For months I’ve semi-religiously stalked Instagram photos posted by FT33’s executive chef Matt McCallister, confident that they represent the sincerest form of culinary artistry that I’ve witnessed in Dallas. The portfolio is filled with images depicting early morning forage expeditions for oyster mushrooms, gastronomic kitchen toys, butchered Berkshire hogs, and plated works of art. Now he’s won Food & Wine‘s 2014 title as the Southwest Region’s best new chef, again.
Monday night, I examined chef McCallister’s artistry for the first time at a five-course tasting dinner, complete with scotch pairings from Pernod-Ricard’s Aberlour Distillery. I must emphatically proclaim that the flavors emanating from each course were as impactful as the visual cues preceding every bite. Ian Logan, who acts as Aberlour’s Global Brand Ambassador, was on hand to narrate as we ventured through tactful draws of single malt, and savory bites of nirvana.
Selecting a favorite dish or pairing is comparable to being asked to name your favorite child. You love them equally, with fondness for each based on individual attributes. Formalities aside, I was particularly intrigued by a play on traditional beef tartare. This rendition, comprised of Wagyu-esque hanger steak, was surely influenced by both Rene Redzepi and Ferran Adriá. Small, pliable egg yolks rested atop a blend of raw steak, fermented onion, edible flowers, gremolata and turnips. Paired with Aberlour 12 year non-chill filtered single malt, the dish somehow embodied a sense of futuristic nostalgia. An elegant opener.
Also impressive was the beef sugo with sautéed wild mushrooms, local kale and house-made tagliardi, topped with shaved Parmesan. Aberlour’s A’bunadh. a 122 proof cask strength single malt that pays homage to Aberlour’s patron founder, was a rough and raucous whisky, but one that stood up to the traditional sugo preparation and the accompanying beef. Liken it to a big Napa Cabernet to a well-marbled rib eye.
Also of particular interest was the rabbit saddle with bloomsdale spinach, Benton’s bacon, lentils, onion and dried fruit paired with a younger, softer Aberlour 16 year. The bacon provided a necessary addition of fat to the hare, which otherwise could have rendered itself dry. The 16 year was much softer and rounder than the previous two examples, lending itself towards notes of raisins, stewed plums, and honey.
The finale consisted of a sorrel sponge cake with tarragon, mint, and a chilled pistachio meringue, reminiscent of pistachio ice cream. An earthy, clever dessert, the cake was perfectly prepared, and the accompaniment of Aberlour’s signature 18 year was the embodiment of symbiosis. A couple destined for each other, the sweet, mossy dessert was accentuated by the toffee, butterscotch and burnt orange flavors of the mature scotch.
Paired with Dallas notables, including chef de cuisine Bradford Hodgkins, pastry chef Maggie Huff, general manager/wine director, Jeff Gregory, and sous chefs Gmo Tristan and Brooks Cameron, Chef McCallister has surrounded himself with talent and class.