Yesterday I had the chance to tag along for legendary Dallas chef Dean Fearing’s surprise visit to The Centurion Lounge at DFW. He has a phenomenal personality and knows how to work a room and, by the end of his visit, was seemingly best friends with everyone in the lounge and had personally invited each guest to visit him at Fearing’s at the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas.
Amidst the hubbub of the visit, it was cool seeing him run back to the kitchen and hop on the line when he had a few more of his Granny Fearing’s Cheese Balls coming out to make sure there were enough crackers for everyone.
Interviewing Chef Dean Fearing
Throughout the visit, I had the chance to catch up with Chef Fearing about travel, food, and (his admitted obsession) his prized guitar collection.
You’re known as the ‘Father of Southwestern Cuisine’, how have you incorporated those flavors into the menu at The DFW Centurion Lounge?
“The big and bold flavors of Texas are incorporated throughout the menus at the Centurion Lounge at DFW. I think that is what our American Express Card Members have enjoyed about the lounge; the local flavors that are different from other parts of the country.”
One of your philosophies is making sure everything “eats well on the plate” and that everything needs to be “appropriate to the cuisine”, how does that translate into an airline lounge at a busy international airport?
“We stay true with the Texas flavors instead of trying to incorporate other cuisines on the same buffet line.”
It’s the holiday season, a time when friends and families gather together, usually around a table. What was your favorite holiday dish growing up in eastern Kentucky?
“Roast Ham with a Pineapple Mustard Glaze, Mashed Potatoes, and Green Beans was always a family holiday favorite. But, of course, it always ended with a great dessert which was a Coconut Cream Pie.”
Moving to travel, your cooking has been described as “honest” and true to the ingredients. What do you think about mass-produced airline food?
“Being an airline food consultant for 28 years, I saw how you can make good mass-produced food. I think it’s important that the thought process from start to finish is that you want a great product for the customer sitting on the plane.”
How does the human palate change in the air? What would be on your in-flight menu?
“I have never found any change between air versus ground, but how the food has to be assembled in the air is definitely different than being on the ground. My in-flight meny would consist of a great flavored soup, a healthy salad, and braised cooked items. That would assure the customer of great consistency in flavor. Of course, a warm cookie made on board would be the perfect way to end the meal and the smell of cookies cooking on board is irresistible.”
As more and more people are open to Destination Eating as a hobby, what’s an off-the-tourist-track city you’re excited to eat in for 2019?
“Austin, Texas, is the new booming food city with lots of small neighborhood restaurants run by young chefs serving exciting food. I also think pasta in Rome is making a comeback, of course everyone already goes to Rome but lately I’ve heard from many friends about new pasta restaurants there that I need to go visit!”
What’s a food people are afraid of which you think they should give another shot?
“Indian curry, because some people think the taste is not going to be to their liking. I think it is the next new “IT” food. I find the flavors exciting, because there are so many varieties of curry and the can all be paired with different dishes.”
Now to your true passion, your guitars! What’s your latest acquisition?
“My latest guitar is a 1952 Fender Esquire.”
Are the ’51 Strat and the ’35 D-28 still the prizes of your collection or are you after something else now?
“Yes they are but I have also added a December 1950 Fender Broadcaster, one of the first guitars Leo Fender brought out. I also recently acquired a Shaded Top 1942 D-18, which is a very rare guitar.”
Do you think being a musician makes you more creative on a plate and vice versa?
“Yes, both start with either a blank sheet of paper or an empty plate and build from there.”
Chef Fearing was an absolute gem to be around yesterday and was universally loved by not just the customers at the lounge but by the lounge staff as well (one of whom came in on her day off just to say hello!). My sincere thanks to Chef Fearing for the conversation and I hope everyone enjoys the interview!