After cooking as a private chef for Oprah Winfrey for many months, chef Eric Dreyer is returning to Dallas.
You may know his food from Fearing’s Restaurant, where he worked 11 years and left as executive chef. Now he’s just a bit south in the Arts District, where he will lead Ellie’s, the first restaurant opening in Hall Arts Hotel.
The hotel itself looks like a snazzy, upscale destination, fitting for a neighborhood that houses some fine dining and larger arts groups that have million-dollar budgets. Dreyer, 44, is still working with the team on figuring out what the restaurant experience will be, but they’re aiming for a “Napa-inspired menu, that is approachable, modern and refined,” according to a news release.
The name comes after Ellie Hall, the late mother of hotel owner and Hall Group founder Craig Hall.
For Dreyer, much of this is a homecoming. He’s from Dallas, having grown up in North Dallas and attended J.J. Pearce High School.
“I always cooked, and my mom always cooked at home,” he says. “It was always very interesting to see the successes and all what was trying to be better. She was always trying new things.”
After graduating, he went to Texas Tech University before moving to California.
“(I) didn’t really know my direction. I was working catering, there was a chef … I think I was 20 at the time, and she said, ‘Eric, you’re always very interested in what’s going on back here, can you help me today?’” he says.
That moment led Dreyer to go into culinary school — the chef was instructing down the road. He spent 10 years in California before he returned to Dallas, going to the Grand Hyatt Dallas/Fort Worth.
In August 2007, he was recruited to join the pre-opening team for Fearing’s Restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas. In fall 2018, while he was executive chef at the restaurant, he left — not for another exec job or to open a restaurant, but to be a private chef for Winfrey.
“It was a very rewarding thing to just (have) on my shoulders to do the cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner after managing a team of 24 people … and it was very different,” he says. “I learned a lot about myself and (my) cooking style, I guess confirming for me that the things I had learned along the way, I was able to reinterpret and be creative about.”
Dreyer also realized he missed the camaraderie of the restaurant and family back home. So he started looking for new restaurants opening in Dallas.
“Craig and Kathryn Hall were regular at Fearing’s. I had met them, didn’t know them very well. Dean was talking about this project with me when I was still in California,” he says. “I was interested, I reached out. I was looking at what else was opening in Dallas, but this one really caught my eye.”
He liked that the space is in the Arts District and that it was led by someone he respects.
“Mr. Hall’s contributions to the arts and philanthropic focus, I really appreciate that. And his brilliance, as well,” he says.
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Ellie’s is still very much in the planning mode. Dreyer is now at the point where he’s most looking forward to the plans coming together and being unveiled.
“We’re working on our menus. We’re going to do a reveal for our internal group and ownership, just looking at how everything lays out for uniforms, table setup,” he says. “We’re finalizing all the china, and we have some really neat, unique aspects that are going to play into the restaurant and hotel.”
Dreyer’s glad to be back in Dallas, find a larger home than what was available to him the past year and spend time with family. While there are plenty of places and things to return to in Dallas otherwise, he says he’ll have to save that for later as he gets Ellie’s ready for opening.
“I think this will keep me busy for now.”