Is this not great? Am I not the luckiest man in the world?! — Chef John Tesar
Tonight, the much anticipated Spoon opens up in Preston Center. I got the opportunity to chat with Chef John Tesar about the place a couple nights before it opened, which also happened to be the night his season of Top Chef premiered. Needless to say, it’s an exciting time for “Dallas’ Most Hated Chef.” Anyway, here’s how it all went down. As you might expect, he had plenty to say. Head alllll the way down to the bottom of this page for a slideshow of images from Spoon.
So I know I’m not supposed to ask you about Top Chef. But…will you be watching it tonight?
My wife’s probably going to TiVo it, I’ll catch up to it, I mean I was there, I don’t need to watch it.
Yeah, but what about how it’s edited?!?
I think I know exactly how it was edited. And the early previews—I’m not going to talk about it. I just hope everybody watches it and enjoys it because I think it’s one of the best seasons ever. You’ll see why in a couple of episodes.
So Spoon is finally YOUR restaurant.
And my partner’s, [Brad Woy]. It’s our restaurant. He came to me a while back at the Commissary and asked if I wanted to borrow money to expand the Commissary concept and I said no. So he goes, ‘why are you flipping burgers when you could be doing your own thing?’ Well be my partner. Three weeks later he came back and said “What’s your vision?” Everything happens for a reason.
[leans forward toward the voice recorder to make this point]
And everyone in Dallas always jumps on a blog and has something to say but sometimes it always works out better if you keep paying attention. Remember, people didn’t like SMOKE at first but now it’s one of the best restaurants in the country.
There are a lot of folks running around in here in suits. Who the heck are all these people?
Some of them work for my business partner. [Gestures toward the hostess stand] These are our hostesses, they’re dressed like that [in suits] because we’re fine dining. Chris Thompson is the manager. Sabrina Snoderly is our sommelier.
What on the menu are you most excited for people to try?
I’m just excited for them to try the restaurant. You can come here and get the freshest fish in town, hopefully in the state. And probably some of the most creative seafood that’s out there. The local purveyors are nice guys, but they can’t can’t get geoduck, med mussels, or halibut from Alaska. Everybody claims to be “farm to table” even though the Fresh Point truck pulls into their backyard every day. We can’t lie; I can’t buy fish from Sysco like this. Instead of “sustainable,” we call it “responsible.” And that’s what’s going to make us different.
These place settings are pretty nice. Do you think people are gonna try to steal them?
That’s Matt McCallister’s problem.
But there’s quite a lot of stuff on the tables. Cute stuff. Do you think people are gonna try to steal anything?
Our menu ideas probably. That’s a compliment.
Do you think there will be a menu favorite? Something people will have and say, “OMG I had this at Spoon and it’s incredible.”
The king crab. It’s right from the guys from Deadliest Catch. The quality of that crab is going to blow them away.
Tell me about the setup and design of the space.
There’s a Kitchen counter, a Chef’s counter, Chef’s table, the dining room, and then the raw bar and bar. There are multiple experiences here.
Who would you most like to sit at your chef’s table? Who would you most like to impress?
I always love cooking for other chefs, because then it’s not a competition because they understand what we do. They’re probably the best judge of when something’s good, so I always love cooking for industry people and friends. The first people I had in here, I did a tasting menu for Teach [Tei An’s chef Teiichi Sakurai] and his wife.
Tell me about this lobster chili. That’s sounds interesting.
The national dish of Singapore is chili crab. They hack up a crab and sauté it with chilis and hot oil garlic, then they put it in this chili sauce and serve it with steamed buns. I went to Mark Forgione’s restaurant in New York and he did it with lobster and I fell in love with the dish. So I thought Texas toast is a nice addition given we’re in Texas. It’s pan roasted lobster in that chili sauce and you eat the lobster first and then soak up the sauce with the bread. It’s like old school lobster thermidor or a pan roast.
Do you think Spoon will change peoples’ perceptions of you?
