DIFFA announces Style Ambassadors

The DIFFA Collection will be back next spring, and once again Jan Strimple will be producing the runway show. But before that, it’s the Style Ambassadors who have to do a lot of the work. This year, 17 men and women have been tapped to represent DIFFA in the community, raising awareness and money for AIDS treatment and research. That’s two more than the usual high of 15. The ambassadors are Simona Beal, John Bobbitt, Marty Collins, Peter Dauterman, Tommy DeAlano,Deanna DiPizio, Malcolm Gage (pictured), Stephen Giles, Kandis Hutchinson, Daniel Lewis, LeeAnne Locken, Vivian Lombardi, Tom Mason, Lance Avery Morgan, Troy Schiermeyer, James Shackelford and Paige Westhoff. The announcement was made at Dish Restaurant in the ilume last week.

The event will take place, as it has in recent years, at the Hilton Anatole on March 23. For more information, visit DIFFADallas.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

My morning-after jacket: Jonathan Adler, my DIFFA coat and me

In tomorrow’s print edition, you can read all about Jonathan Adler, the master potter and decor guru — and partner to Barneys creative director Simon Doonan — who has just opened a new boutique in Uptown, across from the Mitchell Gold+Bob WIlliams store. (We may need to rename the block Oak Lawn East.) The interview was fun in part because I showed up to it dressed in a piece of clothing Adler would certainly recognize: The smoking jacket he designed and donated to DIFFA this year, for which I made the winning bid.

After the jump you’ll see him reunited for the first (and probably last) time, Adler and his fine Chinese silk dinner coat … and me … plus a few more shots from our photo shoot.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DIFFA soiree tonight at Dish

Too haute to trot

Turn up the volume on your outfit and head out to Dish, where DIFFA/Dallas will announce its Style Council Ambassadors for the 2012 Smoking Haute collection.

DEETS: Dish, 4123 Cedar Springs Road, 7:30 p.m. RSVP at 214-352-6701.

—  Rich Lopez

Scene from DIFFA: A Santa so hot he melts snow!

A scene from the DIFFA wreath auction: Santa with Mrs. Claus and one of his reindeer (by the color of the nose, I’m guessing Rudolph, although I don’t recall a verse saying what a hot rack Rudolph had… I’m referring to the antlers, of course). Now, I know it’s not politically correct, but as someone with a salt-and-pepper beard myself, I gotta say: I prefer this clean-shaven, abs-defined Santa over the more, ahem, jolly round elf with a bowl full of jelly. Looks to me like he had a bowl full of protein powder.

Anyway, I’d hop on his sleigh anytime, and would welcome the chance to slide down Santa’s chimney. Sigh.

Look for more DIFFA pix in Friday’s edition of Dallas Voice, and online.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

2011 Turn Up the Holiday DIFFA Wreath Collection tonight

Wreaths on the runway
DIFFA knows how to turn the volume up on the mundane. We know what they can do for denim jackets. Now holiday wreaths go designer at Turn Up the Cheer!, the 2011 Wreath Collection party. Trust, these aren’t your grandma’s wreaths. In addition to bidding, the night is spread across three parties in three different venues with a different theme. How’s that for fabulous?

DEETS: Design Within Reach, 4524 McKinney Ave.; Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, 4519 McKinney Ave.; Nest, 4524 McKinney Ave. 7 p.m. $60. DIFFADallas.org/events.

 

—  Rich Lopez

Best bets • 11.25.11

Saturday 11.26

Raise your paws up
Dogs and furniture sometimes don’t mix, but they do at Art is Art. The consignment shop teams up with Paws in the City for a pet adoption event that can also help with your holiday shopping. The consignment shop will donate 10 percent of sales of its local art, modern furniture, jewelry, candles and more to help out Paws’ cause. And the dogs will be quite thankful for your help.

DEETS: Art is Art, 2811 N. Henderson Ave. 11 a.m. PawsInTheCity.org.

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Saturday 11.26

Partying down with St. Nick
WaterTower Theatre brings back it’s holiday spectacular Rockin’ Christmas Party with a whole lot of shakin’ going on. Sure we love our dramatic, slow carols, but WaterTower spikes up the eggnog with this fun show of rock and soul. With the talents of Gary Floyd, Amy Stevenson, Marcus Lloyd and more, we’ll figure on being well into the holiday spirit.

DEETS: Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road. Through Dec. 18. $30–$40. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

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Thursday 12.01

Wreaths on the runway
DIFFA knows how to turn the volume up on the mundane. We know what they can do for denim jackets. Now holiday wreaths go designer at Turn Up the Cheer!, the 2011 Wreath Collection party. Trust, these aren’t your grandma’s wreaths.

