John Tesar's Park Cities shrine to fine seafood Spoon Bar & Kitchen just celebrated its first year in business, and what a long, (sometimes) strange journey it's been.
The once-controversial chef seems to have achieved a Zen-like level of calmness spending night after night serving customers and friends from the small kitchen at Spoon, but he's still got plenty to say on the topics of his former workplace The Mansion on Turtle Creek, and of course, that infamous D Magazine cover that made him a local household name.
Read on for part two of an Eater conversation with Chef Tesar (part one can be found here), and stay tuned for the final installment on
How would you say your life is different now from six years ago when you were cooking at The Mansion?
I'm less scared. In the beginning of this I was frightened and I still am every day because I have to pay my partners back and make money. I worry about the longevity of anything I do because that's important to me now too. I don't have the politics or distractions of a hotel around me anymore, and I know that to be true because I see the effects of it on Bruno [Davaillon, executive chef at The Mansion on Turtle Creek]. I think Bruno is one of the best chefs I've ever met in my life, and I see him going through the same trials and tribulations [that I did]. The Mansion brings you a lot of wonderful things, but it also carries a heavy burden and a lot of distractions.
I kind of felt validated after [doing the menu for] The Cedars Social because I came back to Dallas, rolled up my sleeves and worked and did something totally new. That kind of gave me some confidence again. And then we did The Commissary which I think for me it was something I'd always wanted to do. I think that [cooking burgers via] CVap concept is something I'd like to do again some day, and I think that was maybe a little before its time and we're almost ready for it now that I see what Hopdoddy serves and how popular they are. Texas loves a good hamburger but unfortunately you have to sell a lot of burgers to make money.
I learned a lot about the city, I learned a lot about myself. I have the experience and the grounding here that I don't worry so much about taking risks anymore because I've always been a little ahead of my time. I'm less impulsive but I'm still very driven, passionate and clear about what I want to accomplish and if you take the time to back that up with a concept and hard work, everyone can have that sense of accomplishment. We're social animals, we need that validation.
I'm able to go after something and achieve it because I need it for me, I'm not doing it to impress anyone, I'm doing it because it's kind of in my heart and soul and that's what I feel about this restaurant. It's not the last chapter by any means but right now I could cook here forever. I don't need to go out and conquer the restaurant world and be an entrepreneur. I'd like to make a little more money because it's hard making money with such a small restaurant, but this is like paradise cooking here every night. People come in and sit around the counter, and whether they're friends or fans or haters everyone seems to leave pretty universally [happy].
Looking back on that whole "Most Hated Chef in Dallas" thing two years later, what sort of effect do you think it actually had on you and your career?
I think Nancy [Nichols,D Magazine food & travel editor/critic] did me one of the biggest favors of all time with that. I have tremendous respect for her, she's always a food writer and a journalist first. I think she's wise enough and sarcastic enough and I get it, in the sense that she gave me two opportunities: After that article I was either going to implode and become everything people thought I was on that cover, or I was really that crafty guy who could use something like that to his advantage and make it work for him. And it was a process, it really wasn't something deliberate, it was really something that just happened as a byproduct. I mean, I cooperated with the article and all that, but I had no idea the cover story was going to be "The Most Hated Chef in Dallas."
You haven't lived your life until you walk into Central Market and there's 20 cash registers and at every register there's a D Magazine with your face and "The Most Hated Chef in Dallas" and you're buying your 2 pears and a grape and the kid next to his mother goes 'Mommy, that's that man!' and they look at you and the mother pulls the child away from the line. [laughs] it was totally surreal. It's a cliche but who cares what they're writing about you as long as they're writing about you? I don't know that many other chefs who have been on a major city's number one magazine cover. Good bad or ugly, it still garnered a lot of attention and it made me think, it made me stronger. For me it was a happy moment to be on that cover, I kind of enjoyed it. Everybody else was like, 'Are you ok? Are you angry?' I was like 'Hell no man, this is the greatest thing.' I tried to be on Top Chef for like ten seasons and after that cover they came to me, like 'Hey we want this asshole on our show!'
Stay tuned for the third and final installment of the conversation with John Tesar on Monday.
· John Tesar: "The Most Hated Chef" Talks 1 Year at Spoon [-EDFW-]
· More John Tesar coverage [-EDFW-]