Host Chef Tom Fleming
Central 214 | Dallas
Before moving to Dallas in 1997, Tom Fleming lived in Chicago
and worked under the tutelage of his mentor chef Jean Joho at Everest.
After five years at Everest, Fleming opened Brasserie Jo for
Joho, which later won the James Beard Foundation Award for “Best
New Restaurant.” Directly upon graduation from Kendall College,
Fleming moved to France where he staged at Paul Bocuse
and L'Auberge de l'Ille. Back in the States he cultivated
his career as Executive Chef at Old Hickory Steakhouse
at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center and added his
creative influence to Lobster Ranch, Lombardi Mare
and Pappas Brothers’ Steak House. Fleming’s
position and contribution to other Dallas kitchens include serving
as Chef de Cuisine at Mediterraneo and Executive Chef of
Though Fleming began with classical French cooking
studies at Kendall College, he is now part of a hotel restaurant
movement peeling off the white gloves, clearing the table of crystal
goblets and silver, and putting out hearty, comforting American
bistro fare. At Central 214, adjacent to Hotel Palomar,
Fleming serves classic dishes like Mac and Cheese with tender caramelized
onions, roasted garlic cream, and Parmigiano Reggiano, or grilled
hangar steak with perfectly crisp fries. His dishes are simple,
homey, and nostalgic. His hearty regional American menu evolves
with the seasons to feature the freshest seafood, wild game, local
produce and a selection of steaks, and chicken, pork, and game items
that are enhanced by slow cooking on an exhibition rotisserie. Fleming
regularly flies in fresh ingredients from across the country to
heighten the authenticity of the menu.
JE: Where have you worked professionally
as a chef?
TF: Before moving to Dallas
in 1997, I lived in Chicago and worked under the Jean Joho at Everest.
After five years at Everest, I opened Brasserie Jo
for Joho. I then worked as chef de cuisine at Mediterraneo
and executive chef of Riviera. I also worked at Lombardi
Mare, Lobster Ranch, and I was the executive chef at Old
Hickory Steakhouse at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention
Center before coming here.
JE: Would you recommend culinary
school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary
TF: I would recommend culinary
school because it teaches the necessary foundations for cooking,
but it’s definitely not imperative. The executive sous chef
at Central 214 wasn’t formally educated at culinary
school, and he’s really great.
JE: Who are some of your mentors?
What have you learned from them?
TF: My biggest is my oldest
brother Robert who really got me involved in the industry. John
Joho, the executive chef at Everest in Chicago and John
Hogan at Keefer’s in Chicago. Here in Dallas, David
Holben of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House.
JE: What question gives you
the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for
a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking
TF:. I first ask them to tell me about their three strengths and
then explain their three biggest weaknesses. I’m looking for
someone who is confident in their ability but who is humble enough
to know they always have to constantly learn and improve on what
they know to become a better chef.
JE: What advice would you
offer young chefs just getting started?
TF: I would suggest finding someone who can mentor you and stay
with them for 3 to 4 years so they can learn all facets of a kitchen,
including managing and dealing with people, both guests and co-workers.
I think understanding the human aspect of a kitchen is the most
important thing. Cooking is easy, but motivating a staff is hard
JE: Which chefs do you consider
to be your peers?
TF: Jim Severson at Sevy’s
in Dallas, Kent Rathbun at Abacus, Dean Fearing at The Mansion on
Turtle Creek, and David Holben.
JE: Is there any ingredient
that you feel is particularly under appreciated or under utilized?
TF: Cauliflower. I use it all the time. I like to steam it whole
with a little salt and pepper.
JE: What’s your most
indispensable kitchen tool?
TF: A really sharp Japanese mandolin and a good knife.
JE: Describe a culinary technique
that you have either created of borrowed and use in an unusual way.
TF: I brine chicken before
roasting it, which keeps moisture in the meat throughout the roasting
process. I also blanch whole ducks in court bouillon and dry them
out for three days before roasting them. I always keep steak as
simple as possible and season it only with fresh kosher salt and
black pepper; everything else gets in the way of the flavor of the
JE: What are your favorite
TF: The Way
to Cook by Julia Child.
JE: Where would you like to
go for culinary travel?
JE: What's your favorite restaurant-off
the beaten path-in your city? What is your favorite dish there?
What are your favorite after hour places and bars?
TF: Amigos for carne
asada. As for after hour places, I have two kids so I don't really
get out much!
JE: What trends do you see
emerging in the restaurant industry now?
TF: I'm seeing a return to
comfort food cooking.
JE: What is your philosophy
on food and dining?
TF: I try to write menus that
are approachable for everyone who walks in the door of my restaurant.
I want my guests to feel comfortable ordering, not overwhelmed and
intimidated. My job as a chef is not to educate diners but to service
their dining needs, whatever they may be...
JE: If you weren’t a
chef what do you think you’d be doing?
TF: I would be a cabinet maker.
I like to do woodworking and furniture building as a hobby when
I’m not cooking, but I think it would be a pretty good career,
and not nearly as stressful.
JE: Which person in history
would you most like to have dinner with?
TF: George Patton. He’d
eat a real steak – a cowboy steak.
JE: What does success mean
for you? What will it look like for you?
TF: To me, success means earning
the respect of my colleagues and peers. The people who know this
business and what it takes to do well are the ones that really matter.
When they close the lid on me at my funeral, I want them to say
“That guy was a good cook who worked his ass off.”
JE: How are you involved in
your local culinary community?
TF: I am the father of two,
so I try to do as much for children’s charities as I can.
I have an event coming up in Columbus, Ohio for the Children’s
Hospice Association, as well as an event in Oregon benefiting Children’s
charities. Right now I'm putting together a book-drive to help stock
the library at the children's ward. I also do benefits for The Amercian
Heart Association because my father died of heart disease. Next
up is the annual Cotes du Coeur food and wine benefit for the American
Heart association in Dallas. I’m also doing Zoo To-Do which
benefits the Dallas Zoological society. I try to do as much charity
work as I can which usually means focusing on around four pet charities
that are really important to me every year.
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