Jeff and Bowen Bekavac in their food fridge: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Jeff and Bowen Bekavac in their food fridge: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

The chefs we interviewed all have at least two refrigerators. The most honest of them will tell you there is a food fridge and a beer fridge. We picked the brains of food geniuses who live and work in our neighborhood to learn what else — if anything — they have in common.

Jeff Bekavac

“Everyone has an opinion on food, though. It can be like politics.”

When Jeff Bekavac steps onto the front porch of his Lake Highlands home — clean shaven, smiling sweetly and looking years younger than his 35, with 5-month-old baby Bowen on his hip and a rotund, drooling bulldog named Basil at his feet — it is hard to imagine him ever becoming one of those egocentric prime-time chefs, much less taking a swing at one. For a decade or so (aside from a brief stint as a Central Market chef) he’s worked alongside Nick Badovinus — the chef whose company, Flavor Hook, includes Off-Site Kitchen, Tried and True, Town Hearth and Neighborhood Services (with three locations), where Bekavac reigns as executive chef. His name did pop up amid some minor chef-on-chef controversy after D Magazine led a feature story with an anecdote about a reported late-night row involving polarizing chef John Tesar, Badovinus and Bekavac. But that only served to add a hint of spice to his otherwise clean repute. His smoked sausage in 2012 and 2013 received rave reviews from judges presiding over Meat Fight, a National MS Society fundraiser that has raised $70,000 in its two years. Basically, despite his down-to-earth front, he’s a big deal.

What’s in your fridge at home?
Leftovers from the Memorial Day party. Brian Luscher’s hot dogs. He is a neighbor. [Luscher owns The Grape and Luscher’s Post Oak Red Hots hot dog line and was featured in a past Advocate article]. For the party I did dips, dogs and drinks. There’s a smoked salmon platter from TJ’s Seafood. I’ve been friends with owner John Alexis since I was in high school. He brought me the salmon. He’s a great guy. I always have yogurt. My wife makes these super-tasty little key lime pies. Those are in there. Tequila pops in the freezer … I have a lot of beer in the beer fridge.

What kind of beer is in the beer fridge?
I am a big Lakewood Brewery fan. Not just saying that because it’s local. Lakewood Lager and Till & Toil is a staple. Lots of Lone Star. Classic. There are a lot of Capri Suns. My wife is going to kill me for showing y’all this. [Offers tour of beer fridge].

What does your wife do for a living?
She is an emergency room nurse at Parkland. That is why we have Carmen [the sitter] to watch Bowen. Sometimes when I am complaining — like, ‘oh my gosh, this dummy burned a burger’ — she’ll say, ‘I helped a guy whose arm was cut off.’ It puts a lot of things in perspective.

Where do you grocery shop?
Still loyal to Central Market, where I worked for about a year and a half. I go to Whole Foods on Preston Royal; it’s so close for me, but other than that I will hit the Tom Thumb.

Must-have items in home kitchen?
Peanut butter. Not like fancy peanut butter. Jif extra crunchy. Always. Oatmeal because I eat it every morning. No particular brand. Horizon milk. Nutella. Blue Bell Vanilla. I have a sweet tooth.

Essential kitchen gadget?
My KitchenAid mixer because you use it for so many things, whether making pasta, using it as a meat grinder or baking with it. That and my zester. I use it a lot for cheese, chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg …

What is your guilty-pleasure food?
Spaghetti and meatballs. Pasta. I could eat it every meal of the week. No gluten-free, carb-free for me. It was a staple that my mom made. That and peanut butter-jelly sandwiches.

Jeff and Bowen Bekavac: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Jeff and Bowen Bekavac: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

If you could cook for any person – dead or alive – who would it be and what would you make them?
Oh, man. That is a tough question. You know what? I know it sounds, eh, but I would cook for my grandparents, because I think that they would be really happy with what I have done. I would make them a big steak, mashed potatoes and probably a big chocolate cake — simple, classic.

