Falling into the Gap

Posted on 18 Jun 2009 at 6:25pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones Life+Style Editor

Could tiny Buffalo Gap becomes the culinary destination of small-town Texas? It already is


Who’s that on top of a giant metal armadillo outside the Perini Ranch Steakhouse ? Could it be superchef Stephan Pyles, second from right? You betcha. ARNOLD WAYNE JONES/Dallas Voice

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that celebrichef Stephan Pyles — who grew up in West Texas, where his parents ran a greasy spoon truck stop — feels at home in the red clay and mosquito-filled air of Buffalo Gap, a spit of town west of Abilene with a population smaller than most DISD middle schools. Despite his fame, Pyles has always been about local cuisine creativity interpreted, and Texas is his wheelhouse.

So knowing that Pyles treks the kitchen staff at his eponymous downtown restaurant three hours beyond Fort Worth for a small Wine & Food Summit makes some sense.

But Grady Spears? And Tim Love, Jon Bonnell and Paula Lambert? You can get all these Texas cooking luminaries in one place, at one time… in Buffalo Gap?

You betcha.

I made the journey with Pyles and company to the fifth annual event in April, while Dallas was being drenched in heavy spring showers. We expected the largely outdoor event, held on the grounds of Perini Ranch (owner Tom Perini’s destination steakhouse), to be a muddy swamp. In fact, it was gorgeous all weekend, the best weather I’ve ever experienced in Texas.

Pyles, for one, was not surprised — it’s why he still talks of his West Texas roots fondly.

Most remarkable about the Buffalo Gap summit is its size. For the stature of its chefs, you’d expect thousands. But Perini, who organizes the confab, has held the reins tightly, growing only as much as needed to make it fun. Lots of events feature celebrated restaurants serving food; few have the name chefs personally spooning out their dishes.

And delicious dishes they were.

But the food (and the wine — lots of good wine) is only part of the appeal; it’s really the chance to hang out with chefs in unguarded moments that makes the event so special. I never thought I would be dancing outdoors with Stephan Pyles to "She’s a Brick House," but damned if I didn’t. Or watching Tim Love hypnotize a quail at 2 a.m. using just the motion of his hands. Again, check that one off the list.

West Texas is about the least gay place on earth … except that everyone who attends the event is as open and friendly as a chuckwagon cook on a wagon train. Kick-ass live music in a bucolic, fairy-tale like glen; conversation by well-informed foodies as sparkling as the champagne; fine dining served in a big, white tent under the bluest of skies; and for kitsch, there is a huge rusty metal armadillo to climb on. It’s what makes living in Texas special. — and why I’ll be going back as often as they’ll have me.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2009.

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