Just Who Is This Matt McCallister Guy?

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"I'm inexperienced. But my eagerness, I think, makes up for that."

It's been almost two weeks since star Southwestern chef Stephan Pyles turned heads in the Dallas dining world by appointing Matt McCallister Executive Chef of his self-named restaurant downtown. The rumor mill's been working overtime ever since, with whispers of 28-year-old McCallister's lack of formal training making the rounds.

True, McCallister didn't go to culinary school. He grew up in restaurants, but went to art school instead. His baby face also brings to mind an "aw shucks" kid next door from a 1950's sitcom.

But don't let those innocent looks fool you. What you won't see in most pictures is that McCallister's whites conceal a striking, multi-colored tattoo swirling up the length of his left arm. And that ink ain't the only surprise this young chef has up his sleeve.

On how he got the job: I met Stephan outside of the restaurant, and [my wife] went over to him and said 'What would it take for him to work for you?' He was like, 'Email me.' So, I emailed him. They brought me on as a pantry cook and that was three years ago.

On the not-so-exclusive club he just joined: I think I would be the sixth [Executive Chef]. Originally it was Dan [Landsberg], and then Dan went off and did Tillman's Roadhouse, and then Matthew Dunn came on and he left after about a year and he was replaced by Jeff Moschetti... They've all kind of gone off and done their own thing.

On his biggest challenge coming into this new position: It's a challenge just trying to produce food that the customers are going to love at a very high-end level. But that's the fun of it, I think...That's why I like this business, so it's not really a challenge. It's more like, it's just fun. I enjoy the adrenaline and the stress. If you're gonna be in this business, you have to like insanity.

On what he'll change: I've always been interested in kind of that avant-garde--it's coined as "molecular"--food movement. It's a science of food and it's always interested me. I'm probably going to implement a couple of things that are a little more interesting, I guess. I want a few dishes that'll make people say, "Wow! That's out there."

On local growers (and local challenges): I grew up gardening and stuff. I was always into gardening, so I'm really into trying to keep things sustainable, using local people. We're offering a three-course prix fixe menu here that's all from local farmers and I kinda headed that up. I try to work with farmers...[but] it can't be inconsistent or I can't work with you. That's a big challenge, too, with a lot of people, because the farm-to-table thing has hit in a lot of areas. It's always gone on in California because there are so many farms that it just came naturally. Here, some of the farmers, they aren't really up to speed with what's going on, and they're trying to get there. It takes chefs and farmers working together.

On his tattoo: Different kinds of spirituality is what this piece is about, and it goes all the way up into a graffiti cityscape on my back.

On his wife on his tattoo: She's pretty anti-tattoo. She wears her clothes nicely and is pretty proper and stuff. I'm not.

On his insatiable appetite: When I get home from work, I'm usually up 'til 3:00 in the morning reading about food, just trying to learn. I never went to school, so I feel like I have this need to learn. I feel like I need to catch up or something...and I don't really know what I'm trying to catch up to.

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