When we sat down and thought about this, so many names popped into mind that if they were diseases, we'd be riddled. There was a time when few people mentioned Joel Harloff (Dali Wine Bar) or Brian Luscher (The Grape), but those days are fading. Michael Zeve of Sevy's or Jeffery Hobbs at Suze are both highly accomplished second fiddles, so to speak. When's the last time you saw Randy Morgan of Dallas Fish Market mentioned anywhere. And who, for that matter, runs the kitchen at La Palapa Veracruza? We could bring up staff at Mia's, Mai's or...well, you see what we're dealing with. So we settled on chefs in the mid- to upscale market working in stand alone restaurants...with one exception we just couldn't resist.
10. Mansour Gorji, Canary Café
OK, so he promotes himself shamelessly--his name still rarely comes up in conversation, and he's doing all that marketing without professional assistance (at least that we know about). Gorji specializes in Mediterranean cuisine, but won the Texas Steak Cookoff in Hico on two occasions. And he has been known to offer "world tour" dinners, allowing the Addison chef to show even greater range.
9. Bartolino Cocuzza, Amici Signature Italian
Yeah, it's in Carrollton, so nobody goes...except his regulars. That he's hung on for so long (since the early '90s) in a hidden location says a lot about the chef and his cooking. Cocuzza opened his first restaurant at the age of 17--his parents helped--and then worked the stoves in some iconic destinations: Baby Routh and Cacharel, for example. He's so quiet, if the place shut down, how would anybody know?
8. Norma and Jose Vasconcelos, Soley!
You get the feeling this French-Mexican restaurant could shut down any day. Yet the husband-wife team (which, technically, makes this a list of 11) prepare some brilliant fusion dishes, including one of the city's better versions of escargot. Originally from Mexico, both chefs trained in Paris and worked in Michelin star restaurants in Lyon before returning to this side of the Atlantic.
7. Travis Henderson, The Place at Perry's
Still can't get used to Perry's new name. Oh, they got some publicity when forced to change the restaurant's identity, but that's about it. The place retains its sophistication, but chef-owner Henderson is the sort of person who doesn't mind downshifting to, oh, chicken fried steak or big ol' Texas onion rings.
6. Dan Landsberg, Tillman's Roadhouse
The California native claims an impressive local pedigree, having worked with the likes of Pyles, Garza and what's-his-name (number one on our list). He helped get Stephan Pyles up and running, in fact, before moving over to Oak Cliff. Yes, he has a dedicated following. That doesn't, however, add up to much press.
5. James Neel, Tramontana
Just around the corner, Kent Rathbun's Blue Plate Kitchen attracts the kind of attention local celebrity chefs expect. Then there's Neel and his little space. He receives enviable reviews, sure, but no one seems to mention him afterwards. Surviving without much publicity, well, that's one indication of good cooking.
4. Tracy Miller, Local
There are no good dining venues in the Deep Ellum area, right? Nope, they're all...wait a minute, what about Local? That's pretty much what we go each time we rummage the brain for a place to eat. Yes, she's been the recipient of rather positive press, including repeated listing by Zagat. Given her talent, however, the chef-owner should be mentioned at least as often as Badovinus.
3. David Uygur, Lola
It's difficult not to put his cooking up there with the Fearings of Dallas. Yet you never read of Uygur's antics, his band, the celebrities visit his restaurant. So, by definition, he deserves much more attention than he receives...although he gets it in circles that matter, such as diners and the community of chefs.
2. Whoever's cooking at The Mansion
Speaking of Fearing...You know, the place lost a high profile chef in Dean Fearing. They hired another in John Tesar, but he scurried off, first to New York and then the Houston area. Word is they are looking for another--yet all the while, the cooking remains consistently top notch. Guess they need a name to clown around and a no name to run the kitchen.
He runs a massive steakhouse. Big deal--right? Well, perhaps you didn't know the French-trained chef taught the likes of Landsberg (above), Garza, Hobbs...the list could go on. Oh, he garnered a lot of publicity when his Riviera was the place to dine in Dallas. Same with Toscana. Steakhouse chefs don't get much name-recognition to start with. But no other steakhouse chef in this city has Holben's credentials.