One of Dallas’ most talked about American chefs, Dean Fearing, shares his story of his passion for cooking, colorful chef’s coat, and Lucchese boot collection. If you’re looking for a fun evening filled with tasteful food, book your reservation at one of the best restaurants in Dallas, Fearing’s.
Dean is from a small town in Ashland, Kentucky, up in the tri-state area where Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky all meet at the Ohio River. In 1965, his father joined Holiday Inn as an opening innkeeper. There was always help needed at the Holiday Inn, so after school, Dean and his brother would have to report to the Inn. He was thrown into the kitchen and realized that this is something he really enjoyed. Dean found a passion for it and wanted to continue his cooking ability by going to The Culinary Institute of America. Dean said, “It’s like the Harvard of cooking schools.” This school requires at least two years of experience, so Dean was working with a great chef in Louisville, Kentucky, who got him accepted.
Tell us about your first couple of jobs and your cooking experience before opening up your restaurant, Fearing’s?
In 1976-1978, I attended and graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Right after school, I lucked out on getting a job at a famous restaurant called The Maisonette. Unfortunately, it’s no longer open, but in the late '70s, it was one of the No. 1 restaurants in the country. I worked there for a year and a half, and the chef at the restaurant told me to go to Dallas, Texas, to work at the Pyramid Room in the Fairmont Hotel. At the time, it was an unbelievable restaurant for Dallas. I was raised in an old Midwest town, so I immediately fell in love with the city – everything was brand spankin’ new. I’ve been in Dallas since 1979 and love every minute of it.
After working at the Pyramid Room in 1979, I opened my own restaurant called Agnew’s in 1981. Agnew’s was the first American white tablecloth restaurant in Dallas. I was a pioneer with bringing American cuisine to Dallas. What’s interesting is that every restaurant in this town was French or Italian, so there weren’t any American restaurants. Agnew’s stayed open until we had a horrible recession in 1984 – my partners went bankrupt, and we had to close.
In 1985, I went to open the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. That was an unbelievable experience with a young cook like myself because I went up the ladder pretty quickly there and became the executive chef until 2006.
My partner John Goff came and got me at The Mansion and asked me if I wanted my own restaurant and I said, “Absolutely.” He said, “Let’s open up a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton.” John is the owner of the building and he wanted a great restaurant there, so I joined up with him and we had an unbelievable partnership for 12 years. My restaurant, Fearing’s, has now been at the Ritz since 2007.
Was it always your dream to open up your own restaurant?
Oh my goodness, yes. It’s what I worked for all of those years. My goal in life was to learn everything about cooking and then eventually have my own restaurant.
How do you decide what’s going to be on the menu?
In the '80s, there were three of us who banded together to start an American cuisine called Southwestern cuisine: Stephan Pyles, Robert Del Grande, and myself. It was about using products indigenous to our area in Texas, such as fish and shrimp from the Gulf and meat from west Texas. It was just this melting pot of all these great products we could use right here in Texas. We started to really develop that cuisine, which took off like a rocket. It’s still very apparent in Fearing’s.
What’s the most popular dish on the Fearing’s menu?
The tortilla soup is very popular. I will also say the barbeque shrimp taco, maple black pepper-soaked buffalo tenderloin on jalapeño grits, and our filet and chicken fried lobster.
You’ve got quite the look in the kitchen. Many people spot you out with your signature colorful boot embroidery on your chef’s coat and your Lucchese boots. Tell us why you chose cowboy boots to be a part of your everyday attire.
I’ve always been a cowboy boot lover, but it wasn’t until I received my first pair from past Lucchese president John Tillotson who gave me my first pair in 1985. He was a regular customer at The Mansion. John told me he loves Lucchese boots, and I told him I don’t think I can afford a pair of Luccheses. He gave me my first pair, which I still wear all the time. It’s a Hollywood cowboy style boot with red, black, green, and orange colors. It is still the most amazing pair of boots.
As for my chef’s coat, another Lucchese president, Paul, came in for dinner and looked at my chef’s coat and said, “Can I borrow one of your chef’s coats?” I said, “Sure! What are you going to do with it?” Paul said, “I just need to look at it for a second, and I’ll give it back to you in a couple of weeks. Is that alright?” I said, “Sure, take it.” Well, when he came back in to give me my chef’s coat, he had a pair of boots identically made just like my logo I have now on my coat. It blew me away. It was identical – down to the colors, stitching work, and detail of the birds all on the shaft of my boot. I just couldn’t believe it. They’re still the most beautiful boots.
What do you feel every day when you put on your Lucchese boots?
After receiving my first pair in 1985, I was often running with Lucchese. First of all, 10.5D fits me to a T. Other boots don’t do the same for me. I just fell in love with the fit and comfort. Lucchese has only ever been my only boot of choice. I own about 55 pairs. Most of them are Classics from the '80s and '90s and are just pieces of artwork. When I slide on a pair of Lucchese boots, I know I have a pair of Lucchese boots on. It’s the feel of it. I also love the click clack when you’re walking on hard surfaces.
Do you wear cowboy boots every day?
Every day I’m in the restaurant, I wear a pair of Luccheses. The only thing that’s disappointing for men is that I have so many beautiful shafts on my boots that people never get to see unless I pull up my pant leg.
What are your favorite pair of Luccheses? Why?
I really like the more exotic pairs such as my American alligator and caiman boots. They’re just so comfortable. Not a lot of people wear American gator, so it’s nice to wear something different.