Lone Star Chefs: It's Not Always about Being Bigger, They're Just Better

Our Texas chefs not only come from Texas but from all over the world and bring their culinary homes with them -- fortunately for us.

Lone Star Chefs by John DeMers and Julie Soefer highlights 13 outstanding and diverse Texas masters. This book is part biography, part cookbook and part restaurant guide. The photographs of the restaurants, chefs and their dishes are beautiful and stylish. Each chapter includes an essay documenting the history and inspirations of the profiled chefs, art-quality photos of their food and restaurant interiors, and recipes for some of their signature dishes -- all capturing each chef's unique, creative vision.

If you are a Texas foodie and haven't eaten in at least half of these masters' restaurants, then stop calling yourself a Texas foodie.

From Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Marfa, these Lone Star Chefs are cooking up dishes that your grandmother never dreamed of but would love. Scott Tycer says, "I'm a firm believer in the historical value of cooking. You can make a chicken-fried steak in a fine dining restaurant and maybe not even call it chicken fried steak."

Tycer's father's side of the family grew up poor, and he remembers visiting his grandmother in Corpus Christi and knowing that despite their circumstance, the food was always amazing. It was laden with saturated fats -- lard, chicken fat, bacon fat -- but that made even the simplest fried eggs into religious epiphanies. His mother's family was more well-off in Houston and mostly cooked from the Junior League Cookbook. One particular casserole still turns up on his menu from time to time: curried chicken casserole, reinvented of course, but "still worthy of the respect I gave it as a child," Tycer says.

At Cochineal in Marfa, diners walk in and see a shelf of cookbooks that promises French, Italian, Japanese, Vietnamese or Latin American flavors on a menu that changes virtually every night. Chefs Tom Rapp and Toshi Sakihara bring their Illinois-born and Okinawa-born influences to every dish. Rapp explains, "We are a white-tablecloth restaurant without the fake elegance of white tablecloths. This is unlike anything within 800 miles."

Austin and now Houston have Tyson Cole's Uchi. It's all about quality ingredients, done simply, put together the right way. Which is much easier to say than to execute, says Cole.

"Florida-born, Texas-sculpted Tyson Cole has a lovely wife and two beautiful daughters. But when he pulls out his iPhone to show a visitor a photograph, it isn't of a wobbly first step or a festive third birthday. The photo shows a raw slab of Kobe-style short ribs on a cutting board, the first step to the grilled beef, heirloom peaches, apple, and tiny okra now gracing the table. Having painfully worked his way inside the Japanese mind by way of the cuisine and even the language, he knows you can't understand anything without understanding where it came from."

Cole has reimagined all that's sacred about Japanese cuisine with an undaunting sense of respect for tradition, all the while layering in his American genius.

The 13 Texas masters in Lone Star Chefs are true Texas greats: Robert Del Grande, Scott Tycer, Monica Pope, Bryan Caswell, Dean Fearing, Stephan Pyles, Kent Rathbun, Jon Bonnell, Tyson Cole, Terry Conlan, Andrew Weissman, Tom Rapp and Toshi Sakihara. Each chef is bringing his or her food story to life every night across our great state. On any given plate, you will bear witness to mothers and grandmothers they have loved, books they have read, places they have been and ingredients they have tasted. Dig in!

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Patrise Shuttlesworth