My Five Cents: Social Media, Chef Matt McCallister, and FT-33

Matt McCallister readies for his close-up. (Photography by Kevin Marple)

I read Facebook and pay attention to Twitter. Because of this, I know Rick Bayless, the famous chef behind Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, XOCO and other successful Chicago food businesses, is happy it’s fall and his “calamundins [sic] are turning orange and just about ready to pick.”

Facebook has allowed me to follow Matt McCallister on his journey to open FT-33. Along the way, I have gotten to “know” his wife, Iris, and daughter, Ella, and many of their close “real” friends. I am familiar with how Iris likes her coffee and how many miles Matt runs. McCallister’s restaurant, FT-33, is opening tomorrow. If you read food blogs, Facebook, and Twitter you already know this. But I have to ask: Outside of this relatively small circle, how many Dallas and Fort Worth diners are speed dialing for reservations?

Let me be clear: There is no disrespect for Chef McCallister hidden behind my words. I find it fascinating that he has gained much of his fame—some would say hype–through social media. When you look at his bio, it doesn’t appear he’s done as much “gutter time” as other local talents. I’m not saying the man isn’t talented, I’m just saying he is the first Dallas chef to open his first restaurant and potentially benefit from the power of local food blogs and social media.

Stay with me here.

McCallister worked for Stephan Pyles which, from what I understand, is no easy task. Pyles commands perfection and apparently McCallister produced it. McCallister applied for a job at Stephan Pyles with no formal training in 2006 “I didn’t even know how to cook a beurre blanc,” he said. During his 18 months at McCallister moved rapidly through all line cook positions. He was promoted to sous chef in 2007, sous chef in 2008, and was tagged as executive chef in 2009.

I met with Pyles and McCallister in 2010 when they were developing the menu for Fuego, the four-seat space dedicated to “molecular-gastronomy-meets-wood-burning-oven” concept that operated at the bar in Stephan Pyles. They took one part of the kitchen and turned it into a laboratory. The chefs guided me through a series of demonstrations on “cooking” with emulsion blenders, liquid nitrogen, and reverse spherification. McCallister was a highly focused wizard. (Andrew Chalk was with me and he produced several videos with Pyles, McCallister, and Danyele McPherson, currently the execuchef at The Grape)

McCallister left Stephan Pyles, the restaurant (the two chefs remain friends), and traveled to stage in famous kitchens such as McCrady’s in South Carolina, Daniel in New York City, Alinea in Chicago, and The French Laundry in Napa. He developed new techniques and practiced “nose-to-tail” cooking, a concept made famous by Fergus Henderson in 1999 that was in full bloom in larger US cities.

McCallister came back to Dallas and displayed his new skills at Campo Modern Country Bistro in November 2011. Even though the restaurant owners made it clear McCallister was the opening chef and only in the business for the short run, McCallister created a menu that no other chef in Dallas could step in and recreate. About four months after he opened Campo, McCallister split to concentrate on his own gig. And Facebook.

Despite the hire of talented chef Michael Ehlert, who learned whole pig cooking while he was a sous chef at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB in New York, Campo closed in September. Ehlert hasn’t responded to my request to be his Facebook friend so I can’t tell you if he runs or drinks coffee. I can tell you that Iris “stayed at restaurant last night till 3am watching them make changes and all and prep food. Matt and Brady were working till 4am!!” That’s a unique inside look at the tension of opening a restaurant. Pictures and all. It makes me want to go. Now.

But the Facebook and Twitter phenomenon makes me curious. Is Dallas ready for FT-33, the 80-seat restaurant which plans to “introduce diners to unorthodox pairings and innovative modern cuisine?”  I’m game and so are the restaurant’s 967 Facebook fans. I have to wonder if there are another 967 people that will keep the place open for 39 hours a week. It’s going to be a wild ride for sure.

Matt, I hope you are ready for your close-up. You’ve got the stage and a cell phone. Use them both. Hard.

