He has climbed from personal chef to the stars in the Hamptons to wowing customers at restaurants in New York City, Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas. These jobs led new Lakewood resident JOHN TESAR to his latest role — executive chef at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, a Rosewood Hotel. With his arrival, The Mansion is cooking up some big changes, and Tesar seems more than up to the task.
IS WORKING IN DALLAS DIFFERENT THAN CREATING DISHES FOR PEOPLE AT THE MANDALAY BAY RESORT IN LAS VEGAS OR YOUR RESTAURANTS IN NEW YORK?
Dallas has always had notable chefs, and it’s all kind of coming together. It’s becoming more in vogue, and the real estate boom is even driving it more. Plus, the Super Bowl is coming to Dallas, you have a symphony orchestra and an opera and a theater — it’s not about Dallas of the South anymore; it’s Dallas as a contemporary American city. Dallas is one of the hottest food towns in right now — N9NE steakhouse, Ghostbar, all those places wouldn’t come here if Dallas wasn’t an epicenter, and there are more chefs coming. It’s the Vegas-izing of Dallas. The only thing Dallas doesn’t have is gambling, and I’m sure you can find that in somebody’s basement somewhere.
WHAT’S YOUR CULINARY STYLE?
When you use words like American contemporary cuisine, those are just catchphrases to me. I deal strictly with simplicity and the freshest ingredients. I’m a chef, and you’re paying good money to eat here at The Mansion, so I want to cook it perfectly for you, accent it with local produce. I’m a frustrated artist, and that’s how I release my imagination. When you come here, and I wowed you or satisfied you or gave you something you haven’t tasted before, I get high on that. That drives you to the next day. When you’re not competitive with other chefs, that’s how you know you’ve matured as a chef.
YOU HAD SOME BIG SHOES TO FILL IN YOUR PREDECESSOR, DEAN FEARING. HOW ARE YOU HANDLING THAT?
I was emotionally ready for this job, otherwise I wouldn’t have survived the last few months. The Mansion will give you the ability to be the best you can be. You can come into this environment, and it will give you back what you give it. There’s that joke that you’re only as good as the car you drive, and this is a Bentley. It’s probably one of the top five chef jobs in the world other than owning your own restaurant. I work for top-of-the-line professionals. And the history and tradition of the Hunt family in Dallas — this is the southern White House. I cook for kings and rock stars now.
WHAT KIND OF FEEDBACK ARE YOU RECEIVING FROM THE MANSION’S PATRONS?
There are a couple of people who are resistant to it, but in general the overall response is extremely positive. The people of Dallas are very, very hospitable and very gracious in the way they express their gratitude. If I take you to the office, I have thousands of notes from Mansion customers on the wall, whether it be because I came to their table or helped them out with wine or made a reservation in Las Vegas or just a response to the food.
OF THE DISHES YOU ADDED TO THE MENU, WHICH ARE YOUR FAVORITES?
I enjoy bringing the fresh seafood. There’s a lot of great steak restaurants in this town and a lot of good meat, but people are really embracing that part of the menu. Uni and Maine lobster and diver scallops — we have a concentration of those things. I thought I would be buying all this expensive stuff and hopefully not throwing it out, but I can’t keep it on the shelves.
DO YOU SPEND A LOT OF TIME ON THE DINING ROOM FLOOR?
I do, and it’s very fun, but I’m a chef who likes to stay in the kitchen. I’m more likely to come out after the meal because I want you to know that I’m the guy cooking it.
IN THE HAMPTONS, YOU WERE A PERSONAL CHEF FOR MARIAH CAREY. WHAT DID SHE WANT TO EAT?
Mariah was very health conscious at the time. She loved Italian food. I was her favorite house chef, and when you work for somebody with so much talent like that, just to hear them write a song while you’re cooking breakfast or lunch, that was an amazing experience. Back at that time, Tommy Mottola was the CEO of Sony Music, and you’re cooking for Tommy Mottola. I’ve done lunch with Peal Jam and seen artists develop, and all while preparing a simple lunch or dinner at someone’s house.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON LAKEWOOD?
I just fell in love with the neighborhood. I love the charm of it, and I have a cute little house and pool in the back yard, and my neighbors are really great people. It’s such a convenient neighborhood, too — it takes me eight minutes on a good day to get to the Mansion from my house. It seemed younger, more down to earth, and you get that vibe off of Lower Greenville.
WHAT ARE YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT PICKS?
I eat at The Grape every once in a while. Sharon [Hage]’s in the neighborhood, and York Street’s great. We’re old friends, and we’re actually having a chef date — we’re going to Nana together. She’s probably one of best chefs in Dallas and probably in , and she’s in our little neighborhood. Terilli’s is a fun place, good for drinks and late-night food as well. I found it because they’ll still serve food past 11 o’clock. I can’t tell you about early-night food because I’m still working.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.