Sundown Chef Patrick Stark on Avoiding GMOs and What Greenville Avenue Needs
Patrick Stark in front of his restaurant Sundown at Granada
At 9 p.m. on Wednesday nights, Sundown at Granada's executive chef Patrick Stark unties his apron and steps out of the kitchen into the bar. Half-price whiskey, live music and a late night menu, it's little wonder Stark can't drag himself away.
"I'm trying to break myself of this, but I'm a creature of habit," Stark says on a pleasant December afternoon. "I find myself going to the same places to eat, or just cooking at my house. And on my nights off, I'm usually still at work."
Since opening in early 2013, this Greenville Avenue restaurant consistently earns accolades for his vegan-friendly menu and commitment to non-GMO foods, while complementing its parent music venue with late-night music and rooftop movie screenings. Leading the kitchen is the health-conscious Stark, whose bright red Mohawk makes him one of the most recognizable chefs in Dallas.
Our conversation led from his passion for music, the future of non-GMO food and what 2014 has in store for him and his restaurant.
Walk me through a little bit of how you got here -- what does it look like when you look back?
I'm very blessed and fortunate to have been able to go and experience and travel, to have been part of the Culinary Institute of America. The CIA is the quote unquote top culinary schools. But it's like anything, sometimes they produce ringers, but they don't always produce good ones. Sometimes it puts your foot in the kitchen and sometimes it puts a giant crosshair on your forehead - you have to produce and show what that school's made of.
I went to the CIA when I was 17, graduated with two degrees before I was 21, then I went the corporate route and learned how to play with other people's money - how to mass produce quality in volume. Shortly after chasing the proverbial corporate carrot, I got tired of that. I think at that time I was only about 23 or 24 and I realized that before I got too old and started having kids or whatever I wanted to play music. The only place I hadn't been yet that I wanted to go was Dallas, Texas and my brother, who lived here, was getting married.
So you came here for music?
I'd heard that Dallas had a really great music scene, so I just packed up my stuff in my car and came here. Had nothing lined up for work. It felt like the quintessential Catcher in the Rye story. I started doing private cheffing in some celebrity homes here in Dallas and I started to roadie for a few bands at night, trying to figure out how I could get into the music scene.
Any bands we might still recognize today?
There is one that is notable called Strangleweed -- they disassembled maybe five years ago. There was a 10-year run on that project. Somewhere in between there, while I was playing music, private cheffing, and traveling, I had the opportunity to move to Mexico to open up a dinner-and-a-show themed concept. I spent about three years there trying to open up a restaurant in a third world country. The language barriers, to the measurement systems, to being a gringo with a Mohawk were all strikes against me. But that was a great learning experience. When that finished, I came back to Dallas, consulted on a few restaurant projects. Lo and behold, my drummer at the time told me that they were looking for a chef next door at the Granada Theatre. Five years ago I started there, trying to fix their hospitality operations and trying to grow their catering and private events. Two years ago, this property came up on the market and I looked at the owners and I remember talking to the owners about what a great opportunity it could be for them. And that sort of brings us up to now.
How successful have you been at being a musician in addition to a chef?
I try to piggyback my two careers, I guess. I suppose it helps to not have a wife or kids (knocks on the wooden patio table). But it's all been very serendipitous, just the fact that I'm cooking and being around music next door. This year I started a charity called Mohawk Milita that raises awareness about the non-GMO movement and I created a band called Amuse, which is a play on an amuse bouche. What I'm hoping for next year is that once a month, we'll be doing a night with the chef, which would be a fundraiser for the charity, but it would incorporate and play on all the senses. Live painting, music in accordance with the food that comes out and include my friends who are chefs and musicians. I'm looking at 2014 as the year that it all comes together.
This year you've been on TV, right?
It's been a blessing. I didn't think anyone would want to look at me to be honest. One of the shows was Cutthroat Kitchen, which actually invited to return for another episode, so be on the lookout for that in early 2014. And there's another show on ABC I can't disclose yet. It's been an exciting year, just the support of the local neighborhood and all of Dallas. I'm lucky to have the support of the owners and my awesome kitchen staff.
So are you a vegan?
No actually, I'm not. I've started over the last six months to practice being a pescetarian and being gluten-free. It really is amazing to see the differences that eating has on feeling better. I eat a lot more vegetables and things like quinoa, I could probably go vegan if I had to, but as a chef I want to be able to taste all my food.
How did you start cooking really good vegan food?
When I started cooking for the bands next door, I would have flashbacks of what it was like when we were on the road. If we were in Arkansas or somewhere, middle of August, we've have some Pepperidge Farm cheese and sausage platter and a 10-pound bag of pretzels and I remember thinking that the body can't survive on that -- maybe in your 20s with enough Jagermeister could you survive that. But it wasn't until I started working at the Granada, I started to notice that the majority of them are all vegan or vegetarian. Some really heavy metal bands would come in and it wasn't like Ozzy biting the head off bats, or everybody eating raw meat like you imagine, Twisted Sister-style. They were all vegans. So I started playing with different vegan meals back stage. And that was a huge influence because they were educating me on some of their favorite dishes and that's when I decided I needed to take those foods up a notch.
Next: His favorite Dallas restaurants, and what Greenville Avenue needs.