Fri August 15, 2014 11:06 am By Patricia Sharpe

Though she has lived in Hawaii for decades now, chef Amy Ferguson was a key figure in the development of the culinary movement known as Southwestern cuisine. 

A style and philosophy of restaurant cooking that emphasized regional Southwestern American and Mexican dishes, combining them in original ways, Southwestern cuisine began in several different states—Texas, New Mexico, and California—in the mid-eighties and in a few years had spread across the country.

Ferguson grew up in Houston and, as a twenty-something, found herself thrust into the spotlight thanks to the popularity of the Southwestern movement. Best known for her work as executive chef at Charley’s 517, a small, clubby Houston restaurant popular with theatergoers, Ferguson found that she was not comfortable with the media attention that she was suddenly receiving as a prominent chef.

She moved from Texas to Hawaii at the height of the Southwestern movement, returning briefly to Dallas to work at Routh Street Cafe and Baby Routh (both Southwestern restaurants) before moving back to Hawaii to pursue a career there. Although she lives on the Big Island, in Hawaii, Ferguson says she’s a still a Texan at heart.

Were you interested in food from an early age, or did that come later?

I grew up in a house that was devoid of “gourmet” food, but I found the “Larousse Gastronomique,” which is a French culinary encyclopedia, when I was eleven and read it from cover to cover. My mother would say, “Why don’t you go out and play?” And I would say, “No, no, Mama, I’m reading this. I’m reading about cooking.” I cooked with my grandmother and always looked over my mother’s shoulder,  but I still had a desire to learn more. My brother had a paper route with the Houston Chronicle. He would bring me home these little international “cookbooks,”  when I was about 9 or 10. They actually were pamphlets of recipes that the Chronicle produced but honest to God they were really good! I would play with those recipes. I faithfully watched Julia Child on TV, and Graham Kerr, too, who was known as the Galloping Gourmet.

How did you get your start in Southwestern-style cooking?

At Charley’s 517 I drew on everything that I experienced as a kid growing up: barbecuing, smoking, preserving, pickles and such. I also was smoking quail and venison and working with wild game. I had area farmers and gardeners bringing herbs to me, so I had a farm-to-table thing going on. It was very cool. For the smoking, we used everything from hickory to grapevine to oak, back in the alley behind Charley’s. I thought of my style as Texas cuisine, although of course it was also Southwestern, because that’s where we were.  

Aside from learning from your grandmother and the Larousse Gastronomique, how else did you explore cooking and food?

I learned a lot from traveling. As an adult, I’d say, "Hey mom, do you want to go down to Mexico for the weekend?" And because we were in Texas, it was easy to go down to Cuernavaca. We’d eat in Cuernavaca and I’d go, “Oh my god this is delicious what’s in this?” and I’d come back home and do some experimenting. I’d head over to Las Cazuelas, which was a popular restaurant in Houston, and see these peasant-y dishes and go, “Wow, what can we do with that?” I’d eat my way through New York and I’d come home and put a Texas twist on different things. That’s how I gathered my inspiration. I absorbed everything around me.

What was it like to belong to the first generation of  celebrity chefs?

I would say it kind of freaked me out. I was so young. My relationship with food is personal. I do it from the heart out of love, and that’s pretty intimate. I felt exposed. Don’t get me wrong, I was lucky to get so much media attention. Gee whiz, I wish I had been a little older. I wish that it could have happened today; I would’ve handled it a little differently.

As a young chef, what was one of your most memorable experiences?

Julia Child came to visit me at Charley’s 517 because she had heard that I was an up-and-coming young woman chef. I must have told her at some point that I was self-taught, because she said, very kindly, “Honey you cannot be self-taught because you don’t know anything.” I said, “All right, then what am I?” She goes, “You’re well read. You experiment, you practice.” I said, “That’s exactly what I do! I practice until I get it right.”

How can women promote themselves in the male-dominated culinary industry?

