Below, a first look at Dallas chef Dean Fearing's new cookbook, The Texas Food Bible. For more, head over to Eater Dallas for an interview with chef Fearing.
Here's Dallas chef Dean Fearing's (Fearing's Restaurant) latest cookbook, The Texas Food Bible: From Legendary Dishes to New Classics. This is Fearing's third cookbook and his attempt to define Texan cuisine. From the intro: "So many people have asked me about Texas ingredients, 'Tex-Mex' cooking, and how I incorporate all of the various 'ethnic' styles to make recipes my own that I began to create my own Texas food bible as a resource for my cooks. It is something we constantly use." And now, with this cookbook, it's something anybody can use.
Texans will recognize this food. It's what a friend of mine refers to as "fancy nacho" cuisine, or what some might call "tablecloth barbecue." (These are not necessarily meant to be derisive terms; this type of food can be very, very good.) It's available across the state in gigantic suburban steakhouses and on brunch menus in upscale neighborhoods. The recipes here could read as a little dated or ubiquitous, maybe, except for one thing: Fearing's the guy who invented and popularized this stuff, first at the Mansion at Turtle Creek and later at the eponymous Fearing's.
For the uninitiated, a sampling of his recipes: Gulf Coast Crab Benedict with Cilantro Hollandaise. Buffalo Tacos with Blue Cheese Dressing and Smoked Chile Aioli. Barbecued Bacon-Wrapped Quail with Jalapeno Ranch. Pork Tenderloin with Watermelon-Jalapeno Glaze. Serve any of these alongside a spicy margarita, up in a martini glass, and you've got a night out in Dallas.
But it wasn't that long ago that this stuff was unheard of. Again, from the intro, Fearing writes, "I vividly remember calling my produce supplier in 1979 and asking for cilantro with his response 'What's that?'" Let that sink in for a second. Fearing says he'd ask his cooks to bring in produce from their home gardens to make up for what his suppliers lacked, until eventually they caught on.
Of course, Fearing wasn't alone in this effort: Dallas chefs Stephen Pyles and Avner Samuel and Houston chef Robert del Grande all helped popularize what they called Southwestern food in the 80s. In the United States of Arugula, David Kamp called their media blitz "the lime-juice-spritzed excitement of the Southwestern dawn."
In any case, as often as this food is copied — to varying degrees of success — Fearing is still the original. And here, you have his definitive takes on Texan classics: Chicken tortilla soup. Green chile chicken enchilada casserole. All manner of deep fried avocado. Peach cobbler. A proper bowl of Texas red. (And if that's not enough for you, he also includes a variation on his chile made the way Bill Cosby likes it.) The recipes will make any Texan living outside the state weep with nostalgia.
Unfortunately, the photography and the layout look a bit like they were inspired by Fearing's heyday in the 80s. A more modern design would have gone a long ways towards introducing him to a new generation. That said, there is a ton of information in here for those who want to learn this style of cooking. The pantry chapter, full of salsas and marinades and mops and glazes, is probably worth the price of the book alone.
The Texas Food Bible: From Legendary Dishes to New Classics was written by Dean Fearing with Judith Choate and Eric Dreyer. Photography by Dave Carlin. It's out April 29 from Grand Central Life & Style (pre-order on Amazon). Take a look: