If you're a typical adult, it's probably been awhile since you’ve had Pop Rocks, and there’s also a good chance you haven’t had this noisy candy on a Caesar salad. That’s exactly the bet chef Kevin Spencer is placing.
Spencer joined the kitchen of Ser Steak + Spirits as executive chef in January. The Hilton Anatole’s restaurant sits on the 27th floor, overlooking downtown and West Dallas. It's an upscale restaurant sans white tablecloths.
The 35-year-old moved to the area after spending 16 years in Florida, where he cooked at the Hilton Orlando, the popular Roy’s restaurant and a signature Walt Disney restaurant.
“As somebody who likes to go eat food and try new things, this city has a lot to offer,” Spencer says. “To come here and experience new things, see the growing food culture and see all the fun stuff that’s going on in this state, it’s been exciting.”
Spencer doesn’t just aim for the modern steakhouse; he wants to give people something they don’t see coming.
“We give just enough information of, ‘Hey, these are the flavors you’re going to taste,’ but when it’s set down in front of you, it’s not going to be exactly what you expected,” he says.
Take the salad Spencer calls “a play on a wedge.” For one, the lettuce isn’t shaped in a wedge. Circles of lettuce are topped with buttermilk ranch dressing, crumbles of bacon, bite-sized chunks of tomato and thinly sliced, dehydrated heirloom tomato with a blue cheese panna cotta. The dish makes you rethink all wedges you’ve had before — and that’s what Spencer’s about: giving people a little something new.
“The idea, inspiration and motive behind it is to create something that makes people go, ‘Wow, that’s kind of cool. I cannot make that. How the heck did you do that?’" he says. "You can do that using techniques and ingredients and elevating it that way,” he said.
His favorite genre of food to pull from is the cooking of South Carolina.
“I love that type of food, not only for the flavor profiles, the history of it, the heritage of the food — it’s such a mix of a lot of different cultures, but it’s the ideas and the standards that a lot of those chefs in that area have created,” he says. “There’s so much thought and care that’s put into the food. That’s how they dump their heart and soul onto the plate.”
Ser's kitchen has played around with different dishes for special tasting menus and daily specials, seeking feedback and fine tuning, with plans to introduce a new menu later this spring. Even though he's been experimenting with flavor combinations and plate presentations, Spencer doesn’t feel the need to mess around with a good steak.
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“I don’t want to touch the traditional way of doing things,” he says. “One of the hardest things to do is cook steak properly. And you have to be spot on.”
It can be stressful, Spencer says.
"But I don’t think of it as stressful in a typical way. I think everybody’s on the same page of what they want to accomplish: There’s the expectation set for ourselves, the quality that we want," he says. "So I don’t call it stress when you’re doing something you love to do. It’s just part of what it is.”
Ser Steak + Spirits, Hilton Anatole, 2201 N. Stemmons Freeway., 214-761-7479