Casey Thompson, the former Top Chef contestant who scored her first Quickfire win by encrusting foie gras in pecans, is committed to serving Texas products at her new Fort Worth restaurant. But she revealed by phone this morning that she's having trouble sourcing critical ingredients, including organic cream, chicken feet and "appropriate-tasting" tomatoes for a summer salad.
"I'm putting out fires today, trying to find tomatoes," says Thompson, who's readying to open Brownstone in the West 7th development on June 18. "I've got my purveyors running in circles."
Thompson admits she may have to stretch a state border to find the right tomatoes to serve with creamed curds, banana peppers and Texan olive oil, a riff on a favorite childhood dish: "I'm having to go just around us a little," she sighs.
Fortunately, Thompson's had better luck with the beef, buffalo, pork and venison that show up on Brownstone's tightly-edited menu. "I'm really trying to keep it indigenous to Texas," Thompson says. "This is not California. We're not even getting shrimp from Florida."
Like most chefs working in a seasonal and local idiom, Thompson is bracing for a bit of a backlash from diners who can't get strawberries on their birthday cake in December or imported Waygu beef with their potatoes. "Chefs here for the longest time have been able to get whatever they want just by shipping it in," she says.
Thompson hopes to help alter local diners' expectations by emphasizing canning, pickling and preserving, and not falling into the Texas-sized trap of serving the same boring standards on oversized white oval plates. "You will not find a chicken-fried steak or macaroni-and-cheese," she says. "Around here, there's usually a dip on every menu. That's a Texas thing: We do guacamole, we do queso. But the dip we have is a take on hummus with smoked red beets."
The hummus, served with raw vegetables, is one of a number of nutritious-sounding dishes on Thompson's menu, although she's also planning to use plenty of pork fat. The opening menu includes rib candy and a side of waffles and mayonnaise. "My business is to nourish bodies," she says.
The new season of Top Chef, the show that propelled Thompson to national fame, begins next Wednesday. Thompson created a small stir in the Top Chef blogosphere two seasons back, when she appeared in the finale as a guest sous chef and seemed to steer contestant Carla Hall away from her planned dishes. Some of Hall's fans blamed Thompson for her loss. "You will not see me in this season, I can tell you that," Thompson says.