My Dallas/Fort Worth
The celebrity chef dishes on Texas cuisine, his love for travel and his favorite DFW restaurants.
A fifth-generation Texan, culinary icon Stephan Pyles got his first taste of the restaurant business at his parents’ West Texas diner, the Big Spring Truck Stop Café. Dozens of restaurants and multiple James Beard awards later, Chef Pyles sat down with us to talk tacos, tamales and why he’s always called Texas home.
You’re hailed as a founding father of Southwestern cuisine. How did this title come to be
In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, it was mostly continental and French, then New American … To do something regional [was] what I learned from the French: Use seasonal, local ingredients and recipes that were drilled into my head at an early age – jalapenos, cilantro, tacos, tamales. Integrating the table I grew up with was the way I cooked then, and it’s the way I cook today.
Did you learn the basics of cooking from your family?
My grandmother was a great cook. The recipe for honeyfried chicken (on the menu at Stampede 66) is hers, but done in a modern style.
Describe your fondest memory from being in the kitchen.
There are several, from being in the Mondavi Winery to working next to Julia [Childs].
One would be from the Truck Stop Café, because everything seemed so massive as a kid. The line cooks and fry cooked seemed so big, and the dining room was classic Texas – the jukebox playing, waitresses with big hair.
What was it like working with Julia Childs?
I was star-struck. Not only was she personable but she was knowledgeable; and she was the first one to say she wasn’t a chef – she was a cook. She taught me fundamental things like how to hold a knife better and how to cut artichokes.
What do you love most about Texas?
I like to say that hospitality was created in the South, but it was perfected in Texas. There’s a great energy and a pioneer spirit here, and the idea that anything’s possible.