An Interview with Matt McCallister, Who Might Lose It If You Ask for a Wedge Salad

Categories: Interviews

Thumbnail image for MMcCallister.jpg
File photo
Not pictured: The plate he just chucked against the wall.
If you're talking about Dallas' culinary resurgence in the last five years, there's no ignoring Chef Matt McCallister. As FT33, McCallister's farm-to-table restaurant in the Design District, attracts attention from the country's most respected food critics, it's also helping direct attention to the young, up-and-coming chefs who are working to transform a once-yawn-inducing dining scene.

FT33 looks nothing like the dated southwestern cuisine and uninspired steakhouses that have defined Dallas for decades, but it is probably what the future holds for our city as it becomes a burgeoning food destination. I sat down to talk with McCallister about educating diners on his passion for vegetables, the importance of great ingredients, and why Dallas' food scene is actually much cooler than Austin's.

When you opened FT33, were you concerned that Dallas wasn't ready for a place like this?

Totally. Even when I was approaching investors, people told me I was insane and this was a stupid idea. I kept going back to the fact that I was 31, I could fail, file bankruptcy, and then in 7 years, my credit would be cool. In some ways, that's a lot of what's wrong with the city. People think that doing something new isn't going to work, so they don't do it. Then they keep serving short rib sliders, which are fucking dog shit. More people need to take risks, essentially.

When FT33 opened, did you have to deal with a lot of uneducated diners, or were you pleasantly surprised?

We still deal with it, probably most with our chef tasting menu. It's 11 courses, and it's entirely vegetable focused. People aren't quite sure what to think about that? A couple came in from Kansas City and didn't do their research or whatever, and they complained that there wasn't any meat about halfway through the meal. I'm sorry, you ordered a fucking chef's tasting menu. When you go to a restaurant and order a tasting menu, you don't go in there and tell them what to cook for you. That would be like going to a sushi restaurant for omakase and then telling them what to make for you. It's not going to happen.

There's literally no meat for 11 courses?

Well, we poach beets in beef fat and cook carrots in beef fat. There's also a bordelaise sauce, so there's some veal stock in there. But yeah, it's all about vegetables. I like cooking vegetables more than proteins.

Why is that?

I think they're more challenging and complex than, say, cooking a steak. Wow, ok, cool, steak. Not mindblowing. Not innovative.

Do you think Dallas has kind of copped out over the last few decades by being totally okay with being "the best at steak?"

I mean, maybe. Are we really even the best at steak? I don't know. To me, vegetables are much more interesting. They're more colorful. They're visually more appealing. I tend to start with the vegetables first when I'm planning a dish, then add the proteins. I cook with the seasons, you know? Lamb doesn't determine a season, it's raised all year long.

Do you think people get what you're trying to do at FT33, even though it is so different? Are people here cool with a menu where produce is the star?

I'd say 90 percent of people who come here love and appreciate what we're doing. But we still get people coming in and asking for a wedge salad or whatever. And my response to that is always "get the fuck out of my restaurant." I guess people don't think vegetables have a lot of value, but I do.

A lot of chefs do feel pressured to have those classic "people pleaser" dishes like a wedge salad on the menu, though. Why?

I've often tried to pinpoint the answer to this question. It's probably more economic than creative, and you need asses in seats. So I don't know, maybe they should open a smaller restaurant or something.

Do you think FT33 would be more at home or more beloved in a place like NYC or San Fran?

Totally. People tell us all the time that they feel like they're in San Francisco or New York. Our seating is even a little tight compared to what Dallas people are used to, and we're loud. On Saturday nights we're loud in here, sorry. The place is full and the bar is two people deep. Get over it, it's going to be loud.

But yeah, I even thought about leaving Dallas. After traveling and working in a bunch of restaurants, I just thought this was going to be a tough market for what I wanted to do. But I kept coming back to the thought that I could be the one that took a chance and tried to do something different here. If FT33 doesn't work, I can always leave and go somewhere else. I could become a farmer or whatever.

But it's been fun, and I think we're going the right way. We're coming up on two years of being open, and we're crushing it this summer. Usually restaurants are slow here or whatever in the summer, but we've been full.

Let's talk a little bit about the culture of the kitchen at FT33. How do you assemble and train a kitchen staff to work at a place like this?

We've also created something really great here. I've never worked anywhere where all of our staff, the kitchen, front of house, everybody, was so into what we were doing. It's crazy. I'm not even sure how it happened. I don't think we beat it into anyone or shoved it down anyone's throat, we all just so into what we do that we've created an environment where everyone is dedicated.

