Food News

New Oak Chef Richard Gras Loves the Moth, Hates Burned Fish Sauce and Needs Your Advice

Richard Gras is the sort of newish chef at Oak in the Design District. Gras grew up in Troy, New York, then earned his culinary arts degree from Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island, where he also cut his teeth in some high-profile kitchens like Empire, which received one of Conde Nast Traveler's Best New Restaurant awards.

After graduating, Gras headed to south Florida, where he worked at the Ritz-Carlton for almost 10 years, before heading west to open Navio at the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay, California.

Now stuck in the middle of the dry, hot, barren country, we've asked chef Gras a few questions about Tex-Mex, his favorite beers, worst kitchen disasters, and then, because we're nice, we let him ask a few questions of his own.

So, Tex-Mex. We're known for it in these parts. Have you had a proper introduction yet and how did it go? I did, I went to Uncle Julio's. It's right up the street from my house. When I went, the place was very busy and I had some fajitas.

What are a few of your favorite cookbooks? On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee is one of the first books I bought that taught me about reactions in food and why they happen.

Vegetables by James Peterson is really just a completely comprehensive guide to cooking all vegetables.

Flavor Bible by Karen Page is a great outline for creating flavors.

And the elBulli books by Ferran Adria, which I have owned for a while and still find myself opening. I never ceased to be amazed by what he creates. The books always inspire me to think out of the box.

What's an underrated ingredient -- something you wish you saw more of? Tapioca pearls are an ingredient that I love to use. It's not something you see a lot but are fun and can be used in a lot of different facets. Right now, I have them as our bar snack. We cook them then dehydrate and fry at a high temperature to yield a crispy chip. Then, season them with vinegar powder and salt.

What are you drinking when you're off duty? The Meddlesome Moth is right across the street from Oak. It's a great bar with about 30 beers on tap and a really nice selection of rare beers.

(Part B: Got a favorite local craft beer yet?) Four Corners is a very good local brewery. I enjoy most of their beers.

Tell us about your worst kitchen disaster ever. The worst kitchen disaster I have ever experienced was on New Year's Eve about five years ago. We were just finishing our first turn when I saw my grill cook start running off the line. I looked over and saw this huge fireball coming across the ceiling. I immediately evacuated all my staff and went back to see if everyone was OK. By that time the sprinklers were on, alarms were going off, and everyone was wet but safe.

Come to find out that someone in the kitchen next to ours was cooking and didn't realize there was hot oil on stove and put water into the pot. Well, that's what started the eruption but also there were two burners on but not lit. So once the oil came screaming over it immediately ignited the gas in the air and hence the fire ball. After that, all guests were evacuated. We then had to create a buffet on the fly for 500 very hungry guests.

Along those same lines, in your opinion, what's the worst burned smell of all time? Burnt fish sauce

Craziest request from a diner? Caviar presentation with no caviar

What's your greatest food shame? Chicken wings from Buffalo Wild Wings

What's the best meal you've ever had? Per Se in NYC. Jonathan Benno was the chef at the time. I had the 17-course menu paired with wine.

If you could create a reality cooking or food show, what would it be? I think if I had that chance, it would be a day in the life of a chef. Showcasing the ups and downs of our days and what the intensity of a busy service is really like for those of us in the kitchen.

Do you have any questions for us? ("Us" is Dallas. Fire away. We're here to help.)

What is the best Tex-Mex in Dallas? Here are our nine favorites. Not that we're partial to our own list, but it's really the only one you should worry about.

Where is the best place to find great local produce? Yeah, about that.The White Rock Local Market is your best bet.

Are there any great local bakeries here in Dallas? Sure, although bread is not our strong suit. Empire and Village Baking Co. supply a lot of the great bread around time.

If there is a city in Texas I would have to visit first, what would it be? Readers?

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.