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My Passion: Dean Fearing

The celebrity chef finds similarities between guitars and the restaurant business.
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Celebrity Chef Dean Fearing grew up listening to the classic crooners and rock ‘n rollers that his parents played—the sounds of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Elvis Presley. But he wasn’t truly inspired by music until he saw The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. “I think that changed my whole life,” Fearing says. His passion for playing the guitar formed soon after, at age 14. Crosby, Stills & Nash dropped their first album in 1969 and, within days of hearing it, Fearing went down to the guitar store, bought a Yamaha guitar, and began teaching himself how to play. “I want to be like Steven Stills,” he remembers thinking. The Kentucky native’s love for guitars followed him throughout culinary school, his 20 years as executive chef at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, and through the opening of his independent venture, Fearing’s Restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas, in 2007. Fearing, 61, now balances playing in two bands while running an award-winning restaurant. He plays in the Lost Coyote Band, a Dallas-based rock and roll group, as well as The Barbwires, an all-chef alternative country band formed by Fearing and his long-time pal, Robert del Grande, executive chef and owner of Café Annie in Houston.

When we eat a great dinner, I think we all play better.

Dean Fearing, Fearing’s Restaurant
Fearing applies many of the skills he has acquired through music to his professional life. “Both start off with a blank slate,” he says. “In the restaurant, I call it starting off with an empty plate, and then we build on it. It’s the same with music. We start off with not knowing the song, then we learn the song, practice it, and then when we play it, people go, ‘Wow, that was pretty good.’” Fearing’s increasing success has given him the financial freedom to splurge on his growing collection of vintage guitars. “I might have a problem,” he says. “When you become a musician and you become a collector on top of it, the two probably don’t mix too well. I am always looking for the next guitar.” With the wear on his pocketbook, he sometimes has to convince himself that his guitars are an investment. And some are a bigger investment than others, especially the older ones. “The pricing is ridiculous,” Fearing says. “If you find one that is in great condition, it’ll cost you an arm and a leg.” Fearing’s collection includes more than 40 vintage guitars. About a third are acoustic guitars and two thirds are electric. The fact that the International Guitar Show is in Dallas has only helped his collection grow. His favorites include a 1951 Fender Broadcaster, which was one of the first electric guitars by Leo Fender, and a 1935 Martin D-28, the “the holy grail of acoustics,” Fearing says. “It’s amazing to me that someone back in 1951 put together a guitar, and here it is in 2016, still playing like there’s no tomorrow.” Fearing insists that his groups are the two best eating and drinking bands in Texas. When they meet to practice, Fearing usually whips up curry or spaghetti, or grills some barbeque chicken, and pairs the meal with a selection of wine. “I love the fact that food inspires music,” he says. “When we eat a great dinner, I think we all play better.” Fearing doesn’t set the bar too high for his shows. His favorite performances are those at which he remembers all of the words. “It is the best feeling in the whole world,” Fearing says. “I mean, you think you know the words to a song, but get up on stage and see how many you really remember.” And when all members of the band are in sync, and “everybody is on the same level of playing, it truly is the best feeling,” he says. Even though the creative processes for making music and food are similar, at the end of the day Fearing tries to keep the two parts of his life separate. “When I’m in my food world, I think food. And when I’m in my guitar world, I think songs,” he says. But above all, Fearing’s business is the top priority. “The band revolves around work,” he says. “Work comes first. At least for right now.”  

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