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A Former Dining Critic, a Chef, and a Hospitality Expert Want To Talk To You About Dallas Food

An exciting series of chats with prominent Dallas restaurant experts promises to stir the pot.
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Leslie Brenner, Seth Brammer, and Josh Sutcliff are hosting conversations around food and dining, which they’re calling, quite simply, The Food Talk.

It’s a bit like The Relationship Talk or The Adolescence Talk or simply addressing the elephant in the room. Something that the trio (the former dining critic for the Dallas Morning News, a chef in numerous high-profile Dallas restaurants, and a figure with extensive front-of-house hospitality experience) will do by holding public forums, the first of which will involve Misti Norris and Stephan Pyles in a mediated dialogue.

Since her arrival in 2010, Brenner says she felt “like part of what I wanted … was helping to drive our dining scene forward and promote excellence and help the scene along in its evolution in any small way that I could. And I feel like people always want to have conversations about food.”

In 2015, she hosted a round-table discussion about Southwestern cuisine at the Omni, a meeting of the minds of Stephan Pyles, Graham Dodds, Nick Badovinus, and Tristan Simon. “And people loved talking about it,” she says.

“It’s a conversation that I feel like people just want to have all the time.”

These were the questions floating around the dining scene that Brenner heard repeatedly: “Why do we not win James Beard awards? We have a shortage of skilled labor that’s a serious problem in our restaurants in front of house and back. And we have segments of our community that need jobs … and how could we match this up and find jobs?”

“I feel like I have these conversations with so many people in the restaurant business and with diners, and they really want to see the restaurant scene evolving,” she says.

Meanwhile, Brammer and Sutcliff have been getting people together, holding natural wine pop-ups involving whole roasted goat tacos served in the Wild Detectives’ backyard, or bringing chefs together for dinners on a farm. Momentum, it seemed, was building. Enter The Food Talk, a public forum, where all of these questions might be hashed out.

“The idea of creating a public conversation [based on ideas of] education, pursuit of excellence, social responsibility” is the underpinning, says Brenner.

The trio envisions six talks for the first series, holding them once a month, on Mondays, roughly toward the end of the month. They’ll most likely be held in varying venues, free to the public.

They hope to cover topics that range from the future of food in Dallas to whether tipping has a place in the new dining landscape. The scene, with its intersection of logistics, ethics, labor, and culture, leads to questions from ones about health insurance—”How can we push ourselves towards a future where that’s a given?” Brenner asks—to broader subjects like “How do we cook and eat responsibility in a steak-worshipping town?” “What’s everybody’s responsibility towards educating?” “What should we be eating here, cooking here?”

Talks will be recorded as podcasts for those who cannot attend. The Food Talk website includes a talk line for anyone to offer suggestions for panel speakers or propose questions. “We really want people to feel involved and like they can participate,” Brenner says.

At a time when Dallas is buzzing with food news, it’s all about the greater dining good.

Save the Date:
The first, Dining Out in Dallas, will feature Stephan Pyles and Misti Norris, speaking next Monday, Sept. 23 in the Adolphus Hotel’s Grand Ballroom. (Register here for the free event. Spots were initially sold out, but 50 more were released yesterday, according to Brenner. Hurry.)

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