Florida Chef Sizes Up Dallas Dining Scene

Does absence make the eyes grow clearer?

Texas-born chef Steve Shockey, who's been impressing diners in the Miami area for years, recently summed up the differences between Texas and Florida's food scenes for an NBC affiliate.

"The dishes in Texas' great food cities -- Dallas, Austin and Houston -- tend to be more straightforward and use locally inspired ingredients," explained Shockey, who now helms the kitchen at Fort Lauderdale's Big City Tavern. "Florida, particularly South Florida, has such a great diversity of people and cultures that many of those ingredients from those countries find themselves integrated into the food and menus here."

It's hard to match the diversity of Miami, where 45 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home. But Dallas isn't exactly Levittown: Non-Hispanic whites account for just 51 percent of the metro area's population. Percentage-wise, Asians and Native Americans have a greater presence in Dallas than Miami.

So why aren't these statistics evident on local plates? I've thus far encountered very few dishes at high-end eateries that reference the vibrant cooking traditions on display at strip-mall restaurants that ring the city. I assume most chefs are curious eaters, and have sampled widely from Dallas' smorgasbord of Indian, Korean, Filipino, Ecuadorian and Ethiopian restaurants (although it's possible my confidence is misplaced: talented chef and Top Chef contestant Tiffany Derry lit up the blogs after declaring "We don't have a lot of Ethiopian restaurants in Dallas, Texas.") And I would think those chefs would borrow and steal inspiration from their meals.

But if Dallas chefs are adventuring, local diners haven't been the beneficiaries. Other than perfunctory nods to tacos and Japanese sushi, there's little identifiably "global" about Dallas cuisine. Our menus don't match migration patterns: As Shockey says, fancy food here tends to be "straightforward."

What do you think? Is Shockey's assessment fair? Have I just been eating in the wrong restaurants?

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