Like our Saturday night test kitchens. If any of my chefs wants to present a dish to me, this is when they do it. At the end of the night, we might put up 3 or 4 dishes that they think are cool. They never really end up on the menu or anything, but it gives them a chance to be creative. Being a line cook can be really lame sometimes. Here's a little more fun because we change the menu all the time, I guess. Sometimes their dishes really suck, and I'll tell them that. But then I'll tell them why it sucks, and they learn from that.

We just got back from a week long break, and I set up stages for some of my chefs. They're going to work at these really great Michelin starred restaurants, but they tell me that they want to come back because they love what we're doing here.

I'm always back there plating and working with everybody too, so it's my responsibility to keep things tight with what I think this place should be. The level of teaching in this kitchen is more than any restaurant I've seen in Dallas, it's a lot of what we do. I've been in some kitchens that are overly intense, and it's cool because they're putting out some of the best food in the world. But that's not us.

I think people might believe that your kitchen would be pretty intense, just based on what people in Dallas perceive about your personality. Do you kind of fight that perception with your chefs?

Sure. I have people tell me all the time that chefs are scared to come apply here, and I don't understand why. There are stories out there that I can be a complete dick, and I can. If you screw something up, yeah, I'm going to get angry. I'm going to tell you that it's fucked up, and you should fix it. If you do it three more times, I'm probably going to shatter the plate against the wall. Fortunately, we have such an open kitchen that I really can't do that. I've only overreacted where guests could visibly see me go crazy maybe once or twice, but I just try not to be like that.

That's the old school of chefs. There are better ways of managing your staff. This job is intense. It's long hours, high stress, especially when you're putting out the food that we do. So yeah, I get mad. But now, I know when I need to go take a walk around the block. The cook already knows I'm pissed at him, the point's already made. What is grabbing him, and screaming and calling him a piece of shit going to do? It's not really cool anyway. If people think I'm a jerk, there has to be a reason for it.


From a national perspective, when people think about Dallas and food, they think Matt McCallister now, thanks to all those awards and national press about FT33. It used to be that people thought of Dean Fearing or Stephan Pyles or whatever, but that's changed. Is it difficult to deal with the pressure of bringing this scene to the national spotlight?

It doesn't really change what I do. It's weird to even kind of think about it that way. Even before we started getting national recognition, I was meeting with some food writers in New York, and food writers were asking me why the fuck they should even go to Dallas. They were telling me that they'd rather go to Austin or Houston where the food is good. And I would have to try to persuade them that we've got some cool stuff going on.

How do you tell food writers and critics that they should come to Dallas?

I personally think the dining scene in Dallas is more interesting than Austin. We have more cultures that influence the cuisine here. I think Austin is cool, but when I go there, I know where I'm going. There's no Koreatown, there's no diversity. It has great food, but there is no broader cultural influence. Houston does, and Dallas is on par with that. We just don't get any of the focus. People are starting to take notice, I think. That's a good thing.

It's always been kind of mind-boggling to me that there hasn't been any broader interest in Dallas' dining scene. Why do you think that is?

I guess there's more than one answer for that. This is a city where the demographics are so diverse that you test out chain restaurants. We have more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the country. I would say that 95 percent of those are all shit, but whatever. But it's all about perspective. I might say all those restaurants are shit, but maybe that's because that's not my focus. I don't get off work and go to Jack in the Box. That shit's gross. But a lot of cooks do.

I would rather go home and cook a local egg for myself and make a sandwich or something, so I'm not the person to ask. Not a lot of people view things I do, so it's not fair for the general public. But a lot of people want to pay X amount of money for X amount of food, and they need to feel like they get that value. People tell us our portions are small and you don't get a lot of food, but they don't give a shit about the four farms that provided all their food. That's a battle that's totally different because it's about my philosophy versus their budget, I guess. We have people who come in and want a cucumber in their Hendricks gin or whatever, and they're pissed because we don't have them out of season. You can buy them at a grocery store, but I can't get them from a farm. So no fucking cucumbers here. Sorry, deal with it.

There probably aren't a lot of restaurants who are willing to not serve things that people want because they know that they can make money. Is that because it's too hard?

