“Food is simple,” says Chef Matthew McCallister, executive chef of Commons Club at Virgin Hotels Dallas. “That’s what I excel at. I try to take ingredients at the height of their season and prepare them simply without fussing over it too much.”
Before opening his Highland Park hotspot Homewood in 2019, McCallister built his reputation in Dallas’ Design District at the now shuttered FT33 where he earned spots on Bon Appétit magazine’s Best New Chef and Top 50 New Restaurants lists, and nominations for multiple James Beard Awards. From the start, McCallister’s approach to food has always been about his relationship with local farms where he sources fresh, seasonal ingredients. “Cooking with local ingredients that are in season is the most sustainable approach,” says McCallister.
At Commons Club in Dallas, McCallister marries French technique with locally-sourced, seasonally-inspired ingredients for an elegant, creative menu with crave-worthy dishes, from an interpretation on steak frites prepared with pecan-roasted wagyu short rib and parmesan fries to a Latin-inspired Gulf rock shrimp cocktail served with tomato, aguachile and avocado.
One of McCallister’s favorite ingredients is pork (“It’s the most versatile,” he says), which he’ll often source from Dallas-area Chubby Dog Farm. At Commons Club, his Berkshire pork chop is marinated in a Texas tomato BBQ sauce and served with local collard greens and golden zucchini.
And while the pandemic has presented plenty of challenges for the restaurant industry, Commons Club has slowly reopened for business with both indoor and outdoor dining, as well as a special takeout menu.
Tips for Shopping at Local Farmer’s Markets & Farms
For anyone looking to adopt a more sustainable approach to cooking, McCallister has a few simple words of advice to get you started: “Know where your ingredients come from and how they are grown.”
McCallister has long nurtured his relationships with Dallas area farmers, working with a small core that includes Comeback Creek, Profound Farms, Cartermere, 2s Ranch, A Bar N, Sun E Farm, Rae Lili Farm, Demases Farm, Chubby Dog and Blackland Prairie.
For the average home cook, it’s easier to stock your pantry with sustainable produce than you might think. One place to start is your local farmer’s market, which will showcase a wide variety of area farms. “Have an idea of what is in season in your growing area before you go and gravitate towards farms that are producing those ingredients,” advises McCallister, who frequents the Dallas Farmer’s Market.
Many of these small, family-owned farms, like Comeback Creek, offer CSA boxes of organic produce with multiple pickup locations and delivery options on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. They’ll often come stocked with specially tailored recipes and information about the harvest and growing season. “Get to know the farms,” says McCallister. “They can be a wealth of knowledge.”
In Dallas, the upcoming fall harvest often yields leafy greens, sweet potatoes, sweet peppers, eggplants, petite tomatoes, filet beans, a wide variety of squash and root crops like turnips, radishes, and beets.
Bonus: Chef Matt’s Marinated Chicken Thighs Recipe
For anyone looking for a new recipe or quarantine hack, McCallister recommends an easy at-home marinade perfect for boneless, skinless chicken thighs: Start with a ½ cup of mayonnaise base (McCallister prefers one made with avocado oil) and then add lime juice, lime zest and grated ginger and garlic. Slather over 2 lbs. of chicken thighs and marinate overnight or for at least six hours. Finally, grill the thighs at a high temperature so that they get a nice caramelization.
When it comes to welcoming diners back to Commons Club, McCallister says, “We always want a guest to leave feeling better than when they arrived.”
Written By: Shayne Benowitz