Chef John Tesar on Portland and the Dumbing Down of Society

We caught up with the chef at Feast Portland
Kevin Marple

John Tesar is the chef/owner of Dallas' Knife and Spoon Bar & Kitchen.

John Tesar is a chef and restaurateur with two highly celebrated restaurants in Dallas. One is a seafood concept, Spoon Bar & Kitchen; the other a steakhouse, Knife. He’s a two-time James Beard Best Chef: Southwest semifinalist and was also a contestant on Top Chef Masters. Tesar trained at La Varenne Ècole de Cuisine in Paris, and came to Dallas in 2007 to take over the reins at The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, where he landed two five-star reviews.

And as if that isn’t enough, he is the brains behind many inventive menus. He is partnering on a number of upcoming culinary projects, and he’s working on a sustainable seafood book called Seafood Without an Ocean, slated to come out next year.

In short, John Tesar knows food, and he came to Feast Portland 2014 as a guest of co-founder Mike Thelin to get a lay of the land for next year’s event, were he plans to team up on a seafood dinner with Gregory Gourdet from Departures at The Nines in Portland. We had the opportunity to sit down with him and chat about Feast Portland, celebrity chefs versus cooks, and the dumbing down of society.

What attracted you to Feast?
The thing I like the most about Feast is Mike Thelin. I know there are other amazing people working on Feast. But he is the greatest front man and understands chefs and the business. And I know other people with other festivals understand it too. But he takes the time to really be there and make chefs feel special for being invited. I love Portland. It’s like a mini Seattle. Everything is right there. Mike, the people, and the location, that’s why I love Feast.

What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with these days?
I like to work with everything. The beauty of being me is I have a seafood restaurant and a meat restaurant so I get to touch everything. I’m aging my own beef. I’m making my own caviar. We look at the eggs. We wash the eggs. We add the right amount of salt and then they cure. That’s all caviar really is: eggs and salt.

What’s the one thing you wish most people knew about food?
There’s too much hype. Everyone has their own likes in food and it’s so subjective. Every day is a new day in the food business. There’s a new product every day. We are constantly buying things and constantly processing and constantly learning.

Food is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. It’s reflective of who you are. Who you are is how you live and what you eat. It’s a very simple thing because we all need to eat. But it’s very subjective and specific. Just because you like food doesn’t mean you’re a “foodie.” It means you like to eat. You need to know where things are coming from. There are too many foodies in the world.

What was your favorite moment of Feast this year?
Having dinner at Beast with Naomi Pomeroy and watching a celebrity chef really work. Preparing the meal, breaking down the kitchen. Mike invites people that are known but also who really work in the kitchen. That’s what makes Feast different; 99.9 percent of the chefs really cook. Feast is a cook’s food festival, not a chef’s food festival. It just happens that the cooks who are invited are chefs. But they all still cook in their kitchen.

What would you say has the biggest buzz in the world of food right now?
The general theme going on in the world is to end competitiveness in cooking. All the chefs, we’re all tired of it. What’s out there needs to be more informative and more travel. Enough with this basket with a rattlesnake, a blueberry and Chinese sausage. That’s not doing anything for food. It’s cultivating celebrity in chefs. I don’t think real chefs or real foodies watch those shows. It’s entertaining for the first few seasons but how long can we make this last?

There’s a trend more toward what Anthony Bourdain is doing, transcending travel and food to really exposing cultures to people and accepting other cultures’ food. It’s a return to more intellectual approach to food rather than fame side. Let’s change the message. That’s the why I like Top Chef because it’s really a story, the story about how you get there. It’s not just here’s a basket with macaroni, coffee grinds, and Chinese sausage. There always seems to be Chinese sausage. Why is that? That just shows the nature of creativity at the lowest form.

I believe that everything has been dumbed down in our society and that’s because it’s easy. To be smart takes time. You have to back it up. People aren’t even experiencing it. They’re just watching it on television. You don’t even taste the food. And the minute you start talking the word of corporate America you’re in trouble.

Related Links
Top Chef’s John Tesar Opens New Restaurant in DallasA Chat with Three Chefs at Feast PortlandFeast Portland: Celebrating Great Food and Local ArtisansBest Bites From Feast PortlandFeast Portland Recommended Events