The City of Ate Chef Interview: 24-Year-Old Garden Cafe Chef Mark Wootton

Categories: Interviews

MarkWhootten.jpg
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Garden Café is one of several little neighborhood jewels tucked away in East Dallas. The breakfast and lunch spot's most distinguishing feature is the large garden behind the quaint white brick building in which it sits. Plots of herbs and rows of veggies keep the butterflies and bees busy, and also supply a homegrown touch to many of the plates served.

I recently spoke with Mark Wootton, who is the cook, manager and also the owner's son. He's worked hard for the past two years to bring the restaurant back from the brink of closing. We talked to him about that and more in this week's chef interview.

Are you a gardener?
My dad was, mainly. He always used gardening as a form of therapy and often says, 'I could have hired a therapist or started a garden.' When I was young we'd always grow things around the house. Instead of a lemonade stand, I always sold Ziploc bags full of fresh okra. But, in terms of gardening, I'd help him and he'd show how to grow different things.

Who takes care of the garden here?
Ideally we all spend a few minutes out there everyday, but it's mainly organized by Angie, who works in the front of the house, and Miranda, who is our pastry chef. They've kind of taken the helm. We want everyone to know what's going on out there and be able to explain things to customers, so everyone spends a little time out there everyday. Plus we just all get a better appreciation for it that way.

What do you mainly grow?
We grow a lot of herbs. Even though we have to buy cilantro for the pico de gallo, we're able to use herbs that we grow for almost everything else. Sometimes we create menu items based on something we're growing. We also grow all our own okra and only offer it in the summer so we don't have to buy it. Eggplant worked really well last year, and we're growing more of that. We have our own kale and Swiss chard also. But, in terms of percentage, it's probably only like five percent of what we serve. With the scale of what we serve, it's impossible to keep up with that small of a garden.

When did you initially get into cooking?
I've been managing the café since July 2010, almost two years. Before that, I cooked for about seven years at Hotel Lumen and Central 214. I actually hadn't really gone there (Hotel Lumen) to be a cook, I just needed a job. I have a friend who said he always knew he wanted to be a chef, but that just wasn't me. But, after I started learning things, I was hooked. I learned that cooking wasn't just throwing things in a pan and heating things up. It's chemical reactions and science.

Did you learn a lot about working in a fast-paced kitchen at those jobs?
At Central 214 I eventually worked with Blythe Beck. That was my first really intense experience on the line.

How was working with Chef Beck?
Sometimes she can rub some people the wrong way. She can be a little crass and, honestly, in the beginning I didn't like her at all. But, after a couple of weeks working on the line with her, I got to know her and really liked her. She could be really hard to work for, but then after service she always made a point to talk to people.

What did you learn from working with her?
Once a person came in that was vegan and we obviously didn't have anything vegan on the menu, so we had to make up something on the fly. Chef Beck jumped back on the line and just started yelling out ingredients, and I can't remember what it was exactly. But, not only was it very creative, it was also a beautiful plate. Just being able to create something that wasn't just a vegan dish, but a truly great dish -- something we could have had on the menu regularly -- was great.

Location Info

Venue

Map

Garden Cafe

5310 Junius St., Dallas, TX

Category: Restaurant

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14 comments
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Kergo 1 Spaceship
Kergo 1 Spaceship

"Mark Wootton and 1 more liked this"......sheesh, what a surprise?!  In other news, daylight will last from about, uhmm, 6am to 7 pm today; ahhhh, the wind will blow; Dickey's will serve a fat laden sandwich; and I will eat.

Goodday (Scott's voice).

Mark Wootton
Mark Wootton

I don't have a lot of friends. One, to be precise. Thanks for pointing that out kergo. I'm gonna go cut an onion now.

Kergo 1 Spaceship
Kergo 1 Spaceship

Dude, I only have one friend also (maybe we have the same friend!);  AND, I am going to carve an eggplant. To make that ancient parmesiana...the OLD school way.  Razor thin.  Pan fried.  Fresh ingredients. What you are doing is good....I only rib you sir because it's a noble cause (and I wish I were doing it). Have you seen some of the folks around here?  I think some of these locals have never seen a garden?  FAT CITY. Go on good sir.

ps-These people will eat a lump of fat from Dickey's!?

Mark Wootton
Mark Wootton

I doubt it. Mine is a blue heeler mix named....blue.

Sounds delicious, you're welcome to nab some herbs from the garden if you'd like.

No worries man. I've been lurking these parts for a while now. I'm familiar with your ways.

One of these days I'm going to take a page from Jason Roberts book, and start the better lawn project. Get rid of all this wasteful grass, plant some home gardens. You may not like those bikos hats, but I'll hope you'll get involved anyways. If you really do wish you were doing it you're only one small step away from changing the world.

However, you may not bring Chili's to the potluck.

Mervis
Mervis

I didn't have a lemonade stand and also sold things in Ziploc plastic baggies.

kergo 1 spaceship
kergo 1 spaceship

LDD,    Can you ask Chef Garden If the answer is the following:

-Timothy Leary's LSD Test, with Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters?-X Hamster (what ever that is)?-Dale Wammstead's potato mouth Texas?-Mick Mamith lisp?  "Against"?

Or is the answer The Fan being utterly unlistenable?  Can it be unlistenable when the average Fan "fan" is semi retarded? 

Scattershooting while wondering what ever happened to Ralph Hall, the guy that "approves" all those messages? Is Ralph Hall, and Henry Lewis (the guy that will sell you a car at 2 in the morning) the same person?  If I go to Dickey's (see Joe, I did manage a food point-sir), can I get the sandwich without a lump of fat?  Or will the carver tell me that is all he's got, when I can clearly see 10 steaming briskets in the hotbox, behind him? Why are so many Dickey's resty's around, when this is BBQ country?  In Boston, generic Italian food is not popular, people know better, and leave that sh+t for tourists!  

Finally, please tell me my beloved Bobby Orr Bruins will win Lord Stanleys Cup again......please.  And please let the Red Sox play above .500.  And please, please baby 8 pound Yahweh, please let me have enough time to visit The Fens this summer!  

Mark Wootton
Mark Wootton

 The answer is 42. Next?

Kergo 1 Sapceship
Kergo 1 Sapceship

sh+t I though the answer might have been 43.......darn it!  

Mark Wootton
Mark Wootton

 I could check my work if you'd like, but it will take another 7.5 million years...

Carol
Carol

I think it's spelled Mark Wootton...

kergo 1 spaceship
kergo 1 spaceship

I thought it was Mark Whitten , the seminal 90's power hitting outfielder, that played for, like 15 teams!?

Ahhhh Carol, I think I'm falling in love with you.......I hope you're a girl!

CitizenKane
CitizenKane

These gems, tucked away in neighborhoods, is what makes urban living a joy.   I hope the owners find their way to keep this place going strong and get better with age.

Dallas needs more Garden Cafes and less Twisted Root Burgers !

I hope the neighborhood appreciates what they have in GC.

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