Maybe, but it can be done. You know, blackberry season in Texas is very short. Maybe a month or so, and we're right in the middle of it. We have a dessert on the menu that's really simple but amazing. We roast blackberries with peaches and serve it on a peach curd with a cookie crumble, and put an aerated sabayon on top. It's almost like a chawanmushi, the Japanese egg curd, because of all the surprises in there.

It's simple and straightforward, but it's so good, and I'm not ready to take it off. So I'm ordering 80 pounds of blackberries from this one farm so that I can preserve them and finish out the summer with it. Same thing with tomatoes. One of our farms is putting out some amazing San Marzanos right now, so we're buying them by the hundred pound parcel and canning them. I don't know what we'll do with them, but at least we have them. We do a lot of preservation so we can get as much as possible from these short seasons.



Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
49 comments
Tipster1908
Tipster1908

It's hard to take any of this seriously when the guy is so full of shit. Sure is nice to have rich parents to fall back on (the line about bankruptcy is especially comical). It definitely makes it easier to take risks, or to do really stupid things like say that your customers can go fuck themselves if they ask for something that you feel is beneath you to serve. It's a luxury that lots of chefs/owners don't have because they have families to feed and don't have the safety net this guy does. It's not his fault that he has wealthy parents and it's not their fault for supporting him. But don't get self righteous about yourself and what you're accomplishing when there was never any real risk that you'd end up on the margins of society if your endeavor failed. 

ozonedude
ozonedude

I've never had a bad meal at FT33 and I've had a couple of the best meals of my life there. My friends from LA and NYC can't believe it exists in Dallas. The staff always recommends fairly-priced but awesome champagnes and wines. The service is impeccable, unpretentious and democratic. And strange thing is, despite the price, I've never felt I was not getting value for money. And there are so many Dallas restaurants at the same price point where that is simply not true (Al Biernat's and Eddie V's can suck it). 


BTL, I trust Matt, his chefs and his staff implicitly and he can serve me whatever he wants. His house, his rules. Yeah he's a blowhard but so what? Don't like it? Don't eat there. Apparently he's doing just fine without you.

Ouch
Ouch

When did chefs become such prima-donnas? What an angry, self-centered punk. You're feeding people, not curing cancer, so get off your high horse and stop with the filthy language. It's just food dude. Big deal. And for the record, some of us prefer to dine where chefs are pleasant and care what their customers want. May no one accidentally choose your restaurant without knowing what they're in for. Sheesh.

CitizenKane
CitizenKane

Does the chef guarantee that everything he serves is locally sourced and only available in season?


Or is this just marketing bullshit ?


I don't see such a statement on his web site.

CitizenKane
CitizenKane

Is FT33 accommodating of the single diner? 


I would like to give the Chef's tasting menu a spin....

EdCota
EdCota

This guy is such an ass, it's hilarious. Damn good cook though.

lfh-resident
lfh-resident

What I would give for a true vegetarian tasting menu. I would be there in a heartbeat, but now I am afraid to ask.

J_A_
J_A_

He's an elitist douche because he wants to do something different? Not everyone wants to eat at Chili's or steakhouses all the time. What's wrong with having options?

cornualonga
cornualonga

His food is awesome. I laughed that he said he dosen't have truffles beacuse that is not them. They are having a truffle themed dinner on August 4.

amuse2
amuse2

Love FT33... Smaller portions are so much better!!!

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

Didn't read the whole article, but I do like the fact he let me know up front not to bother.  Which is cool, I'm fine with being a low brow caveman looking for a steak. 


I get that sometimes you should just leave it to the pros, I'm that way with my tattoo artist.  He's a pro, so I let him make a lot of the decisions and I am happier with his choices than what I would have done.  Maybe this guy thinks the same way.  But I am too old to deal with pretentious assholes. 

dweb823
dweb823

If the mark of a great chef is a potty mouth, this guy is Daniel Boloud.

glovertactical
glovertactical

another elitist douchebag chef? nice, can't wait to try this place!

The_triplefake_Brandon_Eley
The_triplefake_Brandon_Eley

the more i read, the more i changed from "this guy's a prick" to "i really should give it a go."  what can i say?  a fuckit attitude and filthy mouth go a long way in my book.

tdkisok
tdkisok

"I'm sorry, you ordered a fucking chef's tasting menu."


