Farm to Table, Farmer to Chef

It seems nothing can stop Park Cities resident Iris Midler McCallister. For the second consecutive year, she was forced to move the biggest day of her Chefs for Farmers event out of Lee Park and into Gilley’s on South Lamar. Despite relentless rains, more than 2,400 attended that day, a new record for the culinary event.

“To give the ultimate experience, we have a rain plan because Texas is unpredictable,” McCallister said. “Gilley’s is a great venue that’s iconic and showcases Dallas well.”

What started out as an informal dinner in 2010 turned into the unexpected launch of Chefs for Farmers, which has grown into a three-day event celebrating farm-to-table dining.

McCallister’s husband Matt is a chef who’s probably best known as the founder of design district staple FT33. She recalls him taking long drives to meet area farmers and thought there had to be a better way to connect farmers and chefs.

McCallister decided to host five chefs and a group of local farmers. About 125 attended the dinner, which was held in a field just outside of Dallas.

“I wanted the farmers to feel comfortable,” McCallister said. “I said, ‘Come in your jeans and your boots and have a good time. Nobody is getting dressed up.’”

Not long afterwards, she started getting requests to host other dinners. It became apparent she could not accommodate everyone, which prompted her to turn the dinner into a ticketed event for the public. With the help of the city and various sponsors, Chefs for Farmers has expanded well beyond any of her initial expectations.

“It’s been a great event for the chefs, the restaurants, and the city,” she said.

McCallister said she “wants to drive the message” of farm-to-table dining. According to her, Dallas has been on the forefront of the movement, which has gained popularity over the past decade. She credits this to local chefs who have promoted incorporating high quality local ingredients into restaurant menus.

“People stand by it and they don’t compromise,” McCallister said. “That says a lot about our chefs. It’s all about raising awareness.”
To support local farmers, Chefs for Farmers does not charge them booth fees to participate. This year, Victory Park stepped in and gave each chef a small stipend to help offset costs.

While McCallister has been asked to host events in other cities she plans to focus solely on Dallas, and hopes to put on an even bigger celebration next year. She already has a verbal commitment from John Patterson, the head chef at Philadelphia’s popular Fork restaurant, and she hopes to announce more new participants throughout the year.

McCallister also wants to develop a new restaurant that will utilize local farmers and adhere to the farm-to-table principles that Chefs for Farmers embodies.

“I really respect every single role in a restaurant. You just have to have the whole recipe,” she said.

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