Women have to speak up for themselves. Women don’t have to stay in the ranks, they don’t have to be pantry cooks, they don’t have to be bakers or pastry chefs. When I hear female culinary students say, “I want to be a baker, I want to be a pastry chef,” I say, “Why? Don’t you like butchering? Don’t you like sauces? How about being a chef that does everything? Why do you want to be a baker?” I ask them that, I push them further. I lay out steps for them so that they can get to where they want to be.

What are you doing now?

I became a private chef for a very large family in Hawaii, so I’ll cook for anywhere from five people to seventy people. I’m not retired from cooking but I have time to travel and to learn new things. Right now I’m working on an idea I have for west Hawaii which would entail a community center educating people about sustainable crops and how that idea relates to their life on an island. I’m active in in the Slow Foods organization, I still travel the globe, and I still learn. I guess I’m a perpetual student, and I give back wherever I can.

Interview by Patricia Sharpe. Q&A prepared by Claire Landsbaum. 

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Thu July 24, 2014 11:55 am By Layne Lynch

Most proud Texans are happy to trumpet the benefits of eating local, and this week, with the seventh annual GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up that runs until Sunday, July 27, foodies have an excuse to dine out and enjoy homegrown ingredients.

The event, supported by the Texas Department of Agriculture and hosted by Farm Credit, draws nearly 400 restaurants, each of which incorporate local ingredients and ranch meats on their menus.

“When you dine out, make sure the restaurant is GO TEXAN certified and serves fresh food straight from a Texas farm or ranch,” Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples said in a press release. “The GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up brings together the best offerings of Texas produce, meats, cheeses, and beverages through the creativity of our local chefs.”

Both upscale and casual restaurants have elected to participate in the affair, including Eleven: XI, a critically-acclaimed Houston restaurant that features an assortment of Gulf Coast dishes and drinks.

“We are damn proud to participate in GO TEXAN Round-Up. From our beverage program, to our food menu, to our non-alcoholic beverages, we source everything we can from our home state,” Joseph Welborn, managing partner at Eleven: XI, said. “Whether it swims in the Gulf, grazes in the Panhandle, grows in the Hill Country, was brewed here in Houston, Dallas or Austin, bottled in Dublin, or stone ground in Waco, if it’s from Texas, we are buying it and supporting it.”

Drew Curren, executive chef of Austin-based restaurants Easy Tiger, 24 Diner, and Arro, has crafted a selection of dishes that include Broken Arrow Ranch-sourced venison sausage (Easy Tiger), a stew prepared with mussels, clams, grilled Gulf shrimp, Texas Gulf amberjack (pictured above), and numerous Texas vegetables and herbs (Arro).

"Partnering with GO TEXAN was a natural fit for 24 Diner since our menu is built on classic dishes that are elevated through the use of local and seasonal produce. One of the things that makes 24 Diner unique is its ingredient sourcing, considering that we use products from more than seventy different Texas farms. 24 Diner and Easy Tiger have both participated in Go Texan in the past, and we were thrilled to sign up Arro this year,” Curren says.

For more information about the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up, a list of participating restaurants, or the opportunity to enter featured giveaways, please visit the GO TEXAN website.  

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Thu June 5, 2014 4:03 pm By Patricia Sharpe

A team of notable Dallas chefs will host a locally sourced dinner at the Dallas Farmers Market on Thursday, June 12, at 6:30 p.m., kicking off a fundraising effort for the bipartisan Legislative group known as the Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus. A menu prepared by Graham Dodds (with Hibiscus), Sharon Hage (SHage Consulting}, Adam West (The Porch), and Mark Wootton (Garden Cafe) will feature dishes such as red snapper ceviche, smoked beef short rib, jalapeño cornbread, and peach and blackberry cobbler. The purpose is to raise money to help educate members of the Texas House of Representatives on issues such as supporting family farms, sustainable farming, and nutritious foods. 

The following morning at 10 a.m. at the Market, local farmers will partake in an open forum discussion with legislators. The market is located at 1010 S. Pearl Expressway in Dallas.

The Caucus was formed in 2012 and is led by Representative Eddie Rodriguez (D-East Austin) and Representative Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). It is comprised of House members from across the state.

Tickets are $100 per person and can be purchased here.

