Chef Dean Fearing on Thanksgiving, Eating in Dallas and Sharp Knives
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more charming chef than Dean Fearing, the man behind Fearing's Restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas. Known fondly as the "father of Southwestern cuisine," he earned a world-class reputation as The Mansion on Turtle Creek's executive chef. He left that post in 2007 to head his own restaurant, which has been a mainstay in the local culinary scene ever since. He took a few moments to chat with the Dallas Observer about some new dishes, what he does in spare time and what he's cooking for Thanksgiving dinner this year.
What are you up to today?
Well, I was just working on a new song. Later tonight, I'm making the boys an Italian dish. It'll be like mama mia deluxe ... made by some eastern Kentucky boy.
Even on a day off you end up cooking?
This morning when I was making breakfast for the boys, they were like let's have pasta tonight. I should be Italian, I'm not kidding.
Is that because Italian is your favorite food?
My favorite food is what I think about when I wake up. It could be across the world. I wake up and love curry that day, or barbecue another day, or Italian. Maybe down home or real Mexican, whatever. That's how my palette always been, I wake up and think, "what do I feel like eating?"
Is that mentality reflected in your menus?
Very much so. I think that's why you see so much diversity. For example, this new grouper dish that we're doing, with black bean sauce and miso puree and vegetable stir-fried rice. It's all those flavors I like and it's exactly how we come up with the menu. It's kind of whatever we feel like eating.
Do you find yourself inspired by other menus in town?
I'm inspired by reading a magazine. It's much like the person who's a singer/songwriter, you can be anywhere and all of a sudden you hear a verse or a combination of words and realize, "that's a song." I can be anywhere, I mean I'm talking Sonny Bryan's barbecue anywhere and something will click with me and I realize, "whoa, that's what I want to do at work." I won't take it exactly how they're doing it, but it puts me into another dish. I ask, well how would I do that?
Speaking of music, you have a band, right?
I've been playing with Robert Del Grande, a big chef in Houston, forever. I mean me and Robert and Stephan Pyles have been at the forefront of Southwestern cuisine since the '80's. When I learned Robert played guitar, we would play together after cooking. We called it the Room Service Tour. We invited all the wait staff and cooks working an event with us and we'd just eat, drink and play guitar. I think the food service industry has some of the best musicians ever. And I think a lot of them are a little frustrated, so we'd just play and order room service, and it was a full-fledged party with guitars and singing. That's how Robert and I formed The Barbwires.
Don't you have another local band?
After I got divorced, I wanted to play more. I met three other guys who were recently divorced. So I built a music room over my garage and we started rehearsing. It's been a great outlet for all of us. We've got a place to go, a clubhouse. It is the most fun I have. We try to meet up every Monday night. We just played at The Mansion at the Turtle Creek Monday night. Our in-town band is called The Lost Coyote. We're actually playing at the Sons of Hermann Hall on Saturday, November 30, as part of a charity event called "A Flood of Love for Colorado."
What other surprises do you have up your sleeve, Dean?
Well, I've been writing a lot of music lately. I've been noodling around on my guitar. I was writing a song right before this.
Do you have a name for this song yet?
I'm not finished with it yet, Lauren. It's untitled. Usually I'll write a song and then at the end, it will come to me. I don't even have a title in mind right now. Next time you see me, ask again and maybe I'll even play it for you.
OK, fine. Let's talk about cooking. When you approach a new dish, what are you thinking?
I have a whole philosophy to a dish. The most important thing is that everything eats together well. That means it needs to fit in the genre that it's in. If it's going to fit into the Louisiana cuisine, or the Asian, then that's how the flavors need to taste. I would never put an Asian black bean sauce on Cajun rice. The flavors on that plate need to represent that style of cuisine. Then the plate eats well.
This is how we came up with this new salmon dish that is kind of a Louisiana flavoring. We made a creole barbecue sauce to glaze the salmon and then we're adding a Gulf Coast seafood pan stuffing. It has oysters, shrimp, sausage and it's bound with a cornbread stuffing that we make in a pan to order. Along with that is the trinity in that stuffing, which is green bell peppers, celery and onion. And also green onions and parsley, then we make this really intense seafood stock made from various kinds of seafood with a touch of tomato in it. Then we make the country greens with it, which is bacon and onion, that great sweet and sour green taste. And then... It's all very intense. (Laughs)
You're making my mouth water.
It's pretty delicious. ... So then we make some homemade peppers, some voodoo, sweet peppers, they're like bread and butter pickles or chilies. They eat well with the whole dish and adds a crunch element that I think is so important with each of the dishes we do, cause that's what our ears love to hear. Then it's finished with a preserve on the side, to add some sweetness to the dish.
That sounds incredible.
That's what I love about cooking; it's what keeps me interested in cooking. Designing a plate is like writing a song. The song has to stay true to itself and so does the dish. When we come up with a dish, when we finish it I think to myself, there it is. There's the song.