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Even Out of the Kitchen, Matt McCallister Can't Stop Thinking About Food

Welcome to Chef's Day Off, wherein we examine the special spaces chefs inhabit while enjoying that sacred day away from the pass.

[Photos: Sara Kerens/EDFW]

Some folks would recognize Matt McCallister's name — the popular chef is known as much for his foraging savvy as his inventive cuisine. But some of those folks wouldn't recognize the dad standing next to them at perusing tomatoes, balloon-toting daughter in tow, as the same chef whose upcoming venture, FT33, is the talk of the Design District, and Dallas. While that could be blamed on the change in setting — being away from a restaurant environment — McCallister is no less in his element as long as he's thinking about what goes on the plate.

So intrepid photographer Sara Kerens crashed a rare day off, and joined McCallister for a trek to the White Rock Local Market and then back home for the subsequent creative juice tapping, courtesy of the morning's purchases.

You visited White Rock Local Market with your daughter. That's not a weekly event, so do you take her to other markets? Which ones?
I take her to the McKinney farmers Market, Cold Springs Farm CSA in FT Worth, Lemleys, Tassione Farms, Pick your own farms for Peaches. I mainly just try to show her where food comes from and instill that in her at a very young age. I was fortunate to have a 1/8 acre garden since I was 5 and I have always appreciated the seasons of food.

Does shopping for produce feel like work?
No, I love it. My wife won't go to the grocery store with me cause it takes a good hour to get through the produce section at Central Market. That is also a trip my daughter and I take every Sunday. I will let her smell herbs and try fruit, she has a blast as long as it doesn't fall around her nap time. And she has to have a purple balloon.

There's a photo of you writing in a journal. Do you jot down recipes or ideas based on what you got at the market or do you write down a wish-list of things you hope to find?
I am always jotting down ideas, recipes, techniques I want to try, drawing how I want to plate a set (dish), redrawing, it, testing it, then redrawing. I actually brainstorm menus that are two seasons away and look at it everyday and tweak it until the season is here. Sometimes it is funny to look back at the original one because the final executed one is drastically different. I have a lot of ideas that go through my head all day, I am constantly focused of food in a kinda daydream state so if I don't write it down it's gone. I also have very detailed notes of dishes descriptions and all the ingredients and manipulations of them. I might have cauliflower on a dish but manipulate it in eight different ways so I view it as eight different ingredients.

I also have to bring my phone with me when I am running so I can stop and email myself ideas that pop in my head. I am never fully satisfied with a final dish so I am always working on it and when I finally get it close to perfection I change the menu. I live by one motto that I read in a book in the 3rd grade "Good better best, never rest till good is better and better is best."

When you're not at the market or cooking, what do you like to do on days off?
I don't believe in days off. I am always researching and testing, but I run long distance and do Crossfit. Its been a while (2 years) but I am an avid outdoors man and fly fisherman. I also like walking in the woods looking for wild herbs.

How often do you actually get a "day away" now that you're working to open FT33?
Never. I am doing test dinners, and testing concepts myself. Getting bids, finalizing menu ideas, working on employee manuals, finalizing web page, purchasing CGS... Cooking is about 1% of a restaurant ... the most important but the smallest portion. I am always looking for new people to get product from and I finally found a source for Mangalista Hogs..super stoked I am going to go get a 250lb-er, break it down and cure the whole thing for the opening.

Can you tell readers how it's coming along?
Its coming along we start construction soon... I stopped telling people when we will open because that seems to always change.

· FT33 [Official]
· All Matt McCallister Coverage on Eater Dallas [-EDFW-]
· All Chef's Day Off Coverage on Eater Dallas [-EDFW-]