Jill Bates can’t resist a good glass of wine: Photo by Kim Leeson

Jill Bates can’t resist a good glass of wine: Photo by Kim Leeson

What do all these East Dallas chefs have against cooking shows? We picked the brains of food geniuses who live and work in our neighborhood to learn what else they have in common. Or what they don’t. 

Photo by Kim Leeson

Photo by Kim Leeson

Jill Bates

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I thought, ‘I think I want to cook.’ ”

When neighbor Jill Bates was a 19-year-old student at the University of North Texas, she was trying to nail down a major. “I would cook for my roommate all the time,” Bates says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I thought, ‘I think I want to cook.’ ” Her dad advised her to earn a bachelor’s degree first. She agreed and decided that if she was still interested in cooking after receiving her bachelor’s, then she’d go to cooking school. “And I did, and I was still interested in cooking, so I finally went to cooking school in San Fran,” she says. “Then I got really homesick, plus I was really broke, so I came back to Dallas.” Although she didn’t have a lot of experience with pastries at the time, she walked into The Mansion on Turtle Creek and met Dean Fearing, who spent 20-plus years at The Mansion before he opened Fearing’s Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton in 2007. Bates followed Fearing to The Ritz-Carlton, where she works as the pastry chef.

What first piqued your interest about cooking?
When I was younger, there was always a party in the kitchen. We were always standing around in the kitchen. Everyone was talking and enjoying cocktails. Everyone was just so happy, so I always looked forward to those events.

Which reality TV cooking show do you hate the most?
All of them. I’m not a big fan because these kids come out of school, and they’re like, ‘I’m going to be on ‘Top Chef,’ and I’m like, ‘No, this is not reality.’ At first I watched them because I had friends on them, so it was entertaining. But then I was just like, ‘Why would you want to be around a camp fire, with a stick and a piece of chocolate and something else and try to figure out what else you could come up with?’ Working in a restaurant is stressful enough. I don’t think I’d want to be a Survivor Chef.

What do you think is the worst food trend in Dallas right now?
Somebody just kill the s’more dessert. I can’t stand it. Anything that’s a s’more dessert drives me crazy, and that’s been going on for like 10 years in Dallas. I know everybody is all ‘farm-to-table,’ and that annoys me. Is it really farm-to-table, or are you guys just saying that?

What’s the most essential tool in your kitchen?
You have to have a mixer and a scale.

What’s the best piece of wisdom or advice you’ve received about food/cooking?
I was in California, and I was roundsman at the time. My chef said to me, ‘You just have a knack for desserts.’ She said, ‘You’re really good at it. Master it and perfect it. If you go on this path, you will do very well.’

What is your favorite kitchen item?
When it’s cherry season, we have this awesome cherry-pitting machine. Instead of pitting one cherry at a time, we can de-stem them, throw them in there, and it pits them all at once. I only get to use it seasonally.

What is the least-used thing in your home kitchen?
I have this beautiful glass cake stand that just sits on my counter. I think I’ve used it twice this year.

What is your ideal comfort food?
Anything one-pot-wonder with braising liquids, like lamb shanks, when it’s cold outside. In the summer, I like fresh heirloom tomatoes with salt, pepper and olive oil. I love to grill steak in the summer. And of course, red wine is definitely my favorite friend. Nothing like a glass of red after a crazy day.

If you could cook for anyone, who would it be and what would you make?
I would definitely cook for Julia Child. What would I make? I have no idea. I’d try to make her the perfect soufflé. A savory soufflé because she’d appreciate that. She’d probably be the only person who would appreciate that. I’ve met her. I met her a couple of times when we were at The Mansion, and she was a fun lady. And hilarious.

Opposite question: If you could have a meal prepared by anyone, who would you have cook for you?
Same thing. Because it would be killer. I’d probably want her to make me something like coq au vin out of her French cookbook. But actually, I wouldn’t care; I’d love it. She could put anything in front of me. You know who else I’d like to cook me a meal? My grandmother. If they could get together and cook me a meal, I’d really be happy with that.

