Chef Chat, Part 2: Dagan Lynn of 024 Grille on His Upcoming Tasting Menus, Wine Dinners and More
Photos by Mai Pham Chef Dagan Lynn of 024 Grille at the Westin Memorial City
024 Grille at the Westin Memorial City
945 N. Gessner Rd.
This is Part two of a three-part Chef Chat series. Read Part 1 here and Part 3 in this same space on Thursday and Friday.
EOW: So, being an executive chef in a hotel, how is that different from being one in a restaurant?
DL: It's so different. Because restaurants are very much routine. You know exactly what you're doing Monday and Tuesday, and you may have a special event pop up, but for the most part, your daily routines don't change. In a hotel, no two days are ever alike. Because we're doing different menus, we have different size groups, we're doing buffet, we're doing these off-sites -- it's never dull. It's never the same day. At this level, we're doing sales, because you're trying to figure out what the client wants, we're trying to figure out what we can do differently. We have an event coming up where we're making ice cream à la minute with liquid nitrogen. Guests love it, you see the reaction on their faces. We went to another where we were dropping macaroons into liquid nitrogen, and then people were breathing smoke out of their mouths.
EOW: So 024 Grille. What is the significance of the name?
DL: It has to do with the area code. It's 77024. We also had the 024 Lounge across the hall, which has the waterfall with the numbers 024 behind it.
EOW: So Grille to you means what? What can someone expect when they come here?
DL: I keep things very simple. I like flavor combinations that have been around for a long time. Eggplant and apples. Pomegranate shishito. Simple elegance is the way to describe it. There's probably a lot more technique that goes into the food. For instance, we sous vide the pork before we grill it, so it's cooked perfectly. Each plate has a different technique to it. We have a dish where we make pork jus, reduce balsalmic, and add brown butter and that's our sauce. I love brown butter. The pork dish is great -- it has pork belly, jalapeño sausage that we get local, there's pulled pork, and then some roasted apples and eggplant.
EOW: Is there seasonality to the menu?
DL: Oh yeah. We try to change with the seasons, even though we kind of get lost in the seasons, because it doesn't ever really feel like winter here, ever. If I find a new product out there -- we have a charcuterie board where I got everything local and we have nice Texas cheeses on there. We're still so new. We've done four menu revisions since we opened.
EOW: Being so new, where do you see the future?
DL: For the new year, we're gonna start doing a nice breakfast buffet. We're doing it on the weekend right now. Tasting menus are to come, wine dinners are to come. Not just wine. I love doing wine dinners, but there are a lot of liquors out there that I enjoy. I lived in Puerto Rico, so I love rum. I fell in love with some rum. Bacardi, and they have one that is now my favorite of all called Oakheart. I love pairing food with those things. Because you go to wine dinners, and sometimes at the end of it, people are kind of sleepy. But when you do liquor dinners with tequila or rum, it's the complete opposite. Everybody's just fired up and they're kind of rowdy and all energized. We started doing these when I was running this steakhouse in Vegas where we'd flambé dover sole or bananas foster tableside -- classic stuff. We called Jack Daniels and were like, "Hey, we'll buy a barrel of whiskey and raffle it off." We brought in the Gentleman Jack, and did it with tequila, too.
EOW: On to more personal stuff. You have a young family, right?
DL: I had three children in four years. I have a brand-new daughter, she's almost four months, and two sons, almost four and almost three.
EOW: Being in the restaurant industry is so difficult, so when do you see them?
DL: Sundays right now. I don't see them in the morning because our banquet work starts early, at five or six. But I get to see them and tuck them in. You know, life as a chef.
EOW: How many years have you been in the industry?
DL: I grew up on a dairy farm, then I started in restaurants when I was 16. I decided to go professional at 18. That's when I started really getting into food.
EOW: From back then to now, how have you evolved?
DL: It's been such a journey. When I was in New York, I worked in three different properties, but I worked with the same guys. Everybody was so talented -- I think all my training and all my fundamentals came from my time in New York. On my off days -- you know, we worked 18-hour days, six days a week for months and months with no time off -- on my off days, I was going to Restaurant Daniel.
EOW: You were? To eat?
DL: No, just to hang out. There's so many talented people in kitchens in New York, and I wanted to see them all, and obviously I didn't make enough money to go there and eat. So the most affordable way to chase anything is to go and work there for free. Daniel was so great. He came up to me and said hello when I was in his kitchen, then years later, I saw him again in Vegas, and he still remembered me.
EOW: Final questions. What would be your last meal?
DL: It's gonna have to be a table full of everything I can't afford. Whole roast foie gras is one of my favorite things. At the Country Restaurant, probably the most expensive kitchen I've ever been a part of, opening in the Carlton Hotel at 29th and Madison, Geoffrey Zakarian was the chef/owner. They brought in equipment from France; we had a stove that was 100k, another that was 60k, a rotisserie that could rotisserie everything -- we could rotisserie eggs. They didn't care about food cost at all, so when we had a VIP table come in, we'd whole roast foie gras, we'd have white truffles, we'd start them off with caviar. Like Keller's oysters and caviar dish is awesome. I was working banquets with him, and I got to do a lot of his classic dishes, because they were private parties and everybody wanted what was in his book -- lobster, peas and carrots, oysters and pearls. These dishes were just perfect.
EOW: And these would be what you want for your last meal...
DL: Okay, we'd start with golden Ossetra caviar. Whole roast foie gras with dates and lemons. To finish off, probably a suckling pig. Every food that you think of as chef food. If I'm dying, I want everything. I want the Dom Perignon, the blue fin tuna. For dessert, a chocolate bomb. Daniel does this chocolate bomb with a ginger filling and a feuillettine crust. I'm a huge fan of pralines.
Check back with us tomorrow as we taste some of Lynn's dishes.
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