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FRESH and Festive: Cowboy Chef Grady Spears

Of all the stories I’ve ever heard about chefs and their beginnings, Grady Spears may have the best.

Growing up around Fort Worth, he always wanted to be a cowboy, so the first chance he got, he moved out to West Texas to try to live the dream. To make a living, he managed the restaurant at the upscale Gage Hotel in remote Marathon. One night, when the dining room was full, the chef up and quit. So Grady grabbed an apron and a frying pan, served 100 guests – and never looked back.

Unable to hire a new chef at the Gage, he took the job on permanently, and slowly began to develop a new style of cooking. Without formal chef training, he began learning from old chuckwagon cooks and local cowboys, modernizing some dishes, and always using fresh, local ingredients. Within a few years, he’d moved on to his own restaurant, the original Reata in Alpine, and was attracting rave notices. Even Martha Stewart made her way out to West Texas to eat Grady’s food.

Since then, Grady’s become one of the premiere Texas chefs, with a string of restaurants, cookbooks, and TV appearances to his name. (His next adventure: Big Ranch Big City, a travel and cooking show set to debut nationally on PBS this fall.)

Currently, he’s running his namesake Grady’s restaurant in Fort Worth, where dishes not to miss include pan de campo (Texas flatbread traditionally made in a Dutch oven) with braised short ribs and cotija cheese; bock-battered quail with chimichurri sauce; and an old-fashioned, beer-battered chicken-fried steak with peppery cream gravy and green-onion mashed potatoes. Not just your average cowboy chow, for sure!

We’re delighted to welcome Grady to FRESH, for appearances tomorrow as part of our Taste of Texas celebration.  Grady will be signing cookbooks from 9-11 a.m. Then, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. he’ll be out on the patio, demonstrating how to cook up some of the dishes he’s made famous in his restaurants.