Favorite restaurants?
I love Brian Luscher’s The Grape; Cane Rosso, a go-to for pizza; Goodfriend, 20 Feet and Good2Go Taco. When my wife is not working, she loves to cook dinner, so we do eat at home a lot. Sundays we will have brunch — I love Crossroads Diner. I am a big fan of sandwiches. I’ll go anywhere that has a good sandwich.

The perfect sandwich?
Probably nice toasted sourdough from the Village Baking Company —  they do our bread, and I love that sourdough. Mustard. Spicy. Crispy smoked bacon, fresh tomato, lettuce, avocado, and depending on my mood, a fried egg.

When did the fried egg start getting put on everything?
I don’t know. But I love it. It gives food such a richness and when you get that yolk it’s like instant mayonnaise, another topping, so versatile. My wife absolutely hates the egg.

TV shows?
I don’t watch a lot of cooking shows. I do watch Parks and Rec. When we did Meat Fight, Ron Swanson was a judge. I love him. I watch ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I am behind so don’t tell me. I like Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men — mostly shows that run Sunday nights because that is when I am home — and I like HGTV.

What are your thoughts on the cooking shows?
Well, I guess I like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, because it is a simple formula that he uses every time. All the shows are the same. It is funny to watch the people and the drama. I enjoyed the crazy lady from Phoenix last year who went viral; that was a riot. There are people out there that are just nuts. But generally I don’t watch a lot of food TV. I try to decompress. Now the DVR is full of the entire Bravo network lineup, for my wife. Real Housewives kind of thing.

Well, she works in the Parkland ER. She needs to decompress too, right?
Absolutely. She definitely needs to decompress.

Favorite sports teams?
Anybody will tell you, I am a huge college football fan. A&M. College football is my favorite thing in the entire world … but all the Dallas teams. I grew up in Coppell in the mid-’90s, so Cowboys — I went to school with coaches’ kids. Stars, Mavs, Rangers, I love them.

Ideal vacation?
We went to St. John’s last summer with my wife’s family. We want to go back. Going to a beach. On our honeymoon we went to Zihuatanejo …

The beach in Shawshank?
Yes. It is an old fishing village. Looks beautiful, just like in the movie.

Anywhere you would travel just for the cuisine?
Spain and Italy are the top two I would like to visit.

For the spaghetti and meatballs?
Ha ha. Exactly. No, but I love to just study the flavor profiles in the different regions.

Worst food trends right now?
Food is so interesting now because people are so infatuated with food, but everyone is a critic. It’s not a trend in cuisine, but the food world — the people cooking the food, the others, the bartender, servers — are subject to everyone on the internet with an opinion.

The Yelpers? They can hurt.
What bothers me, the hardest thing, is when they don’t say anything to you when you have a chance to fix it, and they go write something. If you are not happy with something, you don’t have to be a jerk. Allow us to fix the problem. I think sometimes the people posting don’t realize they are writing about humans. Everyone has an opinion on food, though. It can be like politics. Politics, religion, food.

—Christina Hughes Babb

Roger Kaplan

“All good food is science and art and a certain amount of technology.”

You probably wouldn’t know it if you ran into him at our local Asian grocery store, but Roger Kaplan is a kitchen legend. In the ’80s and ’90s he was a quintessential celebrity chef, sporting wild, curly hair and appearing in classic cooking programs such as “Great Chefs, Great Cities” and numerous news shows, magazine features and cookbooks. He attended the Culinary Institute of America; landed the pastry chef post at The Ritz in D.C.; launched the iconic Old Ebbitt Grill near the White House as executive sous chef and later executive chef; and opened Atlanta’s City Grill, which, as owner and chef, he molded into a five-star, Beard-award-winning establishment. Later he worked as a corporate chef to some 50 restaurants, training, consulting and creating menus for companies across the country. He joined Boston Market in the business’s infancy (“they were making real food, good food, and were like little gourmet grocery stores at the time,” he says), learning all about the manufacturing of food, before taking a position with Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in Dallas, where he turned his attention to front-of-the-house operations, rounding out his knowledge of the industry. Today Kaplan works mostly behind the scenes, owning shares in multiple restaurants, and creating menus and advising restaurateurs through his company, Restaurant Innovations. Much of his gastronomic alchemy occurs inside his Lake Highlands home’s kitchen.

