Stick a Pork in It: Matt McCallister’s Pork Roast with Collard Greens and Sweet-and-Sour Onions
Tasting TableTasting Table
January 19, 2016
Veg-centric chef Matt McCallister just wants an old-school, juicy pork roast.
“Our backyard was awesome," Matt McCallister says excitedly. Baseball cap on and chambray sleeves rolled up, the inked-up chef reminisces about the green oasis tucked behind his home growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona. "We had a fig tree, a strawberry patch, and an olive tree. We brined our own olives," he rattles off enthusiastically. "My brothers had no interest in any of that. So it would be me, and it's just always been my thing." That explains the care McCallister takes with the vegetables he masterfully cooks at FT33, his rowdy, vegetable-forward restaurant in Dallas. He layers rounds of turnips atop gulf crab like chrysanthemum petals and constructs tiny sculptures of fried parsnips over rosy hills of duck. His cooking has earned him a Food & Wine Best New Chef title and a semifinalist nod for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014 and 2015.
But now, for Filament, his wood-fired Dallas restaurant, McCallister is digging less into the dirt for heirloom things and more into the Southern-inspired comfort foods he grew up with. Whereas FT33 sources all local Southern ingredients to make whichever flavors he fancies, from Thai to Mediterranean, Filament has that same regional ethos but penetrating down to the flavor. "All the fancy, hoity-toity stuff that I do at FT33," McCallister says, then pauses: "I love doing it, and it's a great expression for me in my artistic sensibility. But when I go home, I just want a roast chicken. Or a roast pork chop."
And that explains why McCallister visited Tasting Table's Test Kitchen, zipping from stovetop to oven to cook a huge hunk of pork chops with a mess of collard greens. "My mom cooked really simply," he explains. "This is something she would make for us. It's simple; it's tasty—you can't really go wrong with that." Though his mom grew up in California, she taught her son the soulfulness of Southern cooking, gardening side by side with him and putting him in charge of Thanksgiving stuffing as a kid. That all-too-familiar teenage dream for his own car initially drew art school kid McCallister into restaurant kitchens—but he didn't take it seriously until later, when he realized he didn't have to choose between art and food. "I realized I could make art with food," McCallister says. "This is produce, gardening, badass farms—and I get to make plates look cool. It's the best of both worlds." So he went on to work at Stephan Pyles with no formal training, quickly accelerating up the line to executive chef in three years. After stages at McCrady's, Daniel, Alinea and The French Laundry, he wound up in Dallas to open Campo Modern Country Bistro. The rest is history.
A little salt and a crank of pepper is really all McCallister relies on back at the Test Kitchen for his succulent roast pork, but, as you would expect with the vegetable-loving chef, the real magic lies in a pool of caramel-hued, slightly sweet, still-a-bit-crunchy onions he serves with the dish. Cooked down with a cinnamon stick and sugar, and splashed with sherry vinegar, they're the perfect foil to all that meat and the bacon-greased collards. "I like vegetables, because they're more colorful and versatile. You can manipulate them," McCallister says. "Cooking a steak is a steak, but pork is so adaptable." The vegetable artistry at FT33 vs. the down-home cooking to come at Filament: It's sort of like the art he created before he became a chef. "My paintings are totally abstract, acid-trip paintings," he says. "But my drawings are precise and exact replicas of people. And that was the thing I was best at."