I'm sorry, you are a complete douche bag. 

imrjvm
imrjvm

Another restaurant that won't get my business. But why should he care.

dafnidoyle
dafnidoyle

FT33 was already on my list of restaurants to visit but this bumped it up. Matt sounds awesome. If you don't agree, don't eat at his restaurant. I'm sure he'd prefer that, anyway. 

missgac
missgac

Cool new concept - same old chef jerk attitude

pak152
pak152

oh great another obnoxious chef who thinks he is god's gift to diners

nd68
nd68

If you wonder what "FT" stands for, just read this guy's answers...clearly it means F-Tard. 

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

@Ouch



Wow, basic premise of business! People love to be told that it's this and that, put an egg on it, and other assorted bullshit.....the you treat then like shite, and they are in heaven!  I'd rather cook it myself. 

Honestly
Honestly

@Ouch ANGRY SELF CENTERED PUNK... SO YOU MET THE DILDO, Too?

You couldn't be any more correct. Try John Tesar's restaurant if you want Great food, Interesting warm atmosphere and a Chef with an edge. John is the Real Deal; not just an EGO w/ few interpersonal skills.

MattL11
MattL11

@Ouch Huh? Did you read the same interview I did? I'm absolutely shaking my head at every aspect of this comment. 

notallofeastdallasislakewood
notallofeastdallasislakewood

@lfh-resident My wife is a vegetarian and Matt happily accommodated her during one of his Monday night guest chef dinners.  Just let him know in advance.  Not a big deal.

Honestly
Honestly

He also steals his girlfriends (who works there) recipes and calls them his own... He takes a lot of credit for what "Other People" create. He is a common crook.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

Souper Salad always has a available table and they accept coupons too.

Honestly
Honestly

@dweb823 He kisses his family with that mouth. Simply Horrible & Embarrassing for any adult connected to this jerk.

Honestly
Honestly

@imrjvm It isn't his money... it's Mommy & Daddies $. "So, why should he care", IS RIGHT? He has a full expense paid ticket to be as Big of a DILDO AS POSSIBLE!

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

The best part is he doesn't.

Your table for 1 is ready for you at TGI fridays.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

Hey Fuck Tard.

FT means "fire table".

33 is the chefs table number.

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

@MattL11


Ouch is 100% correct; you people are cowards and throw your money at celebrity chefs and bartenders............"It's just food dude".   And that's Dallas why is easily 20 years behind every other modern city in America. 

Ouch
Ouch

MattL11, If you can't sense the self-importance in this guy's attitude I'm really sorry. "F-this, f-that"?? And throwing plates? Whaaaa!! Baby. He's talking about vegetables, not the next medical breakthrough. He needs to things in perspective. Grill them, steam them, who cares?? Next meal is in 8 hrs.

tdkisok
tdkisok

@Sharon_Moreanus


The customer is always right and a douche bag is a douche bag. Who are you? His publicist? His wife? His girlfriend? His booty call?   lol

MattL11
MattL11

@kergo1spaceship @MattL11 Celebrity chef? He doesn't have a fucking TV show (as far as I know; don't watch that shit). He has a restaurant. A good one, too. 


Some people value the experience of eating at a restaurant that offers a different and exciting twist on food and drink. Obviously some people don't. That's fine. 


Don't get so worked up about it. I'm not nearly persuasive enough, nor do I care enough, to change your mind, and the reverse is most definitely true as well. 

MattL11
MattL11

@Ouch I see. You're easily offended by people you've never met based on your own warped interpretation of their words. Got it. 


My main issue is why you have such a problem with people saying "fuck." Fuck fuck fuck. What's the big deal? It's one of the most versatile and expressive words in the English language.

Honestly
Honestly

@tdkisok His wife is running for her life away from this douche bag & his girlfriend works at the dumb place. He has a couple girls dangling around by the sides, for the Ego Boost.

brad359
brad359

@tdkisok The customer is not always right. You go to the place to have the experience it offers. You read the menu, you inquire if you have questions, you let the chef demonstrate his skill and deliver the meal that has undergone a tremendous amount of planning and preparation.
Enjoy - or not. That's it.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

Wouldn't you like to know. His publicist is Wagstaff Worldwide.. I'm not his wife, Iris or his daughter Ella. He doesn't have a girlfriend or time for a BC since he's always working.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

The customer isn't always right, but they sure do have all the answers.

EdCota
EdCota

Are you his mom? Fangirl? 

Honestly
Honestly

@EdCota One of his EGO Boosts...(no doubt.) He keeps several hanging around. Just Gross.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

Not his mom...but if I was...I'd be very proud.

Speaking of fangirl...most chefs could use one in the hot kitchen.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...