He's got the million-dollar smile. Total star-quality and the indisputable culinary chops to back it up. But you won't likely see David Anthony Temple on Top Chef anytime soon. Though its producers have enthusiastically courted the Dallas-fav, owning his own business makes dropping off the face of the earth for the six-week filming all but totally impossible. But, that's Top Chef's loss, because Dallas—and now New Orleans and Hawaii—is privy to our own exclusive dates with that renegade best known as Chef DAT.
Following a brief stint re-opening Mason Bar, DAT is back on his own, focusing on his Underground Dinners project and anxiously anticipating the opening of his own Dallas-based restaurant, Twenty-Seven, slated for early next year. We caught him just as his traveling pantry was about to blow down to New Orleans for a pop-up dinner there, but DAT carved out a few minutes to talk reality TV, Mason Bar and getting more than a million Dallasites on his Underground Dinner list.
So, we were wondering about your quick exit from Mason Bar – you're already smiling, is it something you don't want to talk about?
I'll talk about it.
Is it safe to presume that there's maybe more ... creative control with your Underground Dinners?
Yes. [Laughs. Long pause.] Yes.
I started [Underground Dinners] two and a half years ago and I have full-control. I'm my own boss. I have a lot of employees and I treat them very, very well. We have a lot of clientele and the events are very high-demand and are growing a kind of exclusiveness, which is cool. I'm just passionate about my craft and food, taking the time to make sure it's perfect – looks perfect, hopefully tastes perfect.
I cook food how I like it and how I like it to taste and hope it gets across the point I'm trying to make. Picasso can do a painting that everybody thinks is shit, but hopefully because I take the time and I work really hard people will respect what I do.
With Mason Bar, I didn't have all of those freedoms. Customers would come in and say, "This tastes really good. When's the next Underground Dinner?" And, that kind of helped encourage my leaving. If I need something I can go get it – make it happen right now. It's hard working the chain of command, especially when I'm trying to sell a product. There were some restraints – size of kitchen, size of storage, organizing stuff. It's all part of opening a restaurant.
But, it's all good. I brought in Cable Smith from Atlanta – he's an amazing chef – and the food at Mason Bar is great.
And, since you're focusing on Underground Dinners, they're expanding, right?
My company – Chef DAT, LLC – has expanded to Hawaii and New Orleans. Tomorrow night, I have an Underground Dinner in New Orleans, which happens to be an ? eight and a half hour drive. So, that's what I get to do today. Get down there and in the morning get out and get all my local produce and meat and cook.
I have a traveling pantry and a lot of inventory that goes with me. Linens, napkins – which I wash and fold myself. I do all my own marketing, email correspondence, client setups, reservations, processing and payments, organizing venues, front house and back house manager and of course also the chef. So, it's hard work. Eventually, we'll have to get a buffer between me and my guests. Personal assistant. We're trying to make that happen. It'll be different because my guests call and contact me personally and they know how I talk — "Whazzup dog, what day, calm down, chill, be all good, gotcha taken care of, make it fuckin' badass, make it tasty, Ima take it all out of your hands and make your event perfect, it's all on me now."
It will take some adjustment when I get some help. It will have to be someone the guests can know and really trust.
What can you tell me about the long-awaited Twenty-Seven?
I'll be opening a restaurant in Dallas — it's going to be awhile, probably early next year, and it will be called Twenty-Seven. The only reason it's not running yet is because I took the time away from my company to do Mason Bar. Which I thought would be a great opportunity — and it was, I learned a lot. But, I need my own place. And, that time I took out really hurt me bad. I didn't have one dinner in those two or three months — I thought I'd be able to do both, that was the plan going in. But, we were so slammed [at Mason Bar] it didn't work out. And, I knew I needed to get back to my company and do it right.
So, it's named in honor of all the great musicians and artists who passed away tragically at that age. You've made it — you're on the other side.
I'm 28. I made it. I feel privileged to live longer than Janis Joplin. [Gestures to the bartender] — Can I get a Sazerac around here? Shiiiiiiiit. Got to get my liver ready for N'awlins.
You being tapped for Top Chef?
They're very interested in having me on the show. There have been a lot of discussions and talks. I'm unable to fulfill their needs. They need six weeks where you can't really use your phone or the internet, and it really excludes you from the world. I don't have a restaurant up and running that's willing or able to keep me on the salary. Restaurant owners love it when their chefs are on the show because it helps their restaurant tremendously. So the owners are like, "Sure, Chef, go, goodbye." And, chefs don't have anything to worry about because they're still drawing their paycheck. Someone takes care of the restaurant and the restaurant runs and everything's okay. My restaurant doesn't run if I'm not there.
Occasionally you'll put together a more unconventional Underground Dinner like last year's pimps and hos. Anything like that coming up?
That was the funnest dinner we did. We had Colt 45 on the tables. Free screwdrivers and gin and juice. And, everybody just partied. It was five courses and we just fuckin' partied. I'll do another party like that soon.
But, in general, Underground Dinners are an event. It's a show, it's a big production. A lot of moving parts that have to come together to make it happen. It's about all the senses: taste, smell, hearing, sight, touch. I want them to get all their senses totally fucked, I want them to get off on all their senses. Foods good, also there's great music playing, also the people that sign up are cool as shit.
I like when I hear stories about people who are now best friends that met at my Dinners. I hear that all the time. There's so many of them. It's so cool.
And, for the time being anyone can still get on the list for Underground Dinners, right?
Right now we're leaving it open. We're eventually going to close it down and start charging for it — we've already discussed doing that and I did close it down for a while to make it exclusive, but we opened it back up recently because we're expanding to other markets. So, there's time for Dallas locals to get on the list still. We're at about 3,200 people on the list right now, but I think we should have over a million. Maybe that's just me being crazy, but everyone should get on the list! Everyone needs to know what's going on because what we're doing is really special.
We're going to get, too, where we doing some things that are a little less expensive. Right now, it's about seventy bucks a person, and for what you're getting, you're definitely getting your money's worth. Without. A. Doubt. But, I'm trying to set up a once-a-week dinner, every week, on an off-night, maybe Tuesday, where it's three courses for $45. I want more people to be able to try my food. That was the cool thing about Mason Bar, anybody could walk in any time and just come in and eat.
It'll expose more people, maybe that;s how you'll get the million on your list you deserve.
Exactly. We need to get a street team together and go out and get those million people. Definitely.
[Photo: Chef DAT/Official]