 

 

35 comments on “My Five Cents: Social Media, Chef Matt McCallister, and FT-33

  1. I’m pretty sure that Mcallister work at Stephan Pyles for almost 6 years. And I’m just curious if you’ve actually ever eaten his food? I personally have and think he is an extreme talent that will lend itself well to Dallas.

  2. Nancy, I truthful and insightful article. He may become a superstar but let’s wait and see.

  3. If the preview was anything to go by, this will be pretty exciting. I went on Wednesday and as expected at a preview, not everything was perfect. However it was pretty easy to see how perfection could come about – especially with the discipline and creativity that Matt brings, together with the support of Iris and the very talented cast of characters he has both front and back of house.

  4. Matt has a relatively light, organic following on social media and a passionate base of friends and fans – and no-one would deny that Iris is a formidable promoter and champion of her talented husband (and has created a nifty business of her own in the meantime).

    Dismissing the current opportunity and potential of social media marketing – Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare, Twitter, etc. – is short sighted. As these powerful platforms become more sophisticated in targeting users with content that is relevant to them, new tools and features become available for businesses and brands to better deliver their messages. It’s not all free, and neither should it be.

    Currently, few restaurants feel they have margin for truly sophisticated social media marketing – or they rely on their PR relationship (often understaffed or woefully misinformed on the ever charging nuance of SM marketing) to handle this important marketing pillar. The ones that figure out the balance will reap the exponential rewards of an engaged fan following. This will be come increasingly important as the influence of crowd-sourced critisism – Yelp ratings show up with the pin when you search on iOS6 maps (the new iPhone operating system). A business needs to be aware of their social presence and not neglect reputation management.

    Ummm – I’m hungry…

  5. I could talk with Brad about this all night, preferably with some fine wine involved.

    Some of the busiest restaurants in town do little to no social media (Hello Hillstone, R&D, Bistro 31).

    I’m thirsty.

  6. McCallister has gotten more mentions in D Magazine and SideDish than a number of well-regarded area chefs (including David Uygur, Teiichi Sakurai, Scott Gottlich, Tim Byres, Julian Barsotti, Lanny Lancarte, Abraham Salum, Jeff Harris, Nathan Tate, and Graham Dodds, just to name a few). Whether or not that level of attention is warranted, the fact that D regularly finds McCallister worth writing about shows that he’s much more than a product of a social media clique.

  7. Anyone ever heard of Brent hammer? He is producing some of the greatest dishes in this town and nobody ever talks about him. He is the chef behind a very successful restaurant in town. I would name it but I think you all can work google.

  8. Nancy, I think this article hits the nail on the head. I have been watching how social media is changing our industry. This is a very stimulating conversation and topic.

  9. I also follow Matt McAllister on Facebook, and his wife. I think his “fame” in Dallas–and the interest in his new concept–have been elevated (if not falsely) simply by their presence on Facebook and their friends on Facebook. They are all about self-promotion, but it seems natural – so it’s not always obnoxious. But he and his wife are self promoting machines. He knows what he’s doing. Who are the investors behind FT33? I’d like to know.

  10. Whether or not that level of attention is warranted, the fact that D regularly finds McCallister worth writing about shows that he’s much more than a product of a social media clique. – Scott DFW

    I disagree, Scott. This absolutely shows and confirms that he is simply the product of a social media clique!

  11. Oh boy I was just typing the same response Jonathan. It’s a new day and the chefs mentioned by Scott do not self promote like the McCallisters. They are all over the place. I’m friends with lots of foodies and chefs on Facebook and I tend to go where I feel like I know something about the chef. Not always but when they post photos of food or make me laugh it makes me feel like I want to go there. Weird I guess but being honest. Brad makes sense.

