You knew Dotty Griffith was a Texan the minute you met her. The cookbook author and longtime food editor and restaurant critic at the Dallas Morning News—who died Monday at the age of 71—had the drawl, the bigger-than-life personality, and the swagger. She was adept at using them, plus her megawatt smile, to connect with people and put them at ease. But she was also aware that her presence put chefs and restaurateurs on notice that she was not to be trifled with or ignored. And she was not kidding about the identity; the seasoned journalist was a fifth-generation Texan.
The cause of Griffith’s death was pancreatic cancer, as reported by the Dallas Morning News. In her typical way, with self-deprecating wit, she had been open about her prognosis, joking about her “expiration date.” Still, to those of us who were casual rather than close friends, the news of her passing came as a shock.
She will be remembered as the reporter who wrote about every important Dallas-area restaurant opening or food-related event from 1977, when she took charge of the News’ food coverage, to 2006, when she retired. She helped birth the genre of Southwestern cuisine, several of whose key players lived in Dallas. More important, her work as a whole chronicled the evolution of Texas from a culinary backwater to a major player on the national food scene.
For a long time after I got to know Griffith, we were doing the same job—restaurant criticism—for different publications. So we avoided eating together. But later, after she retired from the job, she became one of my most trusted Dallas dining companions. “Hope you join me for dinner,” I would email her. She was always great company. Her opinion of restaurants was spot-on, and so was the conversation. She had candid opinions about restaurateurs and chefs all over Dallas, and she was not one to mince words.
I got to know her better when a group of about eight journalists took a press junket to a West Texas resort and restaurant in the nineties. We took part in various planned group activities, including target shooting. Half of us barely knew one end of a gun from the other. Griffith hit the bull’s-eye—or close to it—every time.
After she retired from the News, she took several jobs in Austin and Houston, ultimately ending up back in Dallas. She did freelance work and was recruited to teach classes in food journalism at the University of North Texas. On two occasions, she generously asked me to speak to her classes, but I remember thinking that her students didn’t need guest lecturers. They just needed to read their instructor’s writing. Her many restaurant reviews, or the twelve cookbooks that she also found time to publish, are an excellent syllabus in how to write about food. Texas is lucky that Griffith was around to chronicle our cuisine for almost thirty years.