Stephan Pyles, photographed here at the now-closed Stampede 66.

Celebrity Chefs

Former Alinea Chef Leaves Stephan Pyles’ Fauna

All is not well in Stephan Pyles land.

Anyone who was following the news coming out of Flora Street Café yesterday will be forgiven for having a dizzy feeling this morning. Yesterday, as I was posting about Tim Byres being out as managing director at Flora Street Café, Stephan Pyles’ Arts District restaurant was debuting its new, approachable dinner menu (more on that casualizing here)—around which I was trying to wrap my head, given its wide-armed approach, veering from lamb kofte to ahi tuna ceviche with passion fruit and coconut to a fried squid taco, almond gazpacho, or duck breast with cherries.

Add to this the fact that the general manager and sommelier have recently been replaced: the positions are now filled by Paul Pinnell and Rudy Mikula. And executive chef Cody Sharp has moved on to other kitchens (namely, the new Park Cities restaurant Il Bracco). This was revealed in a Dallas Morning News piece about the whiplash, which I’m not the only one to feel.

But the news that concerned Fauna, Flora Street Café’s 16-seat, tasting-menu restaurant-within-a-restaurant, was the most startling. After just over a month, its executive chef was out, the Dallas Observer reported last night. Diego Fernandez was formerly at Alinea, Grant Achatz’s acclaimed and Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago. He moved to Dallas to take over the gem-like, boutique project which Pyles had trumpeted (more on that from a lengthy conversation here).

However, it seems that Fauna was not drawing the crowds on Tuesday to Thursday nights that had been anticipated. The solution: cut service to Friday and Saturday only (at least until the fall), reduce the executive chef position to part-time, or—and this is where the parting of ways comes in.

Never mind that it might seem improvident to assume that a $150, 12-course tasting menu would thrive immediately in a city where tasting menus are still an emerging part of the general dining culture. (Revolver Taco’s Purepecha room’s Wednesday-Saturday 8-course tastings at $120 began as a Friday and Saturday only venture; Petra and the Beast’s much-lauded tasting menu is exclusive to Saturdays.)

I find these portions of last night’s Dallas Morning News article note-worthy:

Asked if he still feels this intense period of departures and resets at Flora Street is good, Pyles replied: “I feel no different than I did when we talked earlier. I’ve been in the business 35 years and I know what change is. It’s periodic. It’s shattering at some points. And I’ve gotten beyond that. Change is good.”

We brought in a full-time annual salary chef and that doesn’t make sense now. So we both came to the agreement that he would pursue other interests.”

“We pursued several options,” Pyles added, including having Fernandez continue at a reduced salary, “and this is what we agreed on. He’s a talented guy. He’ll do well.”

This is fine for a veteran restaurateur. However, I wonder what conversations occurred, or what considerations failed to be taken, that led to a seasoned owner playing so fast and loose with the career of a chef whose move from Alinea is no small venture. My dizziness stems not only from the immediate changes in the Arts District restaurant, but also what it means for our city that we might attract such chefs and not be able to retain them. It is also noteworthy that one of our veteran celebrity chefs would be the one to make such errors in judgment as he struggles to shift course and steer intelligently into a changing market.

According to the Observer, the parting was “amicable.”

In conclusion, the Fauna executive chef position will be filled by Peter Barlow, who was formerly Flora Street Café’s chef de cuisine. He moved from there to co-found the underground dinner series Niteshade Chef Collaborative, of which he has been sole owner since earlier this year. For a minute (and truly not much more, it seems), Ross Demers, most recently at Beverley’s (so recently, in fact, that he is mentioned in my review of the elegant bistro), was appointed to the position. Barlow will join forces with sous chef Liam Byres (Tim Byres’s son) and sommelier Aaron Benson.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misidentified Peter Barlow’s company, Niteshade Chef Collaborative as Niteshade Chef Collective. It also failed to mention that he is currently sole owner.

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