It’s your birthday and you are stuck in the neighborhood. What would you like to do?
I’d probably go to the FOE [Fraternal Order of Eagles]. I’d probably go swim for a bit and have drinks by the pool. Probably have dinner at the Seafood Joint because it’s BYOB, and then finish up with wine at Times Ten. There’s got to be a cocktail in there, but I love wine. I’d definitely like to be outside.

What is your favorite local wine?
Times Ten. I love those guys.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever cooked?
Oh man, we tried to make a vegan cheesecake. So we tried to use tofu, and it was awful. I also had to make a cherry cobbler for this football party. So, I’m trying to do this on the fly, and I don’t have the right flour, so I’m using rice flour. I was so embarrassed. It’s so bad; you just have to laugh.

What is the strangest thing that has ever given you inspiration as a cook?
I have dreams a lot about what — like I’ll picture a plate or a design in my head. Sometimes I’ll wake up and go, ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait to put that on a plate today.’ I’ll go write it down immediately. I look at recipes a lot before I go to bed, so that has to be what triggers it.  

—Brittany Nunn

Ivan Pugh proudly shows off his brand new kicthen: Photo by Kim Leeson

Ivan Pugh proudly shows off his brand new kitchen: Photo by Kim Leeson

Ivan Pugh

“I’ve been cooking since I was a little kid.”

Chef Ivan Pugh, who owns Alligator Café in Casa Linda Plaza, has always loved cooking. “I’ve been cooking since I was a little kid,” he says. His passion led him to cook for several big-name Dallas Cowboys, including Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman. He has always enjoyed soul food, he says. These days, he cooks a lot of Italian food at home with his wife, Caterina Costante. He also likes to experiment with flavors and spices.

Which reality TV cooking show do you hate the most?
‘Hell’s Kitchen’ — I hate it. He’s just an abusive jerk.

Are there any that you like?
I like ‘Top Chef.’ That’s probably the one I watch the most. ‘Anne Burrell: Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.’ I get forced to watch some of the cooking shows, just for being married.

What’s the worst food trend in Dallas right now?
The worst food trend — not just in Dallas but in the nation — is the on-the-go food. Every once in a while, sit down and enjoy your food.

What’s the most essential tool in your kitchen?
My Scanpan. I cook probably 80 percent of my food on it.

What’s the best piece of wisdom or advice you’ve received about food/ cooking?
‘Cook what you love to eat.’ If I didn’t enjoy the cuisines that I make, there wouldn’t been a passion there.

What is the least-used thing in your home kitchen?
The hamburger patty maker. I think I used it the first day I got it and then realized it was taking way too long. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

What is your ideal comfort food?
It changes, but I would say chicken pot pie. But from scratch. I make a damn good chicken pot pie. That’s something I make when I have friends coming over.

Your wife’s family is coming in for the weekend — what do you cook?
Pasta, salad, good bread. Typically her mom will bring a bunch of Italian baked goods. She’s an amazing baker. I probably cook Italian more than anything while I’m at home. We’ve actually talked about opening an Italian restaurant.

If you could have a meal prepared by anyone, who would you have cook for you?
Paul Prudhomme. I’d let him choose what he wanted to make. He’s really the one who boosted Cajun cooking in this country. He was basically the originator of blackening, which you see everywhere now.

What would you have for your last meal on earth?
A really, really good macaroni and cheese. Ribs, mac  and cheese, and mashed potatoes and gravy. No vegetables because it’d be my last meal, so I wouldn’t need them.

What dish have you created that you’re really proud of?
My crawfish enchilada.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever cooked?
Well, there are two answers to that question: There’s failed recipes, and every chef has a hundred of those. And then there’s the ‘you screwed up and you’re embarrassed about it.’ That’s usually early in your career. One time, I cooked swordfish for like 250 people, and swordfish can become very dry. I believe I grilled it, and I had done several pans of it. After serving about half of it, I tasted one of the pieces, and it was so dry. The bad thing was that it was for Jerry Jones and a bunch of his friends, and nobody ever told me it was bad. I don’t think I’ve cooked swordfish since then. I’ve never been able to get over that. But those are the experiences you learn from.

