Along with the New Year came the news that Stephan Pyles was quitting his tenure as one of the most important, influential chefs in Dallas history.
The press release says it in euphemistic terms: Pyles is “transitioning from restaurant ownership to focus on consulting, curated culinary tours and dinners, and license agreements.”
Over the course of the past year, I’ve had occasion to write that Pyles was a shape-shifter, as he did things like reimagine Flora Street Cafe, invent the tasting-room marvel Fauna, and announce that he would be consulting on a retirement home’s culinary end. In the midst of all this peripatetic motion, here, he’s held his cards close to his chest, though we could see, or imagine, it was coming.
Pyles, who played a pivotal role in Southwest cuisine, received more than a few nods from the James Beard foundation, and a long list of chefs–Matt McCallister, Tim Byres, and others–went through his kitchen. He opened Routh Street Cafe, Samar, San Salvaje, Stephan Pyles, and Stampede 66. It’s with this last that we saw the waters begin to become tumultuous last year. The downtown location closed (yes, construction, traffic, but also rumblings of poor sales). Pyles brought on Byres to manage Flora Street Cafe and the whole portfolio, and brunch was short-lived but noteworthy.
I wrote, somewhat baffled, about the licensing deal with the retirement home, and then I delved into Fauna, one of the best concepts I’d seen from Pyles in a long time. That’s thanks in large part to the creative work of chef Peter Barlow and beverage director Aaron Benson. They mesmerized me with their tandem work. Benson left a number of weeks ago, almost immediately after the Best New Restaurants 2019 issue hit stands. (Benson is now at the French Room, where he will be working with Diego Fernandez, who was at Fauna for a short initial stint.) And only a few days ago, Barlow held a New Year’s Eve dinner at Fauna. Within little more than 24 hours, the closure announcement came, then, announcing a same-day, de facto state of things.
I think, though, of those involved. Barlow has Niteshade Collective, his supper club and otherwise underground and/or creative outlet that was, in fact, the underpinning of much of the creativity I saw at Fauna — though the theatricality was upped. In the press release, of course, nothing is said of where and how those involved will land. Nothing is said of the relationships with gardeners and ranchers and farmers, which I wrote about recently, and which may or may not carry over elsewhere. These are the underpinnings, too, when chefs retire.
One question, of course, is where diners will go for their tastes of chiles and masa in Southwestern flavors. Dean Fearing is the current hold-out from the original band of five. But I will be looking for where the talent ends up. And perhaps where that “Shylight” lamp fixture goes, along with the rest of the silken visual theatricality that filled the space. What, in fact will replace Flora Street Cafe, in an Arts District in which the only other fine offering I would recommend is the eternally graceful Tei-An? You see, there is more to it than a mere transition.