An Interview with Campo Chef and Stephan Pyles Vet Matt McCallister

Categories: Interviews

Kevin Marple
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.

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Checked out Campo Monday night.  Great spot. The charcuterie is up there with the best I have had (no need to wait for three months for Lucia's).  Great cocktails and service.  If people can get to the akward location, it should rock.  With Left Bank and Driftwood on the way, I wonder if Oak Cliff can sustain all of this.

Kergo 1 Spaceship
Kergo 1 Spaceship

Hey LDD,    I'm camping in Arkansas; will you ask the chef which of these rocks will look good in my yard?  I prefer the quartz mix from the southern region of said state, but my wife says it gaudy. I also have rocks from:

-The Grand Canyon-Red River Valley-Granite from Crystal Lake NH-Sandstone from the New Mexico desert-Volcanic Rock from Oklahoma and New Mexico (Capulin field) .......and of course, clay with fossils embedded in them.  But they fall apart when away from the water source.  


True Story:   I was stuck on the side of the road in the San Juan Valley, and made Sage Brush Chicken by the side of the road. A cop pulls up, and Ima cookin' and eatin', and he just shakes his head-and laughs.  Gotta eat right.  So anyhoo, I got my two tires fixed and cruising down the road, and the same cops pulls me over, and gives me a warning.  Five minutes later I'm pulled over again, and this guy gives me a BIG speeding ticket, and searches the vehicle.  What does he find:

-chicken-tortilla's-sage-beer, and a kayak.  

ps-I once got two speeding tickets two miles apart in Clayton, New Mexico, and then one a couple of hours later in Deaf Smith County, Texas.  Also, I once drove my car from Dequeen, Akansas to Nashville, Arkansas with two flat tires.....just rims baby! 

Best Road Trip Meals to Make:-Omelets-Campfire Chicken-Seered Tenderloin-Reststop Quesadilla's

Kergie Out.

Darren Schmits
Darren Schmits

I just wish you would stop asking what their favorite restaurant is.  They always answer, "I don't eat out a lot", then turn right around and list 4-6 places they go to "a lot".


Should you BE driving? That's what I'm wonderin'... You weren't around A'ton sunday night were you? Heard a horrible cop chase at like 2am. Like four cops after him. Crazy (and a bit skeery). Where were you, kergs? 


Keep watch in the northern panhandle, especially driving to NM,


Ya, I do get that a lot. Sometimes I get some great suggetions though. I'm open to suggestions though, Darren. Throw something out... Thanks. Lauren 

Scott DFW
Scott DFW

The guy's opening a new restaurant. Doesn't seem unreasonable to see some updated coverage.  

Kergo 1 Spaceship
Kergo 1 Spaceship

Dear LDD,   On Sunday 2AM, I had been asleep for atleast 5 hours-thank you!

I like to speed, but, don't run-ANYMORE (giggling in my curled hand)!

Kergo 1 Spaceship
Kergo 1 Spaceship

You would think driving through nowhere, you could drive as fast as you want?  Nope.  Only in West Texas can you drive 110, and put yer feet up.  Fine stretch of road that I-10! In West Texas I recommend:

-Hueco Tanks ( I once got stuck in a rock formation out yonder)-El Capitan-Monahans Sand Hills--

Darren Schmits
Darren Schmits

Well, keep on asking the questions that followed "What's your favorite restaurant" like where to go on date night, favorite dive, best tacos, etc.

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