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Thu June 5, 2014 4:03 pm By Patricia Sharpe

A team of notable Dallas chefs will host a locally sourced dinner at the Dallas Farmers Market on Thursday, June 12, at 6:30 p.m., kicking off a fundraising effort for the bipartisan Legislative group known as the Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus. A menu prepared by Graham Dodds (with Hibiscus), Sharon Hage (SHage Consulting}, Adam West (The Porch), and Mark Wootton (Garden Cafe) will feature dishes such as red snapper ceviche, smoked beef short rib, jalapeño cornbread, and peach and blackberry cobbler. The purpose is to raise money to help educate members of the Texas House of Representatives on issues such as supporting family farms, sustainable farming, and nutritious foods. 

The following morning at 10 a.m. at the Market, local farmers will partake in an open forum discussion with legislators. The market is located at 1010 S. Pearl Expressway in Dallas.

The Caucus was formed in 2012 and is led by Representative Eddie Rodriguez (D-East Austin) and Representative Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). It is comprised of House members from across the state.

Tickets are $100 per person and can be purchased here.

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Thu May 8, 2014 11:09 am By Patricia Sharpe

Dallas super chef Dean Fearing did not get where he is today by being a shrinking violet. Or lacking ambition. Noticing that no one had written a cookbook named The Texas Food Bible, he claimed the title for his own. As a result, The Texas Food Bible: From Legendary Dishes to New Classics is now out from Grand Central Publishing ($30).

In the 256-page book, lavishly illustrated with photography by Dave Carlin, Fearing looks back on dishes he has developed over a career that spans some thirty years, including two decades at the celebrated Mansion on Turtle Creek Hotel in Dallas and seven-plus years at his own restaurant, Fearing’s, which opened at the Dallas Ritz Carlton in 2007. (Texas Monthly named Fearing’s the best new restaurant in the state in 2008.)

Fans will be happy to know that it includes signature dishes (and adaptations) from both restaurants, such as enchiladas with griddled jalapeño potatoes, charred corn and chorizo street tacos, and avocado fries. But he also throws in recipes he’s come across and fallen in love with, like smoky bacon barbecue sauce. Many of the selections pay homage to Southwestern Cuisine, the popular culinary movement that Fearing co-founded with other Texas chefs in the mid-nineteen-eighties.

There is still time to catch him on his short book tour. On Thursday, May 8, he will do a book signing and dinner in conjunction with the Twig Book shop and NAO restaurant in San Antonio. On Saturday, May 10, he will sign books at Neiman Marcus at 8687 North Central Expy, Suite 400, Dallas. On May 24, he will be at Neiman Marcus at 2100 Green Oaks Road in Fort Worth.

Here’s his take on barbecued quail:

Barbecued Bacon-Wrapped Quail with Jalapeño Ranch Dressing

Serves 4 

Ingredients:
Four 4-ounce semi-boneless quail
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
8 thin strips seeded jalapeno chile
8 strips smoked bacon
1 cup warm Texas-Style Barbecue Sauce or use your favorite sauce
1 cup Jalapeno Ranch Dressing

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. Place the quail on a clean cutting board. Working with one at a time and using a small, sharp knife, cut the wing tips and legs from each bird. Cut down the center of the backbone of each quail, opening up the body. Lay flat, skin side down.
  3. Generously season all sides of each quail with salt and pepper. Lay 2 strips of chile down the center of each one and, working from one cut side, roll the birds into a tight cylinder.
  4. Working with one bird at a time, place 2 strips of bacon, side by side, on a clean surface. Place a rolled quail on one end, and again roll into a tight cylinder, completely enclosing the quail. Repeat the process to cover all the birds.
  5. Place the rolled quail, seam side down, in a baking pan, leaving about 2 inches between birds. Transfer to the preheated oven and roast for about 12 minutes, or until the bacon is thoroughly cooked and nicely browned.
  6. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Using a serrated knife cut each quail roll crosswise into ½-inch-thick rounds. Place a small skewer through each round, going straight through the center, entering and exiting through the bacon wrap. Dip the quail rolls into the barbecue sauce to glaze slightly.
  8. Place on a platter and serve warm with the ranch dressing for dipping.
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