  12. Social media generates press and vice versa. So does getting out there and doing something. The McCallisters get a lot of press for their very worthwhile Chefs for Farmers event. They’re also in a lot of other charitable and other events around town. (As is Pyles and Rathbun and… actually we have a very giving community of chefs. An I haven’t even mentioned Cafe Momentum yet.) I’d suggest that some of the chefs that don’t get as much exposure and want it should step outside their restaurants more. It’s counter-intuitive, but true.

  13. I disagree with Matt as relentless social media promoter. FT33 has 967 fans. that’s nothing! if he is self promoting he’s doing a mediocre job at it :)

    Iris is active, but her posts are as much about her role as his wife as they are promoting the business. She’d post the same volume if Matt was a cook in someone else’s place.

    I think the cause/effect are flipped:

    Matt’s cooking appeals to the group of people who are active in the food e-world. So matt’s hype is not self-created. He is the favorite chef of the Dallasites who read food blogs. Not intentionally…it just kind of happened that way.

    (insert self deprecating joke about TJs internet self promotion here)

    Finally, his dishes back up the hype. You don’t rise in the Pyles ranks that fast if you dont know what you are doing. Fuego was great. His dishes at Campo were some of the best in Dallas recent memory, uniformally praised by critics and diners.

    FT33 won’t be for everyone, but those that are into the concept will love it. Mock service last night was sublime.

  14. Ok honestly don’t know who the heck this guy is, where his restaurant is, what cuisine? Not everyone spends tons of time online on this stuff.

  15. I hope FT33 is works out, not because of McCallister but because of what it us. I thinks McCalister is a great talent in his realm, and he got the chance to shine at Campo but it looks like he did no know how to keep his talent going without hem being present. He might be a talent on his own but left Campo high and dry. In my opinion he had to be grateful he had a chance to open Campo, it got him out there in the media again after.

    I personally hope the best for the place, his wife
    only think about herself and everything it looks like everything she world on is her benefit and Matt is on his own world but he has a talent in cooking and in food that is not known on this town so I hope it works for the progress of the Dallas high end food.

    Love your articles Nancy, friend me on Facebook…

  16. “I’m friends with lots of foodies and chefs on Facebook and I tend to go where I feel like I know something about the chef.” -InsideEdition

    thanks for the laugh, IE. i hang out with foodies too. but, you know…we like to go to places where the food is really, really good. not to places where a douchebag, self promoting, self righteous arrogant chef plays around in the kitchen.

  17. jonfromtjs makes some key points. Again, Matt, Iris and/or FT33 have a VERY light social media presence. Pouncing on them here or inferring there is something nefarious about this is ludicrous.
    Within the engaged food community (“DishBags” and devotees alike), Leslie Brenner has done as much to fan the flames around Matt and the much anticipated opening of FT33.
    It’s also hard to believe that anybody reading this blog has “never heard of Matt McCallister.”
    This restaurant is going to get a lot of attention – it’s a beautiful finish out, there is a great wine list, and Matt is bringing to Dallas something the city had not quite yet seen on the plate. That’s noteworthy. It will be up to the kitchen to deliver and the management of the restaurant to remain attentive – just like any other successful restaurant.
    Uncle Nancy is the master of stirring the pot on a slow news Friday – but really she left us with the question “Is Dallas ready for FT-33, the 80-seat restaurant which plans to “introduce diners to unorthodox pairings and innovative modern cuisine?” I’m game…”
    I ran in to have a drink and take a look – my “douchbag foodie” friends have started to report back. I think it looks and sounds fascinating. I’ll have more to say after I sit down and have a meal. I advise you to do the same.

  18. Why is his food dubbed the likes of which.Dallas has never seen before? Because of the molecular gastronomy bent? What about Anthony Bombaci? How arrogant and insulting! Maybe a WD50-type place doesn’t exist here because Dallas folks won’t support it for the long haul. Or, is his food dubbed out of this world because he says his menu is truly seasonal and “could change up to 12 times a year”? Big deal! Remember Sharon Hage? Hers changed every night! I maintain that if you can’t imagine yourself and coworkers, or you and your family, saying on a random Tuesday…I.m craving FT33…yum…allium custard, let’s go….and enough regular foodies going there every Tues, Wed, and Thurs, after it’s fireworks opening…the place will be shuttered!

