Can Campo Survive without Matt McCallister?

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When Campo Modern Country Bistro first opened, it did so to much fanfare. Owners Miguel Vicéns and John Paul Valverde built a charming space from a rundown bungalow in Oak Cliff, and they hired Matt McCallister to consult as a temporary executive chef. In the weeks preceding the opening, McCallister and his team of cooks enticed prospective diners with videos of compelling plates and teasing Facebook photos. When they opened the doors, praise of his cooking was passionate and consistent.

While the owners were clear that McCallister's involvement as top toque was temporary, they were unclear about how he would be phased out. Valverde told me the young chef, known for his creative cooking and brash personality, would remain as a consulting cook, but now McCallister has completely flown the coop to focus on his new concept FT33. He's no longer involved in Campo.

And that, for now anyway, is a problem for Vicéns and Valverde.

A review just published in The Dallas Morning News tones down praise that critic Leslie Brenner heaped on Campo months ago in a first look. Pasta is now tough, plates are now lifeless and salt is overused in many dishes. The cook responsible for the plates critiqued in the article is Josh Black, a competent chef who worked with McCallister from Campo's inception. Yet despite McCallister bailing on Campo sometime last month, his name is mentioned in the review 10 times. Black's name appears four times. The review definitively describes the restaurant as the little bungalow that McCallister used to cook at.

It's a common problem in the era of the celebrity chef: Does one eat food at Dean Fearing's restaurant, or does one eat Dean Fearing's food?

In branding Campo as a McCallister creation (intentionally or not), Vicéns and Valverde have created a vacuum in the young toque's wake. They'll have a lot of work to do either re-branding Campo as a Josh Black restaurant, or perhaps simply a modern country bistro that stands on its own regardless of who's cooking.

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