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TexChefs2: Rootsy Radical: Matt McCallister

It’s hard to figure out where Texas cooking is headed right now. There are a lot of different trends going on and they have little to do with each other. In fact, sometimes it seems like the chefs in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin arrived here from different planets. In this series, I’ll check out food from some hot Texas chefs and look for clues about the big picture.

Chef Matt McAllister


Chef Matt McCallister served lunch at Springdale Farm in Austin during the Foodways Texas Symposium last month. It was the first time I got a chance to sample the Dallas wunderkind’s cuisine. The salad was made from vegetables and flowers picked minutes ago from plants growing in the urban farm where we were seated. “Roots, leaves, stems, soil,” read the menu description.

I watched as the salads were assembled by McCallister and his volunteer assistants. You sure can’t call this tweezer food–the chef encouraged his helpers not to waste time arranging things, but rather to put the ingredients randomly around the plate. Carrots, kohlrabi and beets were the roots, the leaves included dinosaur kale, chard and lettuce, dill and other herbs were the stems. The soil was an amazing blend of brown powders including sumac (a Middle Eastern ingredient sometimes used in zaatar), cocoa powder, nuts and spices. Olive oil powder was sprinkled here and there among the vegetables–it turned slippery when you reconstituted it in your mouth.

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TexChefs1: Molecular Cowboys: Stephan Pyles and David Gilbert

It’s hard to figure out where Texas cooking is headed right now. There are a lot of different trends going on and they have little to do with each other. In fact, sometimes it seems like the chefs in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin arrived here from different planets. In this series, I’ll check out food from some hot Texas chefs and look for clues about the big picture.

Arctic Char with Bananas and Apple Slice

The title on the menu at the new restaurant in the Elian Hotel in the Hill Country outside of San Antonio reads: “Sustenio, Modern Southwestern Cuisine by Stephan Pyles.” The test tube full of melon puree had a capsule inside that exploded in my mouth as I drank it–it was melon juice. The flavor reminded me it would soon be time for Pecos cantaloupes. The crispy-skinned arctic char with creamy rutabaga puree, freeze-dried banana chunks and a glazed apple slice with a perfect star in the middle was wonderful. Though it brought to mind the question that restaurant critics and chefs in Texas used to grapple with: “What makes this dish ‘Southwestern?'”

read more TexChefs1: Molecular Cowboys: Stephan Pyles and David Gilbert »