In a city that’s known for fickle diners, it’s truly a testament to the talents of these three chefs that they are not only surviving the Dallas dining scene but thriving. The amiable cowboy-boot-clad trio, who have known each other for decades, got together at Pyles’ Stampede 66, where stories flowed as freely as the wine at their respective restaurants.
Tastes have changed and so too has the dining-out dress code in Big D. Fearing, who is known (along with Pyles) as a father of Southwestern cuisine, recalled turning away diners — including some famous actors — at the Restaurant at the Mansion on Turtle Creek (where he was executive chef for 20-plus years) for not wearing a coat and tie, sometimes sending them down the street to Pyles’ Star Canyon; Rathbun, who also spent time in the Mansion kitchen before opening Abacus in 1997, once had to intervene at the host desk to allow a patron in jeans to dine at Abacus. Today, though, the dress code at their restaurants is much more relaxed and not at all fussy — a lot like the Texas fare these maverick chefs are famous for. True, the Dallas dining scene is hot, and new chefs and new restaurants (among them, Matt McCallister’s FT33 and John Tesar’s Spoon) titillate our taste buds, but there is something as comforting as a bowl of homemade chicken tortilla soup (wink, wink, chef Fearing) about sitting down for a meal crafted by the chefs who’ve put Texas cuisine on the culinary road map.