What is the strangest thing that has ever given you inspiration as a cook?
Probably eating rattlesnake when I was a kid. Having eaten all the weird things in life — that one thing in particular — I realized everything can be eaten.

—Brittany Nunn

Megan Foley whips up a bite to eat: Photo by Kim Leeson

Megan Foley whips up a bite to eat: Photo by Kim Leeson

Megan Foley

“Eventually the job became a career and a passion. I think it chose me.”

When Megan Foley, the executive chef at HG Sply Co. on Greenville, graduated from high school, she just needed a job. She landed a job as a cook at a small Italian restaurant in Deep Ellum. “I was taking college courses here and there for other things, but I just kept getting sucked back into the kitchen,” she says. “Eventually the job became a career and a passion. I think it chose me.”

Which reality TV cooking show do you hate the most?
I think ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’ I think the contestants are under-qualified, and I think they pick under-qualified chefs so that they can make them look stupid.

What’s your favorite food trend in Dallas right now?
I like the food truck trend. I think that’s cool.

What is a food you love, and what’s the trick to making it perfectly?
I love wild mushrooms. Every summer I go up to Colorado and forage for wild mushrooms, morels being my favorite. I grew up mushroom hunting with my family. We used to travel a lot, and that was our family vacation — hunting mushrooms. The trick is to sauté them in salt and butter. Don’t overdo it.

What’s the strangest request or complaint you’ve received from someone dining at your restaurant?
I have honestly been asked for an eggless omelet. Or, ‘I’m allergic to the color yellow.’ I could probably think of more. People are funny.

What are some things that are always on your grocery list?
Cilantro and scallions.

So do you cook a lot at home?
I do, actually. In general, I enjoy cooking at home.

What is your favorite kitchen item?
A hand-held immersion blender.

What is the least-used thing in your home kitchen?
The microwave.

What would you have for your last meal?
Morel mushrooms. Back to that again. As a hobby, I really enjoy going up to the mountains to forage mushrooms. It reminds me of my dad. And they’re the most delicious things ever.

It’s your birthday and you are stuck in the neighborhood. What would you like to do?
Probably just meet some friends at the Truck Yard. Just catch up, grab drinks, have a bite.

Is there something you don’t enjoy cooking?
I can’t stand cooking pig heads. I’m not squeamish about anything, but cleaning a pig head … it’s just gross.

What is the strangest thing that has ever given you inspiration as a cook?
A Styrofoam cooler. I MacGyvered a cold smoker out of a Styrofoam cooler.

You just received a $1,000 bonus and two consecutive days off. What’s on the agenda?
I’d go to the lake house, and I’d buy some good steaks. My in-laws have a lake house. It’s a really nice house, and every once in a while I get some time off and I get to go out and enjoy it. I’d go fishing.

—Brittany Nunn

Justin Holt: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Justin Holt: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Justin Holt

“Do it to the best of your ability, and then go further.”

Justin Holt, originally from Paris, Texas, but now an East Dallas resident, began his culinary career at Nonna. He then worked at Lucia for two years, and he made a big impression on Oak Cliff with his pop-up ramen shops at Ten Bells Tavern. After a stint running the kitchen at Driftwood, he has returned to Lucia as co-sous chef.

What is in your fridge right now?
Leftover Chinese food, tare [Japanese soy basting sauce] from my last ramen pop-up, Champagne, and beer and butter.

What are your staple groceries at home?
I don’t cook enough at home enough to have staple groceries. You go to the store for a reason. I don’t go to the grocery store to shop for a week.

What is your favorite kitchen item?
My pasta extruder.

What’s that?
It’s like this big clunky piece of equipment that mixes dough and pushes out pasta that has this texture that’s similar to dried pasta, but it’s fresh pasta.

What is the least-used thing in your home kitchen?
Microwave.

What is your ideal comfort food?
Ramen.

If you had to eat the same lunch every day for the rest of your life, but it could be anything in the world, what would it be?
I don’t eat lunch. This is lunch, energy drink and cigarettes.

What is your favorite local beer?
The Hammer [Peticolas Velvet Hammer].