What’s in your refrigerator right now?
Some products for restaurants I work with but that I cannot mention [there are confidentiality agreements with some of the restaurants he consults]. Ten to 12 hot sauces. Some things from my garden — herbs — cider, beer, homemade pastrami, prosciutto, cheeses, avocado.

What type of beer?
Negro Modelo, Fireman 4, Lawnmower.

What are the essentials that you must always have on hand?
Extra virgin olive oil, garlic, shallots, fresh herbs, vinegars, citrus — lemon, limes, grapefruit — for flavor, a whole library of spices and grains, lentils, flax, hemp. I am into making vegetable protein shakes right now, for our health. My wife, Carolyn, and I have started working out at Peak Zone Fitness. I’ve lost about 15 pounds. She had cancer [years ago] — lost a lot of weight, put on a lot of weight. She is in the best shape ever now. We love it. We force each other to work out and eat right. I am also making protein bars.

Where do you buy your groceries?
I am all over the Asian markets. I like H Mart in Richardson. I love La Michoacana meat market — there’s one right up the street on Walnut Hill. Sometimes Central Market or Whole Foods, depending on what I’m doing. I also like the Herb Mart — in Medallion Center — for hemp seeds and hearts, chocolate hibiscus. It is great.

OK, you’re into health food now, but what’s your go-to comfort food?
Well, any old chef will tell you all good food is comfort food. You can see it in trends around Dallas that we keep veering back to comfort food —  you’ve got the Blind Butcher, sausages, steak, potatoes, mac and cheese is back. All humans are driven by salt, sugar and lipids. That is why we want potato chips. That is why we want ice cream for dessert — sweet and fat. For me, what are the ultimate comfort foods? Soup dumplings, onigiri, which is a Japanese food — triangle-shaped rice with fish or plumbs in them — they are the most comforting thing. In fact, when we came back on the plane, we brought them with us so we could avoid the airplane food. We also like mashed potatoes, pizza …

Favorite pizza place around here?
We probably eat at Grimaldi’s more often than anywhere else. They seem to be more consistent with the type of pizza I grew up on, up north.

What’s your most essential gadget in your home kitchen?
Right now, other than a stove, it is my Anova re-thermalizer. This is a sous vide pressure cooker. [Sous vide works by regulating the temperature of water so that the food cooks very slowly. The water is held at the same precise temperature until the food is cooked through, and allows the inside and outside to cook together].

Favorite neighborhood restaurant?
We love Latin Deli. The Lomo Saltado sandwich, Cuban sandwich, red chicken salad. It is a staple for my wife, Carolyn, and me. Our place. We’ll go there all the time.

Roger Kaplan chills and grills at White Rock: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Roger Kaplan chills and grills at White Rock: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Cooking shows. Do you watch them?
I used to when they were about food. The shows now are not teaching. They are about celebrities now. If I had to watch, it would be ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ because I like hearing the guys in the diner talk about their food, their waffles and ice cream, comfort food. And don’t get me started on Paula Deen, who’s diabetic and telling people to eat blubber …

The ones where they are screaming? That’s not a good method of teaching?
No. Those upset me the most. Just perpetuating a stereotype. Yeah, it’s a hot environment and busy and frustrating, and tempers can flare, but usually when someone is reacting like that it is because they are blaming themselves for something, seeing themselves in the guy they’re yelling at. The walk-in [the big refrigerator in a restaurant] is a great place for a reprimand for someone who needs his butt kicked, but in public, that’s where you compliment.

What country would you travel to just for the food?
Peru. Lima is a hotspot. I want to get there and try the markets, restaurants, see what’s happening at the farm.

Family/friends are coming for dinner without much notice — what do you make them?
It’s mostly going to be what I have in my refrigerator. But I do have a lot of food here in the two refrigerators — I’ve got a fridge out back filled with ingredients for work recipes. But maybe I make smoked-brisket burritos; there’s always something fun you can throw together. If I know they like something specifically, I’ll make that, even if I have to run up to the store.

