working on. He’s surrounded by a great group of people who support him.
Chef Brian Luscher (Luscher's)
1. The weather in May; a definite changing of the guard, lots of new young chefs taking command; Meat Fight getting awesomer, which I didn't think was possible; Tesar breaking the Dallas steakhouse mold. There is nothing wrong with Dallas dining or the direction it is headed. All the love and support Dallas' diners and hospitality brethren have shown Luscher's Red Hots.
2. Real, honest cooking. Fewer fads and gimmicks. Exotic flavors and ingredients will continue to take main stage.
3. My first response is, of course, Sarah Snow.
Chef Sarah Snow (The Grape)
1. It’s definitely an exciting time to be a part of the Dallas dining scene, as there have been more restaurant openings this year than ever before in my personal career. Lower Greenville and Deep Ellum are finally coming into their own again with a new edge of talent. They're definitely my two favorite areas to be in on my day off.
2. I really think that Southern-inspired cuisine was a big hit this year and will continue into 2016. With Filament, Wayward Sons and The Theodore opening and the talent involved in those restaurants, you know it will only get better. I grew up on hot chicken and homemade biscuits, so I'm definitely not complaining. I think that Deep Ellum will continue to blow up and I hear a new biergarten is coming to the area, which I couldn't be more excited about. The craft beer scene will only get bigger and better in Dallas and I'm happy for the players involved.
3. Definitely would keep an eye on Small Brewpub's Misti Norris. Every time I dine there, I am blown away more than the last time. I respect her extreme passion and love for using unique ingredients and her interesting flavor combinations.
Chef Nathan Tate (Rapscallion)
1. Southern/Texas food is back in a big way. There have been so many restaurant openings this year that have a southern slant. Rapscallion, Ida Claire, Pink Magnolia, Filament, I'm sure I'm missing a few others. I'm glad that comfort food is making a return to the top restaurants in Dallas. I think for the most part people want to eat "real food," not over-stylized dishes with 30 components.
2. Neighborhood dining. There are so many more relevant eating destinations that have emerged in the last few years. Deep Ellum is coming back, the Design District is a thing, and Lowest Greenville Avenue has become a dining destination. I expect this trend to continue. All of these areas have a strong neighborhood clientele, but are still able to draw people from all over Dallas.
3. Jeff Harris. He has been quiet as of late, and I have always enjoyed his cooking. He is super talented and he gets it. He is also just a really good dude, humble, a family man and he can cook his ass off.
Chef Scott Gottlich (18th & Vine, 2nd Floor Bistro)
1. How all over the board it’s been. From Japanese, BBQ, Southern in the Southwest, Mexican-French, you name it. Lots of movement, all good. Think it’s very fun to see so many things happening at once.
2. I feel like it had been happening for a little bit but ... really high service and food expectations for casual dining. It’s a good thing — it raises standards — but it brought the formality down.
3. Matt McCallister. I’d like to see the new restaurant and how the synergy between the two places will play off one another. Should be exciting.
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Chef Matt McCallister (FT33, Filament)
1. I think the dining scene in Dallas is becoming more and more diverse. It’s really exciting to see it progress. I’m excited to see where 2016 takes us.
2. I would like to see a tasting-menu-only restaurant sprout but I don’t know if this city is ready to support that yet — but it’s on its way. Obviously, Southern-themed restaurants are on the rise. Other than that I don’t really know, nor do I care; I just like good food and fun places to dine with great hospitality.
3. Stephan Pyles for sure ... He is brilliant. I can’t wait to try his new spot. It’s hard to pinpoint just one though. Nick Badovinus has always impressed me with his creativity and also his ability to design great spaces. I’m also excited for Julian [Barsotti’s] new Roman-inspired spot. We couldn’t be in a better place for great food right now.
And we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Send your compliments to the chef (and the sous chef — he or she will probably be the executive chef at the hot new place next year), tip your waitstaff heartily and try something new in the New Year. Cheers to 2016!