Have you created a dish that you’re really proud of?
No, they’re all works in progress.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever cooked?
I used to sear hamburger patties in a skillet and boil them in beer for my buddies, before I went to [culinary] school. In hindsight, I am sure it was terrible, but at the time, I guess we thought it tasted pretty good.

You’ve just received a $1,000 bonus and two consecutive days off. What’s on the agenda?
Get out of town and go eat somewhere. Spend it all.

What’s on your DVR right now?
I watch like B-movie horror all the time. The worse it is, the better.

What is your favorite major-league sports team?
I don’t watch sports.

What is your opinion of reality TV cooking shows?
They’re caustic. They’re creating a false environment. They’re making all the younger cooks have these false expectations of what they should get and what life as a cook is. People are … not expecting to have to sacrifice anything for the guest and for hospitality as a whole. You’re giving up your life, your social life, to surround yourself with miscreants and all these shady individuals who are just getting off work at midnight.

What’s the best piece of wisdom or advice you’ve received in your career?
Go as hard and as fast as you can. Really push yourself and really leave everything out there. Do it to the best of your ability, and then go further. You’re always setting your own pars. The business will always expect more from you than you can deliver, which is good. That keeps you pushing.

—Rachel Stone

Mike Gibson takes a swig of liquid energy: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Mike Gibson takes a swig of liquid energy: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Mike Gibson

“Don’t chase a paycheck. Work for places you want to work.”

Neighbor Mike Gibson worked at the Dallas Country Club for a year and a half following the Air Force and culinary school. He’d heard about David Uygur’s Lucia, where every two weeks, they break down a whole 350-to-400-pound hog and make it into charcuterie. He wanted every part of that. So he knocked on the back door of the restaurant and offered to “stage,” the culinary tradition of volunteering in a kitchen until a cook has proven himself. “What people don’t know is that every one of his days off, he was working over here for free,” says Gibson’s co-sous chef at Lucia, Justin Holt. Gibson says he was waiting for Uygur to “tell me ‘never come back’ or ‘you have a job.’ ”

What’s in your home fridge right now?
Out-of-date milk, butter, lots of butter, bacon, biscuits and beer.

What is your favorite kitchen item at home?
If I had to answer that question, it would probably be my coffee maker, but I don’t want to answer that question.

What is your ideal comfort food?
Chicken and dumplings.

Your significant other has family coming in for the weekend — what do you cook for them?
Has to be chicken. Her dad doesn’t eat anything but chicken. We roast chicken, and I did a pan-fried chicken before … I got him to eat collard greens for the first time in like a decade, he said. But it’s always chicken.

If you had to eat the same lunch every day for the rest of your life, but it could be anything in the world, what would it be?
Ham sandwich. It’s got to be the spiral-cut ham with white bread.

Mayo?
No mayo, just really good ham.

What is your favorite local beer?
That’s tough. My favorite beer is Lone Star … I’m being serious.

What is the worst thing you’ve ever cooked?
Back in college, we used to eat a lot of brisket, and it’s college, so you’re always broke. Sometimes all the meat from the brisket would be gone, and we would eat brisket-fat sandwich.

You just received a $1,000 bonus and two consecutive days off. What’s on the agenda?
I could easily spend it all in two days [in restaurants] and Underberg [herbal bitters].

What’s on your DVR?
‘SportsCenter’

What is your favorite major-league sports team?
The Texas Rangers … although not this year.

What is your Starbucks order?
Oh, I don’t know. Have you ever heard of Green Beans Coffee? [Editor’s note: This is a coffee shop chain that serves military bases.] They have a drink called the M.O.A.C., mother of all coffees, and it’s a black coffee with four shots of espresso.

What is the best advice you’ve received in your culinary career?
So far in my career, it’s a sous chef at the club who told me, ‘Don’t chase a paycheck.’ Work for places you want to work. Don’t go for the money.

—Rachel Stone

Roger Kaplan shows off mad grilling skills (and balance) while standing on his boat at White Rock Lake: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Roger Kaplan shows off mad grilling skills (and balance) while standing on his boat at White Rock Lake: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Roger Kaplan

“All good food is science and art and a certain amount of technology.”

