In a state with a rich farming history and a hyperactive sense of place, it's mind-boggling that it's taken so long for the support of local food production to take a firm grip on our urban centers, where many fine-dining establishments take their cues from far-flung metropolises otherwise derided by Texans, selling wares packaged as fusion.
Thankfully, Dallas has Pyramid Restaurant & Bar at The Fairmont Dallas, a bastion of locavorism, the technical term for the advocacy of local, seasonal foodstuffs and its consumption, to keep us on track. Now, the revamped restaurant with a 3,000-square-foot herb and vegetable garden has a new executive chef, Andre Natera, who is continuing Pyramid's tradition. His mission is as simple as his cooking style and reflected in the revised menu. Natera describes it as creating "approachable, good food, inspired by Mother Nature. All of the new menu items [see recipe below] are familiar flavors that everyone should know. I just refined them. I am cooking for the people -- good food, done well, for everyone to enjoy, from foodies to newbies."
With that in mind, the sources of his ingredients make perfect sense. These include the Texas Honeybee Guild, Lucky Layla in Plano for butter, Empire Baking Co. for baguettes and the Dallas Mozzarella Co. He also uses cheese from the Veldhuizen Family Farm in Fort Worth because he says, "they have the most amazing Bosque Blue." From Brazos Valley Cheese he gets feta, brie and stone-ground grits, Naturally, the olive oil used at Pyramid is from the Texas Olive Ranch.
This is critical in Texas, where the people are Texan first and everything else second. Our food should follow the same logic. Natera understands. "We need to create an awareness of how the support of local purveyors really impacts our local economy and local farms. We do not do things the old way anymore and it is easy to see where that is taking us," he says. "Buying local and cooking local has integrity behind it and reconnects the chefs to the seasons and their products. We need to have respect for the products we buy and where they come from."
Alas, chefs like everyone else have varied tastes. Natera enjoys cooking Asian food, for which he employs dashi, kombu and bonito. Not at all local. Still, he is striving to boost seasonal, local diets. "It is going to take some time not just to retrain the consumers and to retrain the people cooking the food. We are definitely in the embryonic state of eating local, so it takes some extra effort to consider seasons and locality when purchasing food. The end result is well worth the extra effort."
Indeed, with proponents of locavorism like Natera at Pyramid, the only way to go is up.
Watermelon Brulee Salad
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Sugar as needed
Feta cheese (preferably Brazos Valley Feta) 1 cup
Fresh mint leaves (preferably from my garden) ¼ cup loosely packed
Frisee leaves 2 cups
Mache lettuce 2 cups
EV olive oil (preferably Texas Olive Ranch) ½ cup
Sherry vinegar 1/8 cup
Shallot minced ½ tsp
Garlic minced ½ tsp
Chives (preferably from my garden) 1tsp
Honey (preferably Texas Honey Bee Guild) 1 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Slice the watermelon into large cubes and sprinkle with sugar. Using a crème brulee torch, scorch the watermelon and let it cool down.
2. To make the dressing combine all ingredients except the olive oil and whisk until blended well, then slowly add the olive oil whisking continuously.
3. Place the feta, frisee, mache and mint leaves in a bowl and toss with about 1 tbsp of the dressing.
4. To serve, arrange the watermelon around the plate and mound the salad in the center.