Oak’s Richard Gras Talks Menu Changes, Where He Eats

By Farah Fleurima  |  December 2, 2013

After former executive chef Jason Maddy left this summer, Oak was a fine-dining ship without a captain. Fortunately, it's charted a new culinary course (though in the same New American waters) with Florida transplant Richard Gras. The new kitchen lead is coming from a stint in Florida as chef de cuisine at St. Regis Bal Harbour’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant, J&G Grill, and is primed to extend his sea legs in a new role. We asked him 10 questions about his present gig.

Zagat: You came to Oak in July on the heels of the sudden exit of your predecessor. How have you aimed to establish yourself and your style?
Richard Gras: I was so honored with this opportunity to work at Oak. I have already started establishing myself with the support of my great team here. They really understand and support my vision for the restaurant. Oak has always been a very innovative restaurant, so I have incorporated my modern American style of cooking by utilizing as many local ingredients as possible. We have teamed up with local farmers for our pork, beef, vegetables and herbs. We take really great product and pair it with interesting flavors to create really great food.

Zagat: Which new menu items are you most proud of?
RG: It’s really hard for me to say, because with every menu change we do, I always have a new favorite or one I am most proud of. I guess it's just the evolution of the menu that excites me the most. Right now, the dishes that I’m most proud of are the antelope in two preparations, served with sweet potato, kale and cocoa oil; miso-marinated cod served with housemade kimchi, persimmon, carrot and cashew; the charcuterie board; beet salad with yogurt, honey and Thai chili; and the gnocchi with smoked salmon and dill.

Zagat: Would you say you’ve revamped the menu extensively since taking over the kitchen?
RG: Yes, we’ve completely revamped the menu since I’ve been at Oak. We’re currently getting ready to change it up again for the season.

Zagat: How does menu-crafting at a stand-alone restaurant differ from that at a resort restaurant?
RG: It is very different. In a hotel or resort setting, you really need to make sure that you keep it mainstream. There is, of course, some room to be creative, but you just can’t think too outside of the box. In a standalone restaurant, I’ve really been able to let my creativity run wild. I have a full ability to serve what I want when I want to. I keep it very seasonal and local and change the menu at least six times a year. It’s exciting and very fun to create unique food and memorable experiences.

Zagat: Do you like having a hand in your restaurant’s cocktail program, and is that something you do at Oak?
RG: I love helping with the cocktails. I feel like the cocktails should be ingredient focused and change with seasons, just like with food.

Zagat: You’re new to Dallas - what have been some of your favorite local ingredients to work with?
RG: My favorite local ingredients so far are Black Hill Farms pork (they raise nine heritage breeds of pork), Homestead Gristmill grits, South Texas antelope and 44 Farms and Branch Ranch for beef.

Zagat: What’s the one ingredient you couldn’t get locally in Florida that you’ve loved finding locally here?
RG: Heritage pork. I absolutely love pork, but with access to all nine breeds, it’s even more exciting.

Zagat: Who are some of your go-to and favorite purveyors and how are you showcasing them on the menu?
RG: Branch Ranch. They provide us with our dry-aged beef that we serve on the menu with daikon radish, roasted garlic and soy caramel. 44 Farms for our short ribs, which we sell a ton of, that’s paired with celery root, Calabrese pepper and apple mostarda.

Zagat: You’re probably still exploring Dallas’ dining scene, but thus far, what are some of your favorite eateries, besides, of course, Oak?
RG: So far, I have had little time to explore, but I really like Lucia, Boulevardier for brunch and Lockhart [Smokehouse] for barbecue. I really can't wait to try Spoon, FT33 and the [Rosewood] Mansion.

Zagat: Who are some local chefs you’ve met and/or admired, whether before you moved here or since moving here?
RG: Bruno Davaillon from the Mansion is a really amazing chef. We met when I was in California. I recently met Kent Rathbun [of Abacus] while he was dining at Oak.