The view of Downtown Dallas from the top of Reunion Tower is a memorable one, even if one’s company isn’t a world-renowned, Austrian-accented chef. Presented with such an opportunity, I knew this was a chance not to be missed; a dedicated kitchen amateur myself, just the opportunity to ask one of the world’s most famous chefs a few questions could forever change my culinary life. And then I proceeded to ask him about TV and chicken testicles.
Well, at least the chat was fun.
Thanks for taking the time to talk, Chef. It’s been about four years since Five Sixty opened here in Dallas, and since then it’s seemed to thrive. What was it about Dallas that made you think that this is a concept that would work well here?
I used to come here in the 80’s; I did consulting for the Mansion and for the Crescent. And I actually hired Dean (Fearing) at the Mansion, and I did the first restaurant over at the Crescent. And I saw people were really taken by them. people who would come all the time – we were very busy at the Mansion and the Crescent.
So then I thought what should we do here, really? I didn’t want to do Southwestern food like Dean, or Stephen Pyles, or so many others. And then I looked and said, ‘Wow! They have so many steak houses already, so maybe … maybe a little something different’. So I said, I think it might be good to bring this idea to Dallas. And at the beginning, people were a little skeptical. But then they tasted the food, and good food is good food. So it ended up, actually, that this is our most successful Asian restaurant.
Traveling as much as you do all while keeping your pulse on the culinary trends in America must give you some insight on what’s happening across the country today – how has dining culture changed in the past few years?
Well I think the general food movement is happening because we have so many more young talented people now who opened their own small places. You know there’s not a young chef who could open a restaurant like this (Five Sixty) – it would be too expensive; a restaurant on top of a building going around in circles! But I think you rent a space in a warehouse district, it doesn’t cost you that much and you could open a little restaurant. Maybe not with a great wine list, maybe not with great service, but with great food, and the food has become a very big factor now because of television and the internet. Everybody knows about food and people are really into it, whereas years ago if we were to tell somebody we made a brain ravioli, they would say bleh! Now people would say, “Okay, where is it? I want to taste it.”
I mean, I remember a TV show we did with Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods). We did it a few years ago at Chinois. Well, when I opened Chinois I served chicken testicles. We didn’t sell a lot, so I took them off the menu. But when the show aired, we suddenly had people calling saying, “I want to come in and eat chicken testicle!” So now we have it sometimes as a special.
So should someone find themselves with an abundance of chicken testicles, how would you recommend he or she go about preparing them?
We made them tempura fried. They’re like nuggets, and they taste really like a fine moussoline. We soaked it with a cilantro, mint and honey vinaigrette. The texture is like it’s emulsified, so it’s like it’s a dip as you eat a little morsel of tempura. Yeah, it was good.
Would you say that particular example is just evidence that people are becoming more adventurous?
Totally – the young people. There’s two things I think today: The young people have money and they’re willing to spend it. I think a lot of the young people, their food structure today, is so much bigger than young people thirty years ago. You know young people get together, cook at home, try wines, they have outings to go to restaurants, and they Twitter and they email. It has become a whole sport.
And it’s become competitive, too – what were some of the things you took from being a judge on this season of Top Chef?
Unfortunately, that most people want to learn how to cook recipes without knowing the fundamentals. And I think that’s what really happens. That was the backlash of television – well, first I’d say the good part is that so many young smart people have gotten into our profession. The backlash is that nobody wants to take time anymore to learn the profession. Like making an omelet, or like making fried chicken. Like doing something the proper way.
Like a food writer knowing when to properly wrap up an interview?
Yes (smiles). The fundamentals.
Thanks so much for your time, Chef.
It was my pleasure.