I read Facebook and pay attention to Twitter. Because of this, I know Rick Bayless, the famous chef behind Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, XOCO and other successful Chicago food businesses, is happy it’s fall and his “calamundins [sic] are turning orange and just about ready to pick.”
Facebook has allowed me to follow Matt McCallister on his journey to open FT-33. Along the way, I have gotten to “know” his wife, Iris, and daughter, Ella, and many of their close “real” friends. I am familiar with how Iris likes her coffee and how many miles Matt runs. McCallister’s restaurant, FT-33, is opening tomorrow. If you read food blogs, Facebook, and Twitter you already know this. But I have to ask: Outside of this relatively small circle, how many Dallas and Fort Worth diners are speed dialing for reservations?
Let me be clear: There is no disrespect for Chef McCallister hidden behind my words. I find it fascinating that he has gained much of his fame—some would say hype–through social media. When you look at his bio, it doesn’t appear he’s done as much “gutter time” as other local talents. I’m not saying the man isn’t talented, I’m just saying he is the first Dallas chef to open his first restaurant and potentially benefit from the power of local food blogs and social media.
Stay with me here.
McCallister worked for Stephan Pyles which, from what I understand, is no easy task. Pyles commands perfection and apparently McCallister produced it. McCallister applied for a job at Stephan Pyles with no formal training in 2006 “I didn’t even know how to cook a beurre blanc,” he said.
During his 18 months at McCallister moved rapidly through all line cook positions. He was promoted to sous chef in 2007, sous chef in 2008, and was tagged as executive chef in 2009.
I met with Pyles and McCallister in 2010 when they were developing the menu for Fuego, the four-seat space dedicated to “molecular-gastronomy-meets-wood-burning-oven” concept that operated at the bar in Stephan Pyles. They took one part of the kitchen and turned it into a laboratory. The chefs guided me through a series of demonstrations on “cooking” with emulsion blenders, liquid nitrogen, and reverse spherification. McCallister was a highly focused wizard. (Andrew Chalk was with me and he produced several videos with Pyles, McCallister, and Danyele McPherson, currently the execuchef at The Grape)
McCallister left Stephan Pyles, the restaurant (the two chefs remain friends), and traveled to stage in famous kitchens such as McCrady’s in South Carolina, Daniel in New York City, Alinea in Chicago, and The French Laundry in Napa. He developed new techniques and practiced “nose-to-tail” cooking, a concept made famous by Fergus Henderson in 1999 that was in full bloom in larger US cities.
McCallister came back to Dallas and displayed his new skills at Campo Modern Country Bistro in November 2011. Even though the restaurant owners made it clear McCallister was the opening chef and only in the business for the short run, McCallister created a menu that no other chef in Dallas could step in and recreate. About four months after he opened Campo, McCallister split to concentrate on his own gig. And Facebook.
Despite the hire of talented chef Michael Ehlert, who learned whole pig cooking while he was a sous chef at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB in New York, Campo closed in September. Ehlert hasn’t responded to my request to be his Facebook friend so I can’t tell you if he runs or drinks coffee. I can tell you that Iris “stayed at restaurant last night till 3am watching them make changes and all and prep food. Matt and Brady were working till 4am!!” That’s a unique inside look at the tension of opening a restaurant. Pictures and all. It makes me want to go. Now.
But the Facebook and Twitter phenomenon makes me curious. Is Dallas ready for FT-33, the 80-seat restaurant which plans to “introduce diners to unorthodox pairings and innovative modern cuisine?” I’m game and so are the restaurant’s 967 Facebook fans. I have to wonder if there are another 967 people that will keep the place open for 39 hours a week. It’s going to be a wild ride for sure.
Matt, I hope you are ready for your close-up. You’ve got the stage and a cell phone. Use them both. Hard.