Pulling from the rhythm of the seasons, Matt McCallister, chef and owner of FT33, is hitting stride. A year has passed since the purposeful change to source all ingredients grown or raised in Texas. Now going into year two? “Yes, we are taking a deeper look,” says Matt, “much deeper!”
I caught up with Matt the first week of January in the kitchen at FT33 when you’d think the larder was set for the winter. But no, there they were breaking down three whole pigs, plus a ton of farm produce preservation party.
New Year’s Eve weekend freeze sent the farmers to the fields to harvest before the temperatures dropped. ‘We can take it all,” says Matt, knowing the farms will need some time to reset and his cook staff is set up to process and preserve the bounty.
This approach is reminiscent of agrarian roots, where there are seasons and nature take time. This pushes the creativity and resourcefulness of the artistic chef. “The accumulation of our preserving methods gets more refined,” says Matt, “we also have gotten more experimental with our use of the brining liquids and preservation of [what one would] waste.”
From a head of cabbage, Maggie Huff, pastry chef, can take the living powder from the outside leaves and use it as a yeast in bread making. The apple peels are made into vinegar and tomato peels are dried and ground into a powder. And so, it goes, even the fish carcasses are dried, smoked and used in a broth.
Into the back hall and storeroom, Matt was like a kid during show and tell, lovingly pulling down jars and tubs with blue tape labels. Every single one had a story from where the ingredient came from to how it was preserved to what combinations would be on the menu.
Fascinating! By the time we got to the cooler, it became clear that this was a larder that was layered and weaved through the Texas seasons. And many of the preservation methods are from the old world and other continents. A narrower scope has actually widened the scope of what can be done!
This even goes beyond the walls of FT33 into the local fields. It is exciting and contagious. “I tell the farmers, if they grow something I am suggesting,” says Matt, “I can get ten chefs to buy it from you!” Farmers (here is FT33 listing) now have a wider market for trying new crops and have found extended uses for other plant parts, like the cilantro flowers are edible. All these are coveted and can make their way to a plate at FT33.
An utmost respect and value for the farmers and what they have grown and raised seems principal going into the second year. Another principal that is high on Matt’s devotion is keeping the culture of the kitchen as a hot bed of learning for the team with daily dialog, extreme focus and the launching of young chefs with new ideas.
I hear Matt has loosen up on one ingredient going into the second year. Maggie can use a little chocolate for The End and she is thrilled.