You probably wouldn’t know it if you ran into him at our local Asian grocery store, but Roger Kaplan is a kitchen legend. In the ’80s and ’90s he was a quintessential celebrity chef, sporting wild, curly hair and appearing in classic cooking programs such as “Great Chefs, Great Cities” and numerous news shows, magazine features and cookbooks. He attended the Culinary Institute of America; landed the pastry chef post at The Ritz in D.C.; launched the iconic Old Ebbitt Grill near the White House as executive sous chef and later executive chef; and opened Atlanta’s City Grill, which, as owner and chef, he molded into a five-star, Beard-award-winning establishment. Later he worked as a corporate chef to some 50 restaurants, training, consulting and creating menus for companies across the country. He joined Boston Market in the business’s infancy (“they were making real food, good food, and were like little gourmet grocery stores at the time,” he says), learning all about the manufacturing of food, before taking a position with Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in Dallas, where he turned his attention to front-of-the-house operations, rounding out his knowledge of the industry. Today Kaplan works mostly behind the scenes, owning shares in multiple restaurants and creating menus and advising restaurateurs through his company Restaurant Innovations. Much of his gastronomic alchemy occurs inside his White Rock-area home’s kitchen.

What’s in your refrigerator right now?
Some products for restaurants I work with but that I cannot mention [there are confidentiality agreements with some of the restaurants he consults]. Ten to 12 hot sauces. Some things from my garden — herbs — cider, beer, homemade pastrami, prosciutto, cheeses, avocado.

What type of beer?
Negro Modelo, Fireman 4, Lawnmower.

What are the essentials that you must always have on hand?
Extra virgin olive oil, garlic, shallots, fresh herbs, vinegars, citrus — lemon, limes, grapefruit — for flavor, a whole library of spices and grains, lentils, flax, hemp. I am into making vegetable protein shakes right now, in the interest of health. My wife, Carolyn, and I have started working out at Peak Zone Fitness in East Dallas. I’ve lost about 15 pounds. She had cancer [years ago] — lost a lot of weight, put on a lot of weight. She is in the best shape ever now. We love it. We force each other to work out and eat right. I am also making protein bars.

Where do you buy your groceries?
I am all over the Asian markets. I love La Michoacana meat market — there’s one right up the street on Greenville. Sometimes Central Market or Whole Foods, depending on what I’m doing. I also like the Herb Mart — in Medallion Center — for hemp seeds and hearts, chocolate hibiscus. It is great.

OK, you’re into health food now, but what’s your go-to comfort food?
Well, any old chef will tell you all good food is comfort food. You can see it in trends around Dallas that we keep veering back to comfort food — you’ve got the Blind Butcher, sausages, steak, potatoes, mac and cheese is back. All humans are driven by salt, sugar and lipids. That is why we want potato chips. That is why we want ice cream for dessert — sweet and fat. For me, what are the ultimate comfort foods? Soup dumplings, onigiri, which is a Japanese food —triangle-shaped rice with fish or plumbs in them — they are the most comforting thing. In fact, when we came back on the plane, we brought them with us so we could avoid the airplane food. We also like mashed potatoes, pizza …

Favorite pizza place around here?
We probably eat at Grimaldi’s [Shops at Park Lane] more often than anywhere else. They seem to be more consistent with the type of pizza I grew up on, up north.

What’s your most essential gadget in your home kitchen?
Right now, other than a stove, it is my Anova re-thermalizer. This is a sous vide pressure cooker. [Sous vide works by regulating the temperature of water so that the food cooks very slowly. The water is held at the same precise temperature until the food is cooked through, and allows the inside and outside to cook together].

Favorite neighborhood restaurant?
We love Latin Deli. The Lomo Saltado sandwich, Cuban sandwich, red chicken salad. It is a staple for my wife, Carolyn, and me. Our place. We’ll go there all the time.