  19. Lol. Lecturing ME on cooking techniques or assuming i’m not aware of the genius of Sharon Hage is insulting.
    I was referring to MM’s commitment to a style of intricate plating and flavor deconstruction.
    Now stop all this and go try it for yourself.
    Then go have Bruno’s seasonal tasting menu, and begin a journey of escalating Omakase meals at Tei-An.

  20. I think I will stick to making food and leave you all alone, I work very hard at my craft and I don’t go out of my way to attack others on their vocations. I love everything about a kitchen and cooking to its very core, it drives me to try to manipulate new flavors and test my own boundaries. At the end of the day it is all about delicious food and amazing service housed in a vibrant and fun atmosphere. Thank you to all my haters out there, you drive me to be even better.

  21. Thank you Matt. Well said. For God’s sake, give the man and the restaurant a chance. He has barely unlocked the front door. Personally, I can’t wait to go as I never made it to CampO

  22. Mmm…sounds so good. Can’t remember the last time I was truly craving intricate plating and flavor deconstriction!

  23. Cooking style, Brooke, doesn’t have anything to do with location.

    People like you are why Dallas can’t support quality restaurants. Just saying.

  24. Well, I don’t have a nickel’s worth to say here, except it is good to see someone trying to live their dream.

    My three cents for success in a married/restaurant life:

    1) Don’t let stuff like this change you (Iris, you are delightful on Facebook, be who you are).
    2) Beware the success as much as the failure – everyone will love you, some will want something from you.
    3) Nothing comes before family. Nothing. Work is work, family is precious.

  25. More hating on McCallister at SideDish? Any other city would recognize the man’s incredible talent and be glad to have him locally. This place is such a snake pit.

  26. I am so excited for Matt and Iris and the entire crew. I went last Wednesday and of course the team was working our kinks…that’s what a “mock service” is for…who know what makes a super successful restaurant…
    I sure don’t have the answers. All I know is Matt cares about what he is doing with a passion and although he may not reach the masses with his cuisine, his restaurant is relatively small and doesn’t need to meet everyone’s desires.
    I think if you have great service, great food and a true since of hospitality, you simply give it your all and hope people appreciate it. Good luck to Matt and Iris and I hope people FT33 before judging it.

  27. I’m surprised there’s no mention of Jay Jerrier when it comes to working the social media. Why not take advantage of what’s available? Especially when you have a product that people are really going to love!

  28. I’ve dined at FT33, and was underwhelmed. The food was nice, the service was mediocre, and there was some appalling stuff on display from BOH. (The true shining star of the evening was Ryan Tedder – he was phenomenal, absolutely understand why he won at TexSom.)

    Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to share my experience honestly: the utter maelstrom of fawning love being heaped on FT33 and MM by Brenner, Gubbins, etc. means that anyone who disagrees at this point is going to be deemed a “hater”.

    Yes, despite my experience with molecular “hyperseasonal” cuisine in NYC, Chicago, SF/Napa, and so on… clearly if I don’t agree with the gushing raves, it indicates that I’m why Dallas can’t have nice things.

    The best thing I can say about my experience at FT33 is that everything sure was painfully clever. But mostly I found the menu, service and presentation overwrought and inauthentic. God forbid any of that be said aloud about a Dallas wunderkind.

    Oh, wait; I can say another nice thing. The interiors were lovely. (Our first exterior view was of trash outside the clever “front door no wait that’s the back door” on Hiline. I’m sure the two well-heeled couples who entered the restaurant that way because they hadn’t read Brenner’s heads-up and there is no helpful signage to indicate the real entrance felt like they were a valuable part of the whole scene.)

  29. Pingback: First Glimpse at FT33: Matt McCallister Brings Creativity and Design to Dallas | SideDish