Louisiana native David Anthony Temple (aka Chef DAT), a pioneer of sorts of for the local pop up dinner scene, has been hosting his Underground Dinners since January of 2009. He grew up cooking with his family, but honed his skills (both in terms of cooking and ingredients) while working at places like Aurora and Spiceman's 1410. We met at Cosmo's in Lakewood, a funky little dive bar with a killer jukebox and a bunch of awesome retro lampshades.
When did you initially start cooking? My grandma and momma taught me how to cook. I always took things and did them how I wanted.
["Super Freak" by Rick James is on the jukebox]
What was your first job in a restaurant? I got my first job at 15, always loved food and just wanted to be around it--either if I was selling it or cooking it. I've been a front of house manager, trainer, just always in restaurants in some way.
Do you prefer one over the other (front or back of house)? I like to be very hands-on, so I enjoy the front of the house. Cooking is where my heart is. I love to use my own recipes, but also like to be at the tables, checking on people making sure everyone is having a good time. I'm really a people person.
How would you describe your underground dinners? I want them to be something that's outside the box--not just another damn dinner. There's an entertainment aspect, DJ's are there...
So, is there dancing? No, it's chill. I'll bring in different kinds of artists. Sometimes I'll have a random guy just stand up and start playing guitar. He might just be sitting next to you the whole time, talking and stuff, and then he reaches under the table, grabs a guitar and starts jamming.
We've had painters, people who come in and talk about what kind of art they do. I had a 3-piece band from New York come play one time.
So, people who aren't familiar with you, are they going to -- -- They're going to meet a lot of people, and they're going to have a lot of fun. That's the thing - people socialize and make new friends. You never knew who you'll be sitting next to. All you know is that they're really into food. You might be sitting next to one of the top lawyers in the city, who's opening up $400 bottles of wine and sharing them with everyone at the table. Then, there's another local chef or musician. It's random.
How do you interact with your guests? I go out and explain every dish. I tell them where it came from, how it's prepared, the back-story on it, why I made this dish, why I included it on the menu.
[Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean" is now playing on jukebox.]
Where do you find your guests? Or where do they find you? Just my email lists. That's how everybody knows about it. And it's been around for a while. A lot of it is just word of mouth.
And you're not just in Dallas anymore, right? We've done dinners in Hawaii, New Orleans, about to do my first in Houston and Colorado, then going to San Francisco and Napa.
How do you get dinners set up in other cities? Other people have lists too and I'll meet a random restaurateur or owner or chef, or someone will hear about us. And they'll say, "Hey, we're closed on Sundays, so come do your own dinner here then." Then send out an email and I'll do it.
If I have to go to Houston or New Orleans, why not go a day early and do a dinner? And I go through Shreveport a lot of the time. Momma lives in Shreveport, that's why I always go there. How is your mom? My mom is amazing. And really, really, really pretty. She's in great shape, she looks like she's in her thirties.
So, are you out pacing her in terms of aging? Hell yes. The other day someone thought I was almost forty. I'm 28!
Should we get a picture of her for the article? People would read it then.
So, you always make a point to go through Shreveport in your travels to have dinner with her? Dinner, lunch, shots, whatever.
["Let's Stay Together" by Al Green comes on.]
What are some of your favorite restaurants in New Orleans? Bayona, Susan Spicer's restaurant, who is Tom Spicer's sister. She's one of the best chefs in the world. She's won a James Beard award.
Then there are all the classics. There's Commander's Palace and 25-cent martini's at lunch. I'll say it again, (leans in) 25 cent martini's at lunch. That's how we roll in Louisiana. I'm sorry everybody works a 9 to 5 job and doesn't drink a martini at lunch. I get scorned in Dallas if I do that.
I love Galatoire's. Some new spots I'm digging on right now are Rue 127, Chef Ray Gruezke. Root is really doing good. I love Stella. August by John Besh.
Is the Dallas dining scene changing? Constantly. Tom Spicer is as busy as I've ever seen, so that's good. People talk about how good produce can be in this city.
