Throughout last year, we took time to talk to a good number of chefs in Dallas who willingly imparted advice on cooking, management and burning. Following is a highlight reel from some of the city's finest.
Last spring we asked a few chefs for advice for recent culinary school grads...
Danyele McPherson, The Grape "Shut up. Listen to all your new coworkers and watch what everyone does. The more you can learn and do quickly, the faster you will rise through the ranks."
Boulevardier's chef Nathan Tate: "Keep your mouth shut and eyes open for at least the first six months at a new job. I really don't want to hear about your molecular experiments with sodium alginate until you can properly sear a piece of fish."
Chef Brian Luscher of The Grape "Don't bitch, whine, complain or gripe about how much you have to work, how little you're getting paid, or how the servers are all ungrateful dickbags. Just put your head down and work. You've got a long career ahead of you, being a turd in the punchbowl will not make it any easier."
In another series, we asked chefs some burning questions that included literally the worst things they've burned... Omar Flores of Driftwood "I burn myself on a regular basis. A few years back I was working a banquet for like 40 people. I was in charge of the meat, which happened to be four whole prime tenderloins. Long story short, by the time I pulled them out, no sauce could save those puppies. Needless to say, it was a bad night."
Marc Cassel of 20 Feet Seafood Joint "I have fucked up my share of foie gras, expensive meats and fish. The worst is something that took a lot of prep time before going into the oven, then carbonizing it."
Chef Jonathon Erdeljac of Jonathon's Oak Cliff on worst kitchen disasters... "Busy Saturday brunch, and of course my new line cook walks, so it's just me, two dishwashers, a full restaurant, a full rail of tickets, an hour wait for food. And my mom standing in front of me asking what she can do to help. Epic fail!"
Kenny Mills of Chop House Burgers and Steaks in Arlington "Since I like dry-aged beef, I'm no stranger to mold in a fridge, but several years ago we were soaking a cow's head in a pot to make tamales and everyone thought everyone else took care of it. When we did find it and pulled it from its murky water it was NOT pretty."
Medical Advice from Chef April Barney of DISD: What's this about super glue and cuts? "Last week a guy in our kitchen [at Trinity Groves] cut his hand really bad, but we still needed him. So we got it to where it wasn't bleeding so profusely and super-glued it and put electrical tape around it."
And it worked? "Yes, super glue is basically what hospitals use. I like to use electrical tape too because it's waterproof and when you pull it off, it doesn't pull your hair out of your skin."
How did you figure that out? "It happened by accident. One day I cut my finger and didn't have a band-aid, but had to keep working. I had electrical tape and I tried it. Sure enough, it worked. I'm sold now. It's all I use."
We talked to chef Jeana Johnson of Mot Hai Ba on her trip to Vietnam, which included the worst thing she ate while there. "We didn't taste anything bad, but there were a lot things that you really had to wrap your head around and tell yourself, "Ok. It isn't snot. In your mouth it looks and feels just like snot. But, it's not snot."
Kyle Noonan of The Rustic, Bowl and Barrel and Mutt's Cantina talked to us about how to running multiple restaurants at once... What have you learned about having dogs as customers? "Dogs are a great ice breakers. They're a conduit to people."
What are a few key components of managing people? "Rule number one is 'take care of those who take care of you.' Show your employees empathy, compassion and respect. Before I address any situation, I always stop and think, 'How would I like my boss to handle this circumstance?' Great talent management is also imperative. Recognize that advancement potential in an organization is both a reward and a benefit. Also, show favoritism; when a promotion is awarded, celebrate the recipient."
Peter Kenney of the Dubliner, Capitol Pub and The Gin Mill also talked about restaurant management... What are a few key points to running three spots at once? "Delegate. Listen and then move forward. You can get run over by people quickly in this business. You have to listen and then move on. Like on a slow day, people might want to take off early, then all of a sudden the place is full and you're not staffed."
John Tesar of Spoon on career advancement... How long do you think a young chef needs to be at one kitchen before they're ready to move on? "There are some people that are like savants. They stage in a great kitchen somewhere and after a year are able to duplicate what they've seen and are truly inspired. Then they go somewhere and they do great.
"I started as a chef when I was 18, and I'm still a chef at 55. I've made a lot of mistakes and I've had a lot of triumphs in my life. Those are the things that you can't duplicate or take from someone else. You have to live through them. You have to build a body of work.
"And where you work has to do with so many variables. Rent could be too high and you can't afford to operate. I think you just have to have traction in your vision as a chef and keep plugging away at it. If you have a long run, God bless you. If not, it's OK.
"The time between reinvention and the actuality of the invention is a lot of hard work."
Meri Dahlke of Ten Bells Tavern Any advice for those thinking about opening or buying a restaurant or bar... "1. Have your money in order. Whatever you think you need to open your place double (maybe triple) that amount. 2. Spend your money in smart places. You don't have to have mahogany bar and fancy tile in your bathroom. Hire a good accountant, attorney and somebody to deal with all the permits you'll need from the city and TABC. 3. Make sure you get a lot of rest before you start this! You won't after things get rolling."
Jack MacDonald of Jack Mac's Swill and Grill "Know your concept. Everyone you know will share their ideas and opinions about who you are and what you should do. You might use some of those suggestions. But, you need to thoroughly define your vision and remain committed to it."
Khanh Nguyen of DaLat What have you learned about serving the late-night pho crowd? Two a.m. drunks are good. 3 a.m. drunks are bad.
Antonio Marquez of Lazaranda Modern Kitchen "... cook with love. That's the secret."
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.