Dean Fearing, the executive chef of Dallas’s Mansion on Turtle Creek, put Southwestern cuisine on the map (okay, he had a little help from his friends), but did you know he was one of the founding members of Texas’s grooviest celebrity-chef rock band, the Barbwires? The original group (Fearing, Robert Del Grande of Houston’s Cafe Annie, Tim Keating of Quattro at the Houston Four Seasons Hotel, and Joe Abuso, a Houston caterer and former bassist with the Houston Symphony) was officially created in 1986 at the Hill Country Food and Wine Festival, in Austin. They mostly played events and charitable gigs. In 2001, though, the band got a second wind when Fearing came up with the idea for the Chef Dean Fearing and Friends Annual Summer Barbecue Bash. These days, the Barbwires include a rotating cast of celebrity chefs, and Fearing’s barbecue bash has become a hot ticket. In fact, last year’s shindig was emceed by NBC’s Al Roker and Peter Greenberg and raised $50,000 for the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, in Dallas.
Of course, it comes as no surprise that a local celebrity chef could get together a crowd to eat barbecue. But Fearing’s reputation as a pioneer of Southwestern cuisine has brought him national attention since the early eighties. It was during that time that Fearing, Robert Del Grande, and Dallas chef Stephan Pyles (among others) began using local products to produce regional cuisine. In his first cookbook, The Mansion on Turtle Creek Cookbook, Fearing wrote, “I began to experiment using ingredients that Dallas diners had never encountered outside Tex-Mex restaurants: chili peppers, jicama, native herbs, tomatillos, cilantro, avocado, chayote squash, papaya, and mango.” Fresh ingredients, wild game, and grilling and smoking techniques from the days of chuck wagons evolved into what we now call Southwestern cuisine. Fearing, who was trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York, published The Mansion on Turtle Creek Cookbook in 1987. Devotees were finally able to create at home some of Fearing’s signature dishes: Tortilla Soup, Warm Lobster Taco With Yellow Tomato Salsa, and Oven-Baked Free-Range Chicken With Maple Pecan Crust and Pan Sauce.
Fearing has moved on to Asian, North African, and other global styles, but he remains an icon in Dallas—for his innovative cuisine, for sure, but maybe someday, too, for his old-time rock and roll.