Cooking shows. Do you watch them?
I used to when they were about food. The shows now are not teaching. They are about celebrities now. If I had to watch, it would be Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives because I like hearing the guys in the diner talk about their food, their waffles and ice cream, comfort food. And don’t get me started on Paula Deen, who’s diabetic and telling people to eat blubber …

The ones where they are screaming? That’s not a good method of teaching?
No. Those upset me the most. Just perpetuating a stereotype. Yeah, it’s a hot environment and busy and frustrating, and tempers can flare, but usually when someone is reacting like that it is because they are blaming themselves for something, seeing themselves in the guy they’re yelling at. The walk-in [the big refrigerator in a restaurant] is a great place for a reprimand for someone who needs his butt kicked, but in public, that’s where you compliment.

What country would you travel to just for the food?
Peru. Lima is a hotspot. I want to get there and try the markets, restaurants, see what’s happening at the farm.

Family/friends are coming for dinner without much notice — what do you make for them?
It’s mostly going to be what I have in my refrigerator. But I do have a lot of food here in the two refrigerators — I’ve got a fridge out back filled with ingredients for work recipes. But maybe I make smoked-brisket burritos; there’s always something fun you can throw together. If I know they like something specifically, I’ll make that, even if I have to run up to the store.

Do you entertain at home a lot?
No, but we did have my daughter’s wedding here.

What did you serve there?
It was very eclectic — we had vegetarian food, Mediterranean, shrimp, short ribs … the band played in the corner. The wedding cake was a cupcake wedding tier cake that I did not make. It was very good.

Where was the cake from?
Crème De La Cookie. It’s in Preston-Royal and Snider Plaza.

Have you ever had to cook for a big star who made you nervous?
I have cooked for two presidents and was part of a team that cooked for Queen Elizabeth. I’ve cooked for Bill Cosby, Ted Turner, Jane Fonda … almost all of congress when I was in D.C., but really, they are not the ones who are important, really, to me. The people who I most want to impress is, say, the couple who appreciates food, who worked hard, saved up to go have this one really special meal. They are all important, but that is the most important. I look at it, every single time someone walks into a restaurant, that I don’t know what’s going on in their life, and meals are a covenant. As restaurateurs we should be giving the best quality food and the best service. Making sure this person has the most awesome time. When people go into the restaurant they should only have to make two decisions. What am I drinking? What am I eating? Anytime you involve them in any other part of the process — do you need me to move this plate? Or they have to get the waiter’s attention for another drink — that’s a failure to me.

What presidents, and what did you serve the presidents and the queen?
There was Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan — I served Reagan a bomb. Haha. An ice cream bomb. That is when I was the pastry chef at Ritz. Also, I had to taste it before he could eat it. The Secret Service said, ‘Did you make this?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And they said, ‘We need you to taste it.’ Jimmy Carter, that was for a dinner to raise money for Habitat for Humanity when I was in Atlanta — I cooked alongside Alice Waters and Stephan Pyles. And Queen Elizabeth, I was part of a big team of chefs with Dean Fearing. I really don’t remember the exact meal. I do remember Bill Cosby dragging a bartender into the kitchen to show her how to make a proper cappuccino.

Chef or mentor whom you would want to cook for you (alive or not)?
Probably Ferran Adrià. He is a Spanish chef and the father of molecular gastronomy and innovative cooking.

Cooking disasters you care to confess?
Oh, there are a lot. I mean, most great things happen because no one would think of it, and a lot of times getting to the point of the brilliant idea, you wind up with a lot of bad tastes. There was a rosemary chicken — it would have been fine, but it was cooked in air in altitude and that made the rosemary stronger, and when it came out, it was medicinal. All good food is science and art and a certain amount of technology. Stand at the center and some crazy-great stuff comes of that. Perfecting a sauce can take six months, and it’s as simple as adding a small percent each day until you find it can’t get any better. It is a misnomer that baking is precise and cooking is not precise; everything is a ratio.

What is the perfect ratio of a sandwich?
In a good sandwich, everything is properly rationed by weight. Ratio of the burger to the bun to the crunchy goodies like the lettuce and fresh things, to the sauce, to the cheese. That proper ratio, when it’s met, is really good. When it’s not, it’s an OK burger or sandwich. It has to do with everything — the texture of the bun, all the way in. Precision. Ideally you don’t use volume measurements at all; everything, almost everything, would be by weight.

—Christina Hughes Babb

Questions and answers have been edited for brevity 


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