Part 2: Matthew McCallister on Dreams, Hard Work and the Dangers of Hot Caramel

Yesterday, we profiled the fast-rising Matthew McCallister, executive chef at Stephan Pyles. In part two of our three-part series, today we pose a few questions to McCallister. Tune in tomorrow as McCallister demonstrates one of his recipes for City of Aters.

CofA: What is your favorite Dallas restaurant and why? McCallister: I like Smoke for brunch, Jimmy's for a Cuban, Houstons for their French dip sandwich. Teppo for sushi and Yogalicious for their Green Tea frozen yogurt. I don't get out so much, and I am pretty simple to please. I mainly like cooking at home for my wife and daughter on my day off.

CofA: What is the most overrated food trend? McCallister: Chef-driven burger joints...I love a good burger, but it doesn't need much to be great. Good bun, good seasoning and fresh ingredients and you are good to go...well, some house-made bacon is also good, and maybe some cheddar cheese.

CofA: Who is your mentor and why? McCallister: My dad...He taught me the two lessons in life that are most important to me. The first lesson is to follow your dreams; the second is to work harder than anyone else.

CofA: What would you pitch to the Food Network? McCallister: I would pitch two ideas. The first is inspired by my experiences when I actually watched the Food Network 12 years ago, back when Molto Mario was on. It would be a chef cooking food from his own garden in a simple, seasonal and flavorful manner. It would also be educational, teaching about gardening and which heirloom varieties to grow and how to obtain the best results.

The second idea would be a series and have a different chef every time. Each episode would follow a chef through the creative process of developing ideas for new dishes. It would then show them creating a few of their ideas and reveal how they turn out in the end.

CofA: What is one of your favorite ingredients to use? McCallister: I have many favorites, but one that always comes back for me in the summer is coriander seed. The aroma it gives off when it is toasted and ground is hypnotizing to me. It goes great sprinkled on slices of honeydew with sea salt, olive oil and lime zest. It's a great summer snack.

CofA: What is the oddest customer request you have had lately? McCallister: Just recently a guest requested a medium rare braised short rib. Meat that has braised for five hours at 300 degrees is usually going to be a little past a mid-rare. We simply gave them what we had, assuming there was either a misunderstanding or a miscommunication. They loved it.

CofA: Favorite cocktail and who makes it for you? McCallister: I don't drink cocktails but word on the street is that Victor Tangos makes some good ones. The Second Floor has a huge selection of Scotch as well.

Co A: What is your favorite music to cook by? McCallister: I like to change it up, but I listen to a lot of music -- mainly drum and bass (anything Hospital Records puts out), down-tempo, old school, hip hop (like Jeru or Big L), reggae, the Stones, the Knife, Klaxons, Weathertunes and LCD. I could go on and on but will stop there. I love music when I am cooking, I get in a zone and I am able to tune out my surroundings and focus on the moment.

CofA: Do you have any food trend predictions? McCallister: I don't follow food trends. I will be using sustainable seafood, all natural beef, local/seasonal ingredients and modern techniques. I personally enjoy Portuguese and South Asian cuisine at the moment. It is what I have been playing around with.

CoA: What is the craziest thing you have ever done? McCallister: I stopped partying and took cooking seriously.

CoA: What is the worst dish you have tasted? McCallister: It was at Arzak in San Sebastian Spain which at the time was the number-seven best restaurant in the world.

The dish was poached lobster with a crisp film of onion and a copper sauce. The lobster was undercooked, the crisp onion film turned into a gluey paste in your mouth, and the sauce tasted like artificial sweetener. In fact most of the meal made me wonder if the whole avante garde food movement needed to take a step back and reevaluate. Food has to taste good.

CofA: If you could go back and give yourself advice 10 years ago, what would it be? McCallister: I wouldn't want to change anything because my unique experiences completely define the man I am today. My advice to myself a decade ago might be something like this: You are going to make lots of mistakes in life; learn from them and don't make the same mistake twice. Oh, and hot caramel burns real bad.

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