Dean James Max, a James Beard nominee who was crowned "King of American Seafood" at this year's Great American Seafood Cook-off and earned our sister paper's endorsement as the "Best Chef in South Florida", is developing his first Dallas restaurant.
The not-yet-named restaurant is scheduled to open at the Renaissance Hotel in mid-January. Max describes the cuisine as "upscale, modern Mexican."
"I'm going to try to do a different spin, more original to what you'd get in Oaxaca," Max says. "I don't want it just to be rice and beans with melted cheese."
Since opening 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale in 2000, Max has opened restaurants in Columbus, Cleveland, Islamorada and Grand Cayman. While each restaurant is intended to reflect its hometown - "Cleveland might have more braised items and rich meats," Max explains -, the menus are unified by a farm-to-table philosophy. Max says he plans to continue that tradition in Dallas, defying an emergent distribution system that can frustrate well-intentioned chefs.
"Florida is the same way," Max says. "You just have to make a commitment."
In south Florida, where Max had problems procuring fresh swordfish, he invited skilled fishermen from the Keys to show local anglers how to catch the quality fish he wanted.
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"We had seminars," Max recalls. "You make that happen. In Dallas, if I have to hire a guy with a pick-up truck, I'll make it happen."
Aggressive locavorism, Max admits, "gives us a competitive edge. If a lot of chefs were doing it, I wouldn't have the competitive edge."
Max emphasizes the Renaissance's owners, who consider the restaurant the last element in a major property upgrade, didn't want a "typical hotel restaurant."
"They wanted a restaurant that would be fun and interesting," he says. "I'm very excited."