DEETS: Design Within Reach, 4524 McKinney Ave.; Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, 4519 McKinney Ave.; Nest, 4524 McKinney Ave.7 p.m. $60. DIFFADallas.org/events.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Drawing Dallas: Cesar

Budding design student Cesar Augusto Fuerte blends his leather fetish with fashion underwear

MARK STOKES  | Illustrator
mark@markdrawsfunny.com

Name and age: Cesar Augusto Fuerte, 22

Spotted at: Walmart Market on Central Expressway

Occupation: Full-time student, part-time fabric retail

This exquisite Taurus is a full-time student at UNT, studying fashion design and fashion merchandising with a minor in international business. Cesar demonstrated an early talent in art, with a knack for drawing and a keen eye for color. His interest in life drawing led him to consider another creative outlet, fashion design. Cesar’s long-term goal is to design men’s wear, concentrating on men’s underwear. Cesar already designs and sews his own underwear. He gets a secret thrill out of attending conservative events knowing that underneath his dress clothes, he’s wearing provocative skivvies.

The eldest of three brothers, Cesar emigrated from Michoacana, Mexico, with his family when he was very young. His youthful countenance and his friend’s constant referral to him as a “kid” inspired Cesar to play up that boy role and he often dresses up as a school boy or cub scout when he goes out on the town.

Cesar came out formally when he was 16. “Since I came to terms with my homosexuality, I’ve learned to appreciate all types of gay people.” He was in the talented and gifted program at a magnet high school, where his creativity was allowed to flourish. He was vice president of Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Denton in his junior year, and president his senior year.

He enjoys dancing and socializing. He is a member of the Fashionistas, a non-profit group that helps out up-and- coming designers with parties and charity events. He has also worked behind the scenes with DIFFA for several years as a stylist working with Jan Strimple.

Cesar, like the Emperor. Don’t let his boyish looks deceive you: This tantalizing young man is neither shy nor submissive. He enjoys the look and feel of leather, and finds something empowering about wearing it. He had a “leather and lace” party on his 21st birthday, attended by many of his friends wearing one or the other.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Anything was possible

From DIFFA to the stage, John Ahrens has witnessed the evolving art of HIV

YA GOTTA HAVE ‘HEART’ | Ahrens, above, was moved to tears by the revival of ‘The Normal Heart,’ which captured the panic of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s; below left, designs from two decades of DIFFA auctions, which improved greatly from the days of ‘ugly fabrics.’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

John Ahrens ended up in Dallas accidentally, but it’s an accident that may have saved his life. In the late 1960s, he was enrolled at Yale

University’s drama department, studying theater alongside classmates like Christopher Durang, Sigourney Weaver, Wendy Wasserstein and Meryl Streep. It was a magical time.

“I lived in New York until the late 1970s,” he recalls. “Back then, in 1976 in New York, anything was possible — you had Paul [the gay character] onstage in A Chorus Line, it was post-Stonewall.” The Continental Baths had acts like Bette Midler and Barry Manilow before anyone knew who they were. “Later you had La Cage aux Folles with Georges singing ‘I Am What I Am.’”

In other words, it was a great time to be gay.

Or so it seemed. Ahrens moved to Dallas in 1978, putting him 1,300 miles away when the AIDS epidemic hit New York hard. Ahrens first realized how serious the situation was when he called a friend to inquire about a former roommate; the roommate had died.

All those emotions came flooding back to him last month, when he made a pilgrimage to New York specifically to see the revival of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s 1985 play about the AIDS crisis. Ahrens caught a Sunday matinee; four hours later, it walked away with three Tony Awards including best revival of a play.

“It was amazing,” Ahrens says, choking up slightly. “It so accurately describes the panic everyone was living through, especially those still in the closet. It has gotten better” over the years.

That seems to be the consensus. The Normal Heart arrived in New York about the same time as another play about AIDS, As Is, but met with a very different reception. As Is made it to Broadway, where it was rewarded with three Tony Award nominations and the Drama Desk Award for outstanding new play. The Normal Heart remained off-Broadway, underground. And its angry political tone was eventually eclipsed by Tony Kushner’s two-part epic Angels in America.

But when’s the last time you heard someone talk about As Is? Meanwhile, Kramer’s play has earned cult status. (For years, Barbra Streisand tried to direct a film version.)

“The Normal Heart was so much of its time,”Ahrens opines, “but seeing it brought it all back. It captured the horrors of it all. The visualization of John Benjamin Hickey’s performance was so authentic — back then, you could look at someone and know they had HIV.”

It was a horrific time, but also one that spurred great achievement and sacrifice. “It changed a lot of people and made them get their shit together,” he says.

