Matt McCallister And Getting Back To The Land
From rising through the ranks of mentor Stephan Pyles’ restaurant empire (read our coverage of Pyles’ newest venture here) and helming the Stephan Pyles restaurant-in-a-restaurant Fuego to co-founding Chefs for Farmers and his first fine-dining eatery, FT 33 — shorthand for restaurant industry lingo “Fire Table 33” — Dallas’ culinary whiz Matt McCallister is hot. Through it all, the chef-restaurateur has advocated the use of local, seasonal ingredients in cooking. We’re calling it living off the land. And there’s no better place for living off the land than Texas. It’s something Texans have always done.
Recently, McCallister took time out of busy schedule to answer some questions for Cowboys & Indians readers.
Cowboys & Indians: You opened FT33 in late 2012, with great success. The fine-dining restaurant, for those who might not know, serves a local and seasonal Texas menu, but not the meat-and-potatoes kind. In contemporary jargon, it’s locavore. That sense of local and seasonal isn’t new. It’s what many would call living off the land. How did you come to be a champion for living off the land and for farmers, and how did Chefs for Farmers play into the opening of FT33?
Matt McCallister: I have always been a big supporter of hyper seasonal cuisine, and over the years I have developed some great relationships with farmers and purveyors that like to work with my style of “give me what you have and I will create the menu.” Chefs for Farmers was created by my wife and I to become a catalyst for farmers and artisans to be a part of the same event that 30 chefs are a part of. What better marketing for them is that?
C&I: How did you go about selecting your purveyors?
McCallister: I have visited all the farms I get produce from and all the artisans I get product from. I have several people I select pigs from and they range from Berkshire, Red Wattle, Large Blacks, and Mangalitsa. Lamb, eggs, beef, chicken, all have a place on my menu and I have relationships with their producers.
C&I: Not all your ingredients are sourced from farms, others are picked from the ground by your own hands. What are some of the unique ingredients you’ve found foraging in North Texas? Are there any plants you would jump head over heels for if you found them while foraging? What is/are they? What would you make with them?
McCallister: There is a great amount of stuff you can find in the woods in North Texas On my last outing I came back with oyster mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, chickweed, oxalis, and watercress. Throughout the years there are stinging nettles, wild onions, and garlic, morel mushrooms, chanterelle mushrooms, mache, wild spinach, curly dock, sheepshead sorrel, elderflowers, mulberries, muscadine grapes, wood violets. … the list can go on. What I make with them all depends on the bounty of harvest. You will find them on our menu in different applications.
C&I: Do you find that diners are surprised or not surprised by your use of local, seasonal ingredients?
McCallister: If they know me, not really.
If you’re in Dallas, FT33 is a required eating, and not just for dinner. Beginning February 5, FT33 will begin its special Swine & Wine Tuesdays. The new happy hour event with pork-themed bar snacks, including ciccioli — a munchie made from pork fat — with fried pickles and wild onions as well as pork liver mousse with wild oyster mushroom conserva and crostini. The menu will also feature paired beer and wine offerings and Texas Cosmos made with Tito’s handmade vodka and Spruce Goose pinot noir juice with prices ranging from $3 – $10.
1617 Hi Line Dr., Suite 250
Dallas, Texas 75207