Do you entertain at home a lot?
No, but we did have my daughter’s wedding here.

What did you serve there?
It was very eclectic — we had vegetarian food, Mediterranean, shrimp, short ribs … the band played in the corner. The wedding cake was a cupcake wedding tier cake that I did not make. It was very good.

Where was the cake from?
Crème De La Cookie. It’s in Preston-Royal and Snider Plaza.

Ever had to cook for someone important who made you nervous?
I have cooked for two presidents and was part of a team that cooked for Queen Elizabeth. I’ve cooked for Bill Cosby, Ted Turner, Jane Fonda … almost all of Congress when I was in D.C., but really, they are not the ones who are important, really, to me. The people who I most want to impress is, say, the couple who appreciates food, who worked hard, saved up, because they  want to go have this one really special meal. They are all important, but that is the most important. I look at it, every single time someone walks into a restaurant, that I don’t know what’s going on in their life, and meals are a covenant. As restaurateurs we should be giving the best quality food and the best service. Making sure this person has the most awesome time. When people go into the restaurant they should only have to make two decisions. What am I drinking? What am I eating? Anytime you involve them in any other part of the process — do you need me to move this plate? Or they have to get the waiter’s attention for another drink — that’s a failure to me.

What presidents, and what did you serve the presidents and the queen?
There was Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan — I served Reagan a bomb. Haha. An ice cream bomb. That is when I was the pastry chef at Ritz. Also, I had to taste it before he could eat it. The Secret Service said, “Did you make this?” And I said, “Yes.” And they said, “We need you to taste it.” Jimmy Carter, that was for a dinner to raise money for Habitat for Humanity when I was in Atlanta — I cooked alongside Alice Waters and Stephan Pyles. And Queen Elizabeth, I was part of a big team of chefs with Dean Fearing. I really don’t remember the exact meal. I do remember Bill Cosby dragging a bartender into the kitchen to show her how to make a proper cappuccino.

Chef or mentor whom you would want to cook for you (alive or not)?
Probably Ferran Adrià. He is a Spanish chef and the father of molecular gastronomy and innovative cooking.

Cooking disasters you care to confess?
Oh, there are a lot. I mean, most great things happen because no one would think of it, and a lot of times getting to the point of the brilliant idea, you wind up with a lot of bad tastes. There was a rosemary chicken — it would have been fine … but it was cooked in air in altitude and that made the rosemary stronger, and when it came out, it was medicinal. All good food is science and art and a certain amount of technology. Stand at the center and some crazy great stuff comes of that. Perfecting a sauce can take six months, and it’s as simple as adding a small percent each day until you find it can’t get any better. It is a misnomer that baking is precise and cooking is not precise; everything is a ratio.

What is the perfect ratio of a sandwich?
In a good sandwich, everything is properly rationed by weight. Ratio of the burger to the bun to the crunchy goodies like the lettuce and fresh things, to the sauce, to the cheese. That proper ratio, when it’s met, is really good. When it’s not, it’s an OK burger or sandwich. It has to do with everything — the texture of the bun, all the way in. Precision. Ideally you don’t use volume measurements at all; everything, almost everything, would be by weight.

—Christina Hughes Babb

Ivan Pugh at his home kitchen: Photo by Kim Leeson

Ivan Pugh at his home kitchen: Photo by Kim Leeson

Ivan Pugh

“I’ve been cooking since I was a little kid.”

Chef Ivan Pugh, who owns Alligator Café in Casa Linda Plaza, always has loved cooking. “I’ve been cooking since I was a little kid,” he says. His passion led him to cook for several big-name Dallas Cowboys, including Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman. He has always enjoyed soul food, he says. These days, he cooks a lot of Italian food at home with his wife, Caterina Costante. He also likes to experiment with flavors and spices.

Which reality TV cooking show do you hate the most?
‘Hell’s Kitchen’ — I hate it. He’s just an abusive jerk.

Are there any that you like?
I like ‘Top Chef.’ That’s probably the one I watch the most. ‘Anne Burrell: Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.’ I get forced to watch some of the cooking shows, just for being married.

What’s the worst food trend in Dallas right now?
The worst food trend — not just in Dallas but in the nation — is the on-the-go food. Every once in a while, sit down and enjoy your food.

What’s the most essential tool in your kitchen?
My Scanpan. I cook probably 80 percent of my food on it.

What’s the best piece of wisdom or advice you’ve received about food/ cooking?
‘Cook what you love to eat.’ If I didn’t enjoy the cuisines that I make, there wouldn’t be a passion there.

What is the least-used thing in your home kitchen?
The hamburger patty maker. I think I used it the first day I got it and then realized it was taking way too long. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

What is your ideal comfort food?
It changes, but I would say chicken pot pie. But from scratch. I make a damn good chicken pot pie. That’s something I make when I have friends coming over.

Your wife’s family is coming in for the weekend — what do you cook?
Pasta, salad, good bread. Typically her mom will bring a bunch of Italian baked goods. She’s an amazing baker. I probably cook Italian more than anything while I’m at home. We’ve actually talked about opening an Italian restaurant.

If you could have a meal prepared by anyone, whom would you have cook for you?
Paul Prudhomme. I’d let him choose what he wanted to make. He’s really the one who boosted Cajun cooking in this country. He was basically the originator of blackening, which you see everywhere now.

What would you have for your last meal on earth?
A really, really good macaroni and cheese. Ribs, mac  and cheese, and mashed potatoes and gravy. No vegetables because it’d be my last meal, so I wouldn’t need them.

What dish have you created that you’re really proud of?
My crawfish enchilada.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever cooked?
Well, there are two answers to that question: There’s failed recipes, and every chef has a hundred of those. And then there’s the ‘you screwed up and you’re embarrassed about it.’ That’s usually early in your career. One time, I cooked swordfish for like 250 people, and swordfish can become very dry. I believe I grilled it, and I had done several pans of it. After serving about half of it, I tasted one of the pieces, and it was so dry. The bad thing was that it was for Jerry Jones and a bunch of his friends, and nobody ever told me it was bad. I don’t think I’ve cooked swordfish since then. I’ve never been able to get over that. But those are the experiences you learn from.

What is the strangest thing that has ever given you inspiration as a cook?
Probably eating rattlesnake when I was a kid. Having eaten all the weird things in life — that one thing in particular — I realized everything can be eaten.

—Brittany Nunn

Tom Fleming and daughter Alexandra, 9, in their home garden: Photo by Kim Leeson

Tom Fleming and daughter Alexandra, 9, in their home garden: Photo by Kim Leeson

Tom Fleming

“I think [Top Chef] is the most completely asinine waste of time.”

In a parallel world somewhere, Tom Fleming is the host of a wildly popular reality TV show. Viewers love him — he’s loud, large, animated and charismatic, he employs the F word more frequently than a teenager says “like,” and he has the culinary chops to back it all up. Problem is, Fleming hates those shows. In fact, he says, when “Top Chef” producers called him, he turned them down.  After Fleming, a Chicago-area native, briefly considered the Catholic priesthood (yes, really), he did copious time in Chicago, San Antonio and Dallas kitchens — from McDonald’s to Cajun dives and a brother’s breakfast diner to James Beard Award-winning establishments and everything in between — before opening Crossroads Diner four years ago. These days, he and his wife, Karen, spend Tuesday through Sunday mornings and afternoons at the large, art deco-esque eatery at Walnut Hill and Central. Look for the Sticky Bun girl.

At home, what are your refrigerator staples?
Milk, Dijon mustard, pesto, roasted peppers, olives, capers, garlic, onions. We eat pretty simply. When I was growing up, the youngest of seven, that’s how my mother taught me. You have a lean protein, vegetable, some kind of carbohydrate — sweet potatoes, couscous.

You do the cooking at home?
Nightly. My wife, Karen, does not cook, by choice. She is a phenomenal cook and has an incredible palate. But all those years I was cooking at night, she was home cooking for our daughters. The first night we were here I came home and said, ‘What’s for dinner?’ and she says, ‘I am never cooking again!’ She grocery shops, though.

