IN THE RAREFIED WORLD OF SUPERCHEFS, Stephan Pyles is a player. The trim, neatly bearded fifth-generation Texan is the creator of two of Dallas’ most lionized restaurants—frontier-sleek Star Canyon and splashy, Caribbean-cool AquaKnox. He has written or coauthored four cookbooks and is the star of his own cooking series on public television. He helped invent Southwestern cuisine and is in demand for lavish charity dinners and cooking classes all over; the big wall-calendar outside his office has notes like “ S.P. in Spain” and “ S.P. in Mexico.” When he has a few spare days to just hang out, he can call up hotshot chef pals like Mark Miller of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe and John Sedlar of Abiquiu in San Francisco. Not bad for a kid who started out rolling tamales at his parents’ Big Spring truck stop.
But being a player is one thing; being a Player with a capital P is another, and six months ago the 45-year-old chef’s already high profile took a decidedly uppercase turn. In March, Carlson Companies—a $20 billion Minneapolis-based group whose subsidiaries own nearly a hundred corporations around the world, including Radisson Hotels and T.G.I. Friday’s—bought Star Canyon and AquaKnox from Pyles and his two partners. The selling price was a secret, though the two sophisticated restaurants are expected to gross $10 million this year. The plan is to take them international, with Carlson providing the wherewithal. Pyles will stay in place as chef at large and mother hen of the expansion and will also generate new concepts, such as a string of Mexican taquerias already on the drawing board. For his part, Pyles seems exhilarated at the new opportunity if a bit exhausted by the negotiations: His face, wreathed in smiles, twitches ever so slightly as we talk. Right now he’s fretting because some customers and a local