An Interview with Campo Chef and Stephan Pyles Vet Matt McCallister
Chef Matt McCallister worked his way up from line cook to executive chef at Stephan Pyles in Dallas, then took off around the country to stage at other top restaurants: Daniel in New York City, McCrady's in South Carolina and Alinea in Chicago. Now he's opening a new restaurant in Oak Cliff, Campo Modern Bistro, which specializes in simple, seasonal, rustic country cooking.
We spoke with McCallister for this week's Thee-Course Meal interview.
When did you first start cooking, not as a job, but with your family?
Growing up, my mom always cooked and I started cooking with her when I was 5. I had two older brothers and neither of them had any interest in food, but I was always in the kitchen with my mom. Thanksgiving was my first introduction to food. My dad had me cut mirepoix -- carrots, onion and celery. We still make the same stuffing that we did back then. Thanksgiving is kind of a big deal to me.
Around the same age my mom and I started growing a garden, and I've always been really into that too. Mainly in Arizona it was just summer crops, like watermelons, sunflowers and tomatoes. I've always loved gardening.
Do you have a garden now?
I live in a high-rise now so I don't have the opportunity to. But I have a pretty decent knowledge of plants and flowers. I take my 2-year-old to the Dallas Arboretum and explain to her about all the different things.
What was your first job in a kitchen?
I grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, and I got my first job when I was 14 at a small Italian restaurant called Guido's. It was a deli and we served informal American Italian food. Everything was house made.
What was your first big job in an upscale kitchen?
My first big job was at Stephan Pyles. I went in and interviewed with Mathew Dunn, who was the executive chef. He hired me as line cook, then I just progressed my way down the line until I was promoted to sous, executive sous, then executive chef.
What got you through all those promotions?
Work. Hard work.
Were you passionate about food?
Super. When I started working there I was considering going to culinary school at the time. My initial plan was to work there at Stephan Pyles for a year and then go to culinary school. But after a year, it was just a pointless waste of money; why drop $30 to $60 thousand on school when I've already learned what I could at culinary school?
What I tell most kids about culinary school is to take that money from your parents and buy yourself a one-way ticket to Europe and go see what happens. I wish I had that opportunity, but by the time I started cooking I was already 24 and felt kind of behind and like I needed to catch up.
Why did you decide to leave Stephan Pyles?
After I was executive chef for over a year, I really appreciated everything Stephan did for me, but I wanted to find my own style. I had some ideas, but I wanted to go travel and work in some other prestigious and serious kitchens just to see what I liked and what I disliked. And just kind of have fun. The time was right and I thought it would be the only opportunity I had to do that.