Screen Door Chef David McMillan on Italy, the Navy, Plus Lessons Learned in LA
In part one of our interview with Chef David McMillan of the Screen Door, we learned about his childhood in Berkeley, California and early his penchant for Chinese food. In part two we discussed the Dallas food scene. Today we hear some good Navy stories.
Screen Door Chef David McMillan
After high school, why did you join the Navy?
I wanted to travel and see the world for four years. It's the only branch of the service that you can really see the whole world.
Where did travel while in the Navy?
I was based on the east coast out of Florida and we would do a Mediterranean cruise. It was a twisted turn of events... We were on an older style ship and when they would begin a new cruise back then, they would "light off" the engines to leave. Essentially they would pump oil, bring it up to a certain temp and ignite it with a long wand. Well, there was a leak and one engine blew up. Two of the guys who were doing it were okay, but an officer got burned really badly died after about three weeks.
The explosion really screwed up this ship. It was suppose to go into a dry dock but the Navy didn't want to spend that much money in to it to fix it. For weeks it was stuck in this huge bureaucracy. So, we eventually went on the cruise with only one engine. We went really slowly all the way across the Atlantic. We did like six knots for over 30 days to get to Spain.
Then, when we eventually got to Spain they told us, "Ya, you're screwed," and we needed to go to Naples to get the ship fixed. And that trip usually takes one day, but it took us like 9 days because we were still going so slowly. Once we got there we were stuck for 7 months.
Seven months in Naples isn't too bad. How was that?
Pretty spectacular because we didn't really have to do a lot. They actually sent some professors over and we took humanities classes. Well, they didn't want to sit around in a classroom, so we took all these tours through Rome and the Vatican. We ended up just eating and hanging out in Naples, Sicily and all of the Southern Mediterranean. It was amazing.
What was the first restaurant you opened?
A place called Legacy on Sunset Blvd in LA. We got picked by the LA Magazine as best new restaurant in LA. And we closed the day the issue came out.
Most people frame good reviews, not shutter the place. What happened?
Well, it didn't really have anything to do with the food. The partners I had all had... well, they were all charged with embezzling. My wife still says, "If something feels wrong, it's wrong."
What brought you to Dallas?
When I came here I did Nana. Worked there for over four years. It was fun having something that big with that much money behind it. All I had to do was make people happy.
What particular aspect of running a restaurant are you most passionate about -- the actual cooking, bringing people together, etc?
Cooking special items for people that are really into it, sort of one on one cooking.
This works for a group, as well as an individual -- like wine dinners.
As a parent, what do you try to teach your son about food?
I really like teaching Ryan about cooking. Also about fresh food, and also how to diversify. Foie gras and cheap tacos from a stand can both be spectacular -- try to see the difference.