How does Dallas compare to some of the other cities you work in? I don't think I can really answer that question... I think the Dallas scene is good. I like Fort Worth. They have a really exciting scene. I think I could have a restaurant there, and it would do great because the demand is there. Austin is crazy. The food truck scene is blowing up. I think they're one of the dining capitals of the country right now. Barley Swine is phenomenal.
I don't know about Houston. I'm going there tomorrow and will probably hit five or six restaurants.
Do you hope to have your own place soon? Yes, definitely. Next year. I wanted to open 27 last year, but it would have required borrowing more money than I wanted. I'll do it soon though. I'm interested in doing more chef-driven casual concepts. I think we need more of those.
What's an example of a chef-driven casual? Off-Site Kitchen. Quick easy, fast-foodish, really high quality.
It seems one of the advantages of pop up dinners is the freedom they offer. Yes, I do like that. In August I'm going to Colorado, San Francisco, Napa and Hawaii.
Not a bad August... I'll be working the whole time.
[Johnny Cash is strumming on the jukebox now.] What are some are your favorite places in Dallas? To eat?
Yes, sir. What I'm digging on now is Central 214. I hated it before, but I love it now that Graham is there. I love eating whatever he has. I love Private Social and having snacks and drinks at the bar. Seeing Rocco and Tiffany's pretty face, she's just pretty and happy. Then, Rocco makes great drinks. I've never had a formal dinner, just eat everything at the bar. I've never been private there, only social.
I really like Bolsa, ever since it opened. I'm really good friends with the owners, I love them.
For brunch there's nowhere I'd go but Smoke. Put that in caps. Just write that. Just write the word "brunch" then "Smoke" and don't even fucking talk about it anymore. And I hate saying that because they're already so fucking busy...
I haven't been to Driftwood yet, but I'm excited about going. I just made my first reservation at Bijoux and I'm excited about going there. I go to Charlie Palmer if I want a steak. Also love Bob's. Ain't no where like Bob's. Classic. Love Bob's. And only the original.
Cosmo's and Lakewood are my favorite dive-bars. I love Black Swan in Deep Ellum too. I don't even call it a bar. I call it a speakeasy.
Why's that? There's no sign on the door. There's no visual advertisement. You just have to know it's there. There's a door guy. That's all.
If I'm going total decadence, I love going to the Mansion. I love Bruno Davaillon. Sweetest man ever. I look up to him so much. When I think of people I look up to in the city, he comes to mind. And Avner Samuel, I worked at Aurora a long time. Also love Sharon Hage. I used to go to York Street everyday. I got my house specifically so that I could walk to her place. I use to eat family meal with her when Matt Balke was on her staff. I'd go in there with a delivery from Tom, and she'd have me sit down with them.
I also go to The Grape a lot.
I do have a problem with the Dallas dining scene. I need more entertainment. Like for tomorrow for lunch I'd like to go somewhere with live music in a cool setting.
[Bob Dylan "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is on now.]
How long did you live in New Orleans? I've been going there all my life... But, maybe a brass band somewhere.
A brass band? Why not? We can't we have a high-end great food, something like Bolsa, and also have dueling pianos? Eat, drink, stay a little longer. Fort Worth is doing it. Austin is too.
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I don't know what to tell ya. I'm gonna supply that. That's what my goal is for next year is to open places, a lot of them...
A lot of places? Yes, not just one. A lot of them that supply entertainment. They'll be the same brand, but unique for different areas. They'll have different feel and vibe. With different kinds of music. Maybe a brass band or a guitar. One in south Dallas, one in Southlake...
--Southlake? Really? I have great customers in Southlake. They're awesome. They're world travelers. We have a great time.
Do you sort of help pull people out of their shells at dinners? Oh I do. I do. I got invited to a dinner out at Southlake -- they cooked for me -- and it was just four us and we're sitting there at the dining room table and we're having a dance party at the table after dinner. Let's don't just sit here, let's dance.