Ahrens, a respected costume designer, was present for the first auction of clothes from DIFFA, the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. He still remembers the first piece he designed: A red leather number with a hoop skirt meant to evoke Christian Lacroix…“worn by a 6-foot-tall redhead.” (He’s referring to Dallas supermodel Jan Strimple, a long-time supporter of DIFFA and an AIDS activist, one of Ahrens’ oldest friends.)

It probably wasn’t his best work — back then, it was hard to do your best work.

“We all got our fabric from the same fashion line, and that line was really ugly,” he says. “Some of us were getting our fabric the night before the show.”

Things have changed. The designs became more fabulous, the designers more high-profile, the fabrics of better quality. But what Ahrens remembers most are the people — in particular, the lesbian community.

“They were the soldiers,” he says frankly. “Lory Masters and her generation? Hell, they took on so much,” caring for the mostly gay men who suffered.

Back then, even being associated with AIDS took heroics; today, gay and straight, HIV-positive and –negative men and women readily lend their names and faces to campaigns such as Faces of Life, Dallas-based photographer Jorge Rivas’ campaign for AIDS awareness. The stigma has diminished — but it is not gone.

Ahrens didn’t see The Normal Heart when it first ran in New York more than 25 years ago, but seeing it in 2011 truly made him see how far things have come — and how far they still have to go.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Cook Tesar

The Commissary, John Tesar’s foray into burgers and fine-dining, is as bipolar as it sounds

DER  COMMISSARY | In the main dining room, the Tandoori lamb lettuce wrap burger, above, is do-it-yourself; in the chef’s table, burgers are replaced by foie gras and lobster, below. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

My foodlationship with John Tesar is long and largely accidental.

He first cooked for me back when he worked at Rick Moonen’s restaurant in Las Vegas, about six months before he took over the kitchen at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. I last ate his food at the Mansion about a week before his infamous, sudden departure a few years ago. He then turned up last fall at DIFFA’s “Burgers and Burgundy” event; among a slate of excellent chefs, he made one of the top hamburgers there.

He “accidentally” cooked for me again at a soft opening for The Cedars Social last February, after the chef scheduled to cook got snowed in and he stepped up. That was soon before he opened his latest venture, The Commissary — really, the first resto that has been truly his: Not Moonen’s, not a hotel’s, not at a one-time charity benefit.

It’s a puzzling name for any restaurant aiming for high-end status, sounding, as it does, like a functional, personality-free grocery store on a military base, or a lunchroom where the daily special is apt to be creamed beef on toast, popularly called shit-on-a-shingle by all my Air Force family members. It doesn’t really evoke fine dining.

Of course, the answer is that Tesar isn’t trying to do anything high-end. Like the folks who started Twisted Root Burger Company — Cordon Bleu-trained chefs who just wanted to open a burger joint they’d eat at — he wants mass appeal, not critical cred.

Why, then, take over a space in One Arts Plaza vacated by Dali, a delightful wine bar that oozed sophistication? Tesar has changed the interior only slightly: The clear polycarbonate countertops with sunken cork remain, as do the artsy chairs; an oversized decorative clock looms over the dining room. (The bathrooms have been updated, artwork replaced by black slate on which are written rotating chalk drawings and sayings — “Go Mavs!” or “America Rocks!” … stuff like that. I guess some could call it art; looks more like colorful toilet graffiti to me.)

And more to the point: Tesar likes the serious-chef mantle. He’s reserved the chef’s table, in a narrow, separate room along the main dining hall, for fancy, multi-course prix fixe meals, featuring foo-foo reductions and sous vide techniques and hoity-toity ingredients.

If a restaurant could be diagnosed as bipolar, The Commissary would be in the DSM IV. The food certainly is good, sometimes great, but that schizophrenia dominates your opinion of it. At one dinner, two different folks took our drink order, only to deliver our table-neighbors’ drinks to us. Later, long after my flatbread had been ravaged clean and my cocktails and water glasses were as dry as British wit, no refills were forthcoming.

It’s not just dinner. At a recent lunch, our waitress was smart, informed about the menu and polite. She (or rather, the kitchen) also forgot our appetizers (both of them), which we only received after the entrees were well on the way to completion. Though we ordered the deviled eggs with caviar, they arrived without. We got a ramekin of caviar after two of the three eggs were gone; we were charged full price for it.

That doesn’t breed loyalty, even when the food is excellent.

