Those who can create original, innovative concepts are almost guaranteed longevity in the hospitality industry. For decades, Chef Dean Fearing honed his craft and, along with the help of fellow chefs Stephan Pyles and Robert Del Grande, pioneered what Texas and southerners know as Southwest Cuisine. Per Fearing, Southwest Cuisine is “the only true American cuisine.”
I join Fearing on a Friday evening at Fearing’s Uptown Dallas location. We sit outside, hours before a live band is set to perform, kicking off the weekend.
Fearing and I chat about his pre-Fearing beginnings, and how he came to create some of his most famous dishes. Before opening Fearing’s, Fearing worked in The Fairmont Hotel’s Pyramid Room as a seafood cook and The Mansion as a saucier. During his days working in the latter, he began sourcing his ingredients from nearby farmers, which helped him create original, authentic southern flavors.
“My team and I had people in the surrounding areas from whom we’d buy,” Fearing says. “We would buy pheasants, quails, and chuckers from a man south of us here. We had people growing vegetables and we would buy fish from the gulf. I know the whole ‘local’ scene sounds new, but Stephan Pyles and I have been ‘local’ since the early ’80s.”
The creation of innovative concepts is a tradition that has run through Fearing’s bloodline across many generations prior, most notably within his father, who partnered with Kemmons Wilson to launch Holiday Inn out of Memphis, TN.
“My family and I left the little town of Ashland, KY around the time when I was in sixth grade,” Fearing said. “We traveled the Midwest to open up multiple Holiday Inn locations. We lived in St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati, you name it. Every big city in the midwest, we were there.”
After a rather nomadic youth and adolescence, Fearing ventured off to Hyde Park, NY, where he studied at The Culinary Institute of America. Following the completion of his associate degree, Fearing then went off to Cincinnati, where he worked at The Maisonette. The chef for whom Fearing worked quickly noticed his work ethic and recommended that he go to Dallas to work for The Pyramid Room in The Fairmont Hotel.
“The Pyramid Room was the fanciest French restaurant in Dallas in 1978,” Fearing says. “That was a huge statement back then because, at the time, this whole city was filled with French restaurants.”
Like most things during the pre-Fearing’s era, Fearing’s stint at The Pyramid Room came to a quick close after he was convinced to pursue a larger role in a new Dallas restaurant.
“The chef at The Pyramid Room told me ‘there’s a lady named Caroline Hunt who will be opening up a restaurant called The Mansion,'” Fearing says. “I had no idea who Caroline Hunt was, but he told me ‘she’s an oil heiress, and you need to go over there and get that sauce position.’”
Hunt was immediately impressed by Fearing’s experience and work ethic, which led her to him as The Mansion’s saucier.
Fearing stayed at The Mansion for a year, until he decided to open a 54-seat restaurant in Addison called Agnus. He ran Agnus for three years until he was forced to close it, citing the recession of the mid-80s.
Luckily, The Mansion welcomed Fearing back with open arms and the promotion of a lifetime.
“I went back to the Mansion and worked as the Executive Chef,” Fearing says. “I stayed there from 1985 until about 2006.”
After working over 20 years at The Mansion, Fearing decided to bring his ultimate dream to reality and open Fearing’s.
“I partnered with John Goff to open my restaurant,” Fearing says. “He’s a real estate mogul based in Fort Worth. He helped me build my dream.”
At Fearing’s, guest can feast upon a variety of hearty pieces of what Fearing calls “Texas cuisine.”
“It’s an offshoot of Southern cuisine, which Pyles, Del Grande and I started in the ’80s,” Fearing says. “Back then, we called it ‘Southwest cuisine,” but when I opened Fearing’s, I later realized it fits more to Texas than the Southwest as a whole, so I started calling it ‘Texas cuisine.'”
Fearing’s menu consists of a variety of southern classics with his signature spin. One of Fearing’s personal favorite dishes is buffalo soaked in Vermont maple syrup, served over jalapeño grits, along with a butternut squash taquito, a tangle of greens, pico de gallo, and a smoky chili aioli. Recipes like these can be found in Fearing’s cookbook, The Texas Food Bible.
“I love this book,” Fearing says. “This book has long legs. All of these recipes will be good for the generations to come. Texas Cuisine never falls short and it never dies.”
For information regarding menus, hours, and how to make a reservation, visit fearingsrestaurant.com