Matt McCallister Served FT33 Diners His Christmas Tree for Dinner Last Night

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Last night, FT33 hosted a guest chef dinner featuring Jason Dady, owner of the Jason Dady restaurant group in San Antonio, James Beard Award semi-finalist and general badass.

The dinner was an 8-course, collaborative meal, "inspired by the season." Headed into the dinner, I was excited about the possibility of tasting some strawberries that McCallister had told me about at Iron Fork. He had said he found them locally (because of course he did), and he claimed that they were "unbelievable."

I'm pretty sure I've had some good strawberries in my life, but the way he talked these up was as if they were strawberries glazed with an acid trip. It's pretty much the way he talks about all the food he's excited about. And it works. McCallister's excitement for the ingredients he chooses is contagious. I couldn't wait to see if these legendary acid trip berries would be on the menu.

McCallister said the local berries would be in the last course. I wondered how "local" they were. Would they be White-Rock-Lake-over-by-Bird-Shit-Cove local? Or were they more Katy-Trail-just-past-Fake-Boob-Alley local? "So the berries are local -- like from the frozen fruit section in Walmart on Abrams?" I asked McCallister. He smirked.

As Dady and McCallister explained the outstanding dishes they made on this night,"With watercress I found in a secret creek," I felt pride swelling over how far the Dallas food scene has come. Dady thanked the diners for being supportive of chefs experimenting and "thinking outside the box." He mentioned that not every market is like that.

That was about the time that McCallister explained his dish, "morels and terroir." As he was explaining, I was busy inhaling the entire dish, licking my plate and pretending like I hadn't been served in order to get a second round.

This dish was so good, I seriously considered going vegetarian for a month or so. Which is not something I would ever joke about. It seriously made me think meat was "unnecessary, really" for a full minute. In my dream vegetarian world, McCallister offered up a My Fit Foods-type situation, in which I would stop by, pick up my meals for the week, and just live off of whatever amazing vegetable shit his brain thought up for a month or so. The power of this dish was overwhelming. And kinda scary, really. Let's hope he continues to use his powers for good, not evil.

So, since I was inhaling my food and dreaming of an FT33 drive-thru window, I may have missed most of the description of the preparation -- but there was one key moment that I didn't miss. "There's pine oil in there," McCallister said as he scratched his neck, "yeah, I made that from my Christmas tree." I obviously asked him about this later. "I remember just thinking, man, this smells so good. What can I do with this? So, I made a buncha pine oil." Did I detect notes of Blue Spruce? "Douglas Fir." Of course. Anything else would be ridiculous.

The night before, I had attended Cafe Momentum's Pitmasters Picnic and something struck me while I was there. I saw it at this dinner, too: laughter. Chefs working their asses off, sweating to churn out enough food for guests -- but also having a great time while they're at it. For me, that makes the meals at these events so much more enjoyable. There wasn't anger in the kitchen, even though someone dropped a tray of ice waters right before service. There wasn't anyone yelling at servers to run plates faster. There was intensity without negativity.

It's not a reality that everyone can be happy every night in every kitchen or at an off-site event, but when it does happen, from a diner's perspective, it really creates something special.

FT33 hosts these guest chef dinners once a month. If you haven't been, you should check one out. Whatever you do, get out there and eat some of the kickass food that's being prepared in our city right now. Whether you're ordering vichyssoise, barbecue or ramen, it's all getting even better than it already was. And it appears to be getting really fun for our chefs, too.

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