And there is definitely excellence on the menu, mostly made up of gourmet burgers and foodie-targeted sides, with a sizeable alcohol selection. (The Commissary seems to have inherited much of Dali’s wine list along with its décor.) The chips-and-salsa with guacamole ($7) was serviceable enough, with a thick, potent salsa that was almost heavy enough to be a pasta sauce. Even better are the avocado fries ($7), so thick they looked like fossilized raptor claws, until you bite into the soft, fleshy avocado strips, as buttery as a chardonnay.

Avocado makes its way onto a lot of dishes, including the Big-Tex burger ($9), though it was the salsa cruda that supplied the hearty punch to the taste buds. Like all the burgers, it came with a side of matchstick fries that you gotta love: Crunchy, thin, un-greasy and addictively salted. They really do call to mind commissary food, like something in a junior high cafeteria… which I mean in the best way. Comfort food expressed as a fried julienne potato. Sweet potato tots ($4) make for a fun substitute.

The star of the burger menu, however, is The Farmer ($9): 8 oz. of grass-fed medium rare beef topped by a perfectly poached duck egg, white cheddar and a thin membrane of speck. You stare at it longer than seems Christian, admiring the beauty of the tuft of albumen, strained by gravity on the yolk to burst before your eyes. Before that happens, your hands grip around the brioche bun, jauntily astride the burger like a sporty tam-o’-shanter, breaking the seal; the yellow goo that doesn’t make it to the back of your throat streams down your sleeves and onto the plate. It’s a black hole of cholesterol from which pulses only waves of flavor and fat, but I’m not complaining. Eating it is a sensual food experience, and like most sensual things, messy. I’ve never had a burger here that didn’t look like surgery after I’d finished.

Lower-cal versions (“super model” they call them, though I can’t imagine seeing Kate Moss within a catwalk of a sloppy burger bar) are available, supposedly with lettuce wraps. The one I ordered, the Tandoori lamb ($8; also  available on pita) was less wrapped than do-it-yourself ready. The tzatziki sauce was mild, though it blended well with the Tandoor spices.

In the private dining room, you sense the schizoid aspect even more prominently. Tesar is a self-confessed seafood chef, which makes the decision to do a burger joint puzzling in the first place. When he gets to stretch culinary muscle with a chef’s tasting menu, it’s heavy on scallops, oysters, cuttlefish; even a lobe of foie gras is undergirded with a piece of lobster.

The tasting menu, different each meal, is a fabulous affair, but even still, not really white-glove star treatment (maybe he’ll come to the room to introduce each dish, maybe not), though unassailably well-conceived.

Some of the minor touches impress more than the big ones. The locally-made pickles are to-die-for yummy, and the pecan pie with housemade vanilla ice cream (even though I ordered it without; ah, well) chunky and rich.

Still, the Commissary’s duality — high-end and down-home; exquisite presentation but only when they get the order right — taxes your patience. Service needs to improve, and the fennel/artichoke salad should be 86’d (it’s flat and flavorless), but I’d go again just to gaze upon that duck egg, dirty thoughts entering my head. Let it stain my shirt; true love always leaves scars.

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OVERALL RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

The Commissary, at One Arts Plaza, 1722 Routh St. Open Daily for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. No reservations except for chef’s table. TheCommissaryDallas.com.
Excellent burgers compete with a vague style and spotty service. The chef’s table is fine and reasonable.

Food: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Atmosphere: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Service: 2 stars
Price: Moderate

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Best bets • 11.12.10

Friday 11.12

Rivas makes ‘Faces’ picture perfect
You might have seen the gigantic portraits of community figures during this year’s Pride parade. They were shot by photographer Jorge Rivas who has been busy with sessions for people wanting their photos taken for his Faces of Life exhibit. The opening reception with Rivas benefits AIDS Arms, Inc. and features some pretty amazing portraits.

DEETS: ilume Gallerie, 4123 Cedar Springs Road.  7 p.m. Through Dec. 15. ilumeGallerie.com.

Saturday 11.13

Dance the night away – three nights
The gay run Beckles Dancing Company participates in the South Dallas Dance Festival 10. The South Dallas Cultural Center hosts three days of dance and education with both a master class and performance on Saturday. Beckles is one of 17 companies included in the festivities.

DEETS: SDCC, 3400 S. Fitzhugh Ave. 8 p.m. Nov. 12–14. BecklesDancingCompany.org.

Thursday 11.18

Be the envy of your neighbors
You won’t get the boys with it, but you can bid on evergreen fabulosity at DIFFA’s Holiday Wreath Collection Event. Vie for that wreath your neighbors will all be jealous of. Unless they’re bidding with you. Which is good, because the auction benefits North Texas AIDS services organizations.

DEETS: Ritz-Carlton Dallas, 2555 N. Pearl St.  6 p.m. $50. DiffaDallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens