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The Cedars Social Lures Veteran New York Chef Kyle McClelland to Dallas

Chef Kyle McClelland
Chef Kyle McClelland

Chef Kyle McClelland, a veteran of the Manhattan culinary scene, has moved to Dallas to take over the kitchen at The Cedars Social, the popular bar-restaurant near the Southside on Lamar complex, the restaurant announced today.

The French Culinary Institute graduate grew up in New England and was raised on fresh seafood and Mom's down-home cooking. His got his first job in a kitchen when he was 16 and has been in the industry for more than 15 years. He was most recently the executive chef at Cavier Russe in New York City. From the press release:

McClelland's reputable resume includes his work as Sous Chef at Ambrosia on Huntington. He spent three years as Sous Chef at The Federalist at the XV Beacon Hotel under the extraordinary talents of Chef David Daniels before his next position as Executive Sous Chef at Ten Tables. McClelland then moved his talents to the off-shore culinary destination of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts as the Chef d'Cuisine, and rejoined Chef Daniels at TOPPER'S at Relais & Chateaux - The Wauwinet. There he created luxury fare for diners around the globe and further developed his love for fresh local ingredients. Chef McClelland earned his Grand Diploma from the prestigious French Culinary Institute in New York City.

We spoke with McClelland about his background and the big move.

When did you first become interested in cooking? My family has always loved to cook and when I got into high school I had to think about what I wanted to do. I loved art, but that just wasn't the best thing for me. So, at 16 I got a job at a place called the Bedford Village Inn. It's a beautiful restaurant in New Hampshire and I worked there all through high school. I started as a prep cook and graduated through every station and I knew then that cooking is what I wanted to do.

When you think of your childhood, what food comes to mind? My mom was into comfort foods like shepherd's pie. Also, growing up in Cape Cod, we'd go out to the jetties and get mussels, clams and quahogs. I really love fresh seafood.

How do you know [Cedars Social Owner] Michael Martensen? We both worked at Toppers at The Wauwinet in Nantucket.

And, he recruited you for The Cedars Social? Yep.

What were your first thoughts on coming down to Texas? I'm not going to lie, I was very iffy about it. But, after I got down here, I saw the potential of the Dallas restaurant scene -- Dallas has something to offer. It's one of the largest markets in the country and I like what Michael's done here with the cocktail side.

Did you visit before you moved? Yes, they brought me down for a week.

When was that first visit? Was it hotter then hell? No, they made sure of that. They told me that if I would have come down two weeks before I would have said no way. They had it planned out like that. I was calling them, "Hey, what's going on?" because there were opportunities that I passed up in New York. But, they eventually got me down here and I liked it.

What was the actual experience like on that first visit? I came down here and just sat in Cedars Social and watched the hustle and bustle of the place. It's a place where people want to be seen. And I really think we can offer something together (with Michael Martensen) that's fun and different. Something that people aren't doing down here. I'm not saying I'm bringing New York to Dallas or anything like that.

How long have you been here? It's been 21 days.

How do you like it so far? I like it.

Last week you celebrated your 31st birthday. What did you do? I worked and then went to the Palladium for the Halloween show.

Where did you go for your birthday dinner? Nowhere.

You didn't have a birthday dinner? This is my first time to Dallas ...

What are some of the places you've been to eat at so far? The Mansion, Marquee, Tei An, which is my favorite place so far. It reminds me of New York. I'm very in to Asian cuisine.

How does Tei An compare to New York City Asian cuisine? It's great. It definitely compares.

What are looking forward to about being in Dallas? I look it as something new, like a new adventure since I've never really spent any time in the South. And with the restaurant, I look forward to what Michael and Brian have already created and I really feel like the food can complement the cocktails.

It's a really cool place and we have a lot of really cool ideas that are going to happen in the future.

Have you tried Tex-Mex yet? I just had it for the first time at Manny's.

How was it? Heavy. I had to go home and take a nap.

 

Why did you choose the French Culinary Institute? Because it was a rapid, hands-on program for nine months. Instead of going to the CIA and getting my bachelor's, I feel like in this profession, it's more about paying your dues. And what better place to be in than in New York City? At the time everyone told me, "You're going to learn more from being in the environment of a kitchen than anywhere else."

Where did you stage as a young chef? While in New York City with the French Culinary Institute I did a bunch of four- and five-day stages at places like Union Pacific with Rocco DiSpirito, The Windows of the World in the Trade Center and John Georges.

You've done a lot of recruiting at culinary schools for some of the places you've worked at. Do you enjoy that? Yes, that's a big thing for me. Not only do I like to cook, I like to teach. If I'm cooking with someone in my kitchen and it's just a paycheck, I'd rather have someone that is fresh, green and ready to learn.

What do you look for in a young chef? They have to be passionate. It means so much more if they're passionate about things.

What else is important? Drive. They need to be willing to learn.

What's the first thing you teach a greenhorn? To love food. And to work clean.

How do you do that? If you work like shit, you cook shit. If you're not clean, you won't cook clean.

What exactly do you mean by "clean"? I like working in open kitchens. Like the last place I just came from Cavier Russe. It was an open kitchen. I like that relationship you have with the guests. People come in you and they watch, they want to be a part of it, they want to see. And if you're working dirty and you're messy, they see it. An open kitchen makes you clean. I like white aprons because I want to see how dirty you are, how messy you are. French chefs want to see your arms because they want to see if you have burns. If you have burns on your arms, it means you're a sloppy cook. These are things I try to teach.

 

Do you yell a lot in your kitchen? Um. (Pause.) Yeah, sometimes.

Sometimes? My biggest thing I tell people all the time is, "Don't take anything personally. This is just business. And I'm here to teach you." If they want to learn and this to be their career they have to take constructive criticism. Don't take it like me yelling at you is a big thing. In one ear, out the other. I try to always follow up at the end of the day with a pat on the back.

Why is there so much yelling in kitchens? A kitchen is very tense. I used to get upset when I got yelled at when I was young, and think I was going to quit, but then I'd just tell myself to come back in tomorrow and do better. It's about personal goals. If you don't have personal goals in this business then you're not going to make it.

Did you have a mentor? Yes, David Daniels at Toppers in Nantucket. If you see his cuisines, mine is a twist of his.

Did he yell at you? All the time. But, he's one of my best friends. He took me in when I didn't know anything. He always said something good at the end of the night, though. You have to encourage, you can't just bring people down all the time.

What about working with the front of the house? The relationship between the front and back of the house has to be close. Tension is always there. I don't have to deal with people, but they do, so I have to give them that.

How do you facilitate cohesion with the front of the house? Teamwork. It's totally dorky, but in high school our motto was, "Teamwork makes the dream work." We spend more time with people at work than with our own families. So, we have to be able to work together.

Do you ever interact with guests at your restaurants? It's important to do that as a chef. Sometimes I may bring out a plate or a dessert. People like that, they want to be involved. And I'm a people person. I like to talk to the table. But, in some cases, you're not ever going to make some people happy.

Some chefs take real ownership over their food, almost reject complaints ... A lot of chefs get really upset. I was at a place in New York at the bar eating and someone didn't like the mac and cheese. The chef came out and said, "If you don't like my mac and cheese, then leave my restaurant." That was crazy, you just can't act like that.

Did they leave? No. It was a big ordeal.

Who are your new sous chefs? Curt Kemenes from Boston, and Toby De La Rosa from San Antonio. They're both old friends. Curt and I have worked together at six different restaurants.

So, is The Cedars Social kitchen ready to woo? Yes, it's ready to woo.


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