Dean Fearing put Southwestern cuisine on the map at The Mansion on Turtle Creek. He's now moving on.
By J.L. Becker
"I don't want anything contrived on the plate, including the garnish."
Legendary chef Dean Fearing is excited about the road ahead. Replanting his downhome roots in a new venture, Fearing will be opening his own eponymous restaurant as early as next summer.
His excitement is congruous with his public persona: an exuberant, guitar-wielding, all-American guy in blue jeans and brightly hued, custom designed Lucchese cowboy boots.
For two decades, Fearing perfected the awardwinning menu at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, cementing his reputation as the "Father of Southwestern Cuisine." Then an opportunity arose...one he just couldn't pass up.
What lured you away from your longtime position at The Mansion?
Denny Alberts (CEO of Fort Worth-based Crescent Real Estate)—whom I've known for nearly 20 years—is a very forward-thinking kind of guy, so when Crescent started to build the Ritz-Carlton Dallas, Denny asked me what I thought about doing a restaurant there. I told him that I'd do it, as long he and I formed a partnership.
The Ritz didn't have a restaurant slated to go into the space?
They did, but when we presented our idea, everyone agreed to join hands on the project. It took a lot of work to redesign the space, but with our talented team of designers, it's coming along beautifully. Crescent is the owner of the development, which will include 70 condos and a 217-room hotel; Ritz-Carlton will manage the property in Uptown Dallas; and I will run Fearing's.
Sounds like a big project...
It certainly is, but when we're finished, Fearing's will be the social gathering spot of the city.
Had Fearing's been the decided name from the start?
Denny Albert had suggested calling it Fearing's, but I wanted to call it Willow. I thought Willow would give the restaurant a southern-oriented, truly Texas feel. Then I Googled "Willow" and found some 2,500 other businesses with the exact same name. After that, we agreed on Fearing's.
What will make Fearing's such a hot spot?
It's going to be a very stimulating restaurant. There will be about seven rooms; each will offer a unique dining experience.
There will be a white tablecloth room with beautiful wooden floors, rich fabrics and light wood panels. We're going to hang art and chandeliers over big wooden tables with a few wingback chairs to accent the space.
The kitchen room will be more casual. Since it will surround the kitchen, you'll feel the action and energy in this room. We're going to use acoustic tiles to keep the noise level under control, but it won't be a quiet room by any means. There will be a limestone floor with rawhide chandeliers. It's going to be a very Texas-feeling room.
Across the hall there will be the glass pavilion, which extends out from the building into the garden. On a beautiful Texas day, we'll be able to open the doors for al fresco dining.
On the patio beside the glass room there will be tables that surround the fountain. Each table will have a water view.
The wine room is for private dining and has floor-to-ceiling wine racks that give a cave du vin feel.
I count only five spaces...
The other two are in the bars. One is inside and the other is outside on the patio opposite the glass house. It will be the only patio bar of its kind in the area. It's huge!
When it comes to patios, how huge is "huge?"
It's going to be about 4,000 square feet. We are going to drop in five-year-old mature trees, so in a couple more years, it's going to look like this patio has been here forever. The foliage will be thick and lush with lots of Texas flowers to give the space color. We will be able to seat 44 diners on the patio plus 44 in the glass house and another 120 in the outdoor bar area.
What about the indoor bar?
It's a classic wooden bar that spills out into the lobby. It connects to the private wine room. It's a very elegant yet approachable space.
And the food?
Taste will be the foremost and utmost item on the menu. As with all my menus, we'll think out the plates, from top to bottom. There will be a philosophy to the menu, a cohesiveness. The flavors will harmonize. I don't want anything contrived on the plate, including the garnish.
Will you stick to your signature southwestern style?
There will be a little touch of everything on the menu, but it will continually evolve. I'll incorporate more seasonal items and move toward more healthful dishes. The menu will run the gamut from simple to cutting edge, from great steaks to smokey grilled fish. It will have a Texas angle, but it will be fresher and more approachable.
As dining out continues to change, Fearing's will lend itself to ride the trend. People eat out more today than they did twenty, ten, even two years ago. In order to keep up, I think a restaurant has to offer different—more stimulating—dining experiences. The menu needs to be varied and offer dishes that you can eat every day while simultaneously offering dishes that are more upscale, more special-occasion meals.
Sounds like you're excited...
Owning my own restaurant is a dream come true! I'm more than excited. Fearing's is a restaurant made of great matter with an interesting look and innumerable influences. Our goal is to be timeless in the sense that this is a living and breathing place.