Where?
Central Market and Kroger for the staples.

Do your girls cook?
My youngest daughter is a fabulous baker. She won ribbons for her brownie recipe two times at the State Fair. The oldest is good, too, but she prefers to create menus — ‘Hey Dad, you should make this, this and this …’

Unexpected dinner guests — what do you make?
The same way a chef comes up with specials — once around the walk-in. You come up with a chef’s special by going into the walk-in refrigerator, scanning it for ingredients and creating something from what you see. You can do the same thing at home. Some of my best ideas have come from once-around-the-walk-in.

Essential home-kitchen gadget?
My Henckels Chef’s Knife, offset serrated knife, the wok and my cast-iron pan.

Why did you turn down a “Top Chef” audition?
I think it is the most completely asinine waste of time. I do not fault anyone who has done it. In fact, having friends — no names named because they have confidentiality agreements — who have done it and shared their experiences is partly how I know it to be such a ludicrous experiment.

Do you watch the shows?
Never. My daughter will. She’ll say, ‘Dad, wanna watch Cutthroat Kitchen with me?’ No. No. People will ask me why I don’t watch them, and I ask them, ‘What’s your profession?’ and maybe they say lawyer and I say, ‘Well, do you watch lawyer shows?’ and they’ll say no, those are bullshit, and I say, ‘Exactly.’

What do you watch?
The lawyer shows! I like sitcoms. I like The ‘Mentalist’, ‘NCIS’, ‘Longmire’ on A&E.

Your favorite comfort food?
Pork schnitzel. Pork tenderloin, breaded and sautéed, with rice pilaf and steamed, crushed peas, was the favorite dish my mother made.

Ever had to cook for a big celebrity or someone who made you nervous?
Yes. When I was working under Chef Jean Joho, in Chicago at Everest and later Brasserie Jo, he led the team cooking for Julia Child’s 80th birthday. We did foie gras for 500 people. Every great chef in the world was there, either cooking or eating. Tons of pressure, and it was executed flawlessly. Years later, she came to Brasserie Jo to eat, she wound up on an elevator with me, she was very complimentary about the foie gras. She said, ‘I love foie gras and I don’t get the whole “it’s cruel” thing.’ I’m like, ‘I agree, ma’am.’ I’ve cooked for other people, but it doesn’t get much better than Julia Child.

If you could have anyone — living or not — cook for you, who would it be?
Um, wow. I’d like my mom to cook for me one more time.

Favorite local restaurants?
I like The Grape a lot. Neighborhood Services. There’s a little place in Richardson, Frankie’s Mexican Cuisine. Sevy’s. I don’t have a lot because I don’t go out a lot. Most chefs can’t sit in a restaurant without focusing on everything going on in the dining room. It’s hard to turn it off. When I go, it’s a place where I know the people running it have the same values we do. Then there are the local vendors we use for product — Dallas Mozzarella Company, Empire Bakery and Homestead Heritage, where we get these incredible gluten-free grits.

Strangest source of career inspiration?
The original Taco Cabana in San Antonio. It was in a neighborhood that was a confluence of every bit of culture in San Antonio — you have high school and college students, seminarians, politicians, hookers, bikers from the Crystal Pistol — and at midnight on a Friday, everybody from those categories would be at those picnic tables eating tacos. It was a family business — the mom and pop and abuela and cousins lined up, beans simmering, making authentic Tex-Mex food, homemade tortillas with these rustic flavors. You will find a lot of those influences in my food.

Sports teams — Chicago or Dallas?
Chicago teams. I am afflicted with a disease known as Cub fan. Lifelong.

Hobbies?
Fly fishing. It is very relaxing. And woodworking. I love to build — dressers, desks. I have a shop at the house.

The creation you are most proud of?
The Sticky Bun. It took about four months to get it down. Even then, the first few months we were open there were days when we had to throw them out. People came in for the buns because of the sign — our pinup girl, Rebecca Buns, on the side of the diner — and I had to tell them we had no buns because the batch sucked. Many buns were tossed in the early days.

—Christina Hughes Babb

Questions and answers have been edited for brevity