Grady Spears, a.k.a. the Cowboy Chef, never intended to become a cook, much less a chef. He dreamed, instead, of becoming a cowboy. But roping cattle didn't pay enough, so he took a job as restaurant manager at the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas. When the chef walked out, Spears started cooking-and never looked back.
Managing the Gage Hotel kitchen proved to be a lesson in ingenuity.
"The supply truck only came once a week," says Spears, "so I had to become really resourceful, using as many local ingredients as possible."
Today, he operates Grady's, his namesake restaurant in Fort Worth. There he serves T-bone steak smothered in red-chile enchiladas and braised short ribs with green-chile cheese grits, as well as Texas specialties such as smoked cabrito (goat) and quail. To keep in touch with his roots, he often sources ingredients from local ranchers.
"My cuisine is very Texas-driven," he says. "It's got big, bold flavors, yet it's very simple food." Spears has written several cookbooks, his latest called Cooking the Cowboy Way, to be released this fall. Rather than a chef's toque, he sports a cowboy hat in the kitchen and considers himself a cook, not chef. "I guess I'm still just a cowboy at heart."
By Diane Welland, a food writer in Springfield, Va.