I think you and enough people know me enough to know outside the kitchen I’m a pretty easygoing guy. In the kitchen I’m intense. I can’t tell you how that reputation started. A lot were from old girlfriends or employees we were having rifts with. The myth has grown and I kind of enjoy being the bad boy. I work really hard and I want you to come here and say, “John Tesar can cook.”
Spooon has been compared to Le Bernadin. Are you team Ripert or Team Bourdain?
Eric is my idol. A lot of the inspiration for what I do and the dishes and the techniques are from Le Bernadin. They’re done my way, but they are nods to the guys who created them. Pounded Tuna with foie gras is definitely from Le Bernadin. I wouldn’t pinch something from somebody else withtout asking or anything. Those guys know that those dishes are on this menu they respect me and I think you’ll see that this is similar to Le Bernadin. It’s still the best restaurant in the world. Spoon will never be Le Bernadin for many reasons but we’re trying our darndest to be something close.
Or are you really team Hage?
The concept of 2500 square feet and chef-driven came from Sharon Hage. I’ve known Sharon for 20 years. The theme of the restaurant is what I grew up with, what I’ve been doing for the last 35 years, cooking with Moonen and being inspired by Eric and Michael White and L2O(?).
In one tweet, what would you say to the people of Dallas?
Eat great fish. Now. Fancy or simple, it’s here. We have 96 varieties of seafood.
Now gimme a list of some of the fish you have up in here. (Note: I didn’t really ask for that, he just started listing)
Uni, shellfish, lobster, king crab, jumbo lump crab, dungeness crab, swordfish, monkfish, skate, maya prauns, ahi tuna from Hawaii, spiny lobsters, geoducks, two types of oysters…
Spoon is giving Dallas a little Maine, a little Boston, NY, Portland, Seattle, SF, SD all the places where you would go to eat fish. We’re working really hard at it to make it as reasonable as possible and give you lots of options. $8 glass of wine, $2.50 oyster. You can have three of ‘em and a glass of wine and walk out of here for fifteen dollars. Lunch, which we’re going to do before Christmas, will be price-competitive with Hillstone.
Let’s talk about how you’re going to get people to make the jump from eating fish to eating the “interesting parts” of the fish.
I sneak ‘em in, and then when they like it, I tell them what it is. It’s never the star of the show, it’s on the side. Cod sperm tastes like sweetbreads. It’s not some goop on the plate. It’s in a sac, like caviar, and you quickly fry it and it’s creamy and sweetbready, y’know. If you’ve never had it, and I tell you it’s cod sperm you’ll be like, “oh my gahd who would eat that?” But we have an expression around here and it’s like “Just close your eyes and just eat it. If you like it, keep eating. You don’t like it, give it back.”
You’ve got a book in the works, right?
I have no idea when it’s coming out, but it’ll be similar to [Anthony Bourdain’s] Kitchen Confidential in that it’s a journey of a chef, a retrospective of the last 30 years of the restaurant business through my eyes. It’s not at all “I was in the bar, listening to rock music, smoking cocaine, all that.” We’ve all done that.
Let’s talk turkey. What’s being served at your Thanksgiving dinner?
My mother in law is always the greatest host on Thanksgiving. We’ll have country ham, turkey, sweet potatoes, banana pudding, and my wife makes all these great pies.
Are you totally ready to open tomorrow?
Look, I’m giving an interview and people are walking in for dinner already. We work really hard at making it true hospitality. It’s not celebrity chefdom. It’s about you being happy. If people want to want to know what I’m doing or follow me, I still can’t tell you why they do that, but I love it! Nothing’s wrong with that.
What else do you want people to know?
I’m not a jerk. I’m just a passionate, intense, sarcastic and hopefully you think I’m a really great chef. Hate me, love me, I’m John Tesar and after that point, I really don’t care. I’m probably the most blessed and luckiest man in the world right now. I’m on Top Chef 10!
Okay, but first I’m going to take a picture of you.
For you? I love you. Out of all the people I like you the most!
I’m going to make sure I have that on tape.
Spoon Bar & Kitchen | 8220 Westchester Drive | spoonbarandkitchen.com