Learning to Cook at Central Market in Dallas With Lou Lambert

D Magazine intern Jessica Melton attended a cooking class by Lou Lambert at Central Market last night. She files this report.

Down-home cooking with a twist is what led a full audience of weekday workers to attend Central Market’s cooking school session on Tuesday, featuring Lou Lambert, owner and chef of Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue, Jo’s, Lambert’s Steaks, Seafood, and Whiskey, and Dutch’s Burgers & Beer.

The experienced Fort Worth chef and author of the newly released Big Ranch, Big City cookbook is on a promotional tour of Central Markets in Texas. Not limited to recipes alone, Lambert’s book shares why he got into cooking on top of the stories behind the recipes.

“I never wanted to throw a bunch of recipes together to say I did a cookbook,” Lambert says. Even the photography in the book shows more than food alone—which let me say, is more than enough to hold the attention of most. It shows Lambert at home in classic, ranch-style Texas scenery where he found his love of cooking.

The end result is more than a compilation of ingredients and instructions, but an explanation of what food means to this local chef. Even the title tells readers where Lambert got his starts—“Big Ranch” from his childhood growing up in West Texas and “Big City” from his time at the Culinary Institute of America and other various cooking experiences including time working with Wolfgang Puck.

Jump for more.This seventh-generation Texan walked into the classroom like a true ranch chef dressed in scuffed work boots, jeans rolled up at the cuff, and an apron to a room full of adults torn between watching Lambert enter the room and flipping through their new copy of Big Ranch, Big City.

His class lasted two and a half hours, but it felt like no time at all as he guided the more than 40 audience members in how to make grilled chicken sausage with Parmesan and sun-dried tomatoes, seafood posole verde with gulf shrimp and crab, salt- and pepper-crusted prime rib of beef with roasted garlic horseradish cream with a wild mushroom ragout, ricotta spinach gratin, and finally griddled lemon pound cake with brandied peaches.

This was an instructional class only, which I was glad for when he started making sausage. He actually started with solid chunks of meat, ground them, then fed them through sausage casing. If you’ve never seen it done before, let me tell you, it isn’t for the faint of heart or easy of stomach.

Despite some scrunched faces through sausage making, the audience stayed attentive through the entire instruction with what I can only assume were involuntary “ooohhsss” and “aahhhhsss.” I can only imagine what despair people outside the classroom were going through smelling the food but not being able to eat it.

Hopefully they weren’t too distraught because the sights and smells of the class can be recreated. The intent of the book, like Lambert’s class, is not only about how to cook food, but where he learned the recipe and an explanation of why it works the way it does.

The pictures alone were more than enough to make my mouth water, but smelling the food was an unearthly experience. To top it all off, Lambert broke down recipes of things I never thought I’d be able to cook—see: anything more complex than toast—and gave me inspiration to try to make sausage from scratch and prime rib at home.

Lambert’s philosophy is simple. “If you can understand how it works then you don’t need a recipe, instead you can use it as more of a guideline.”

Big Ranch, Big City is the first book from Lambert, but this chef has so many dessert recipes that he says a second book—on desserts only—is already in the works.