Dallas chef Tim Byres has traveled the world -- to Haiti, Italy, Chile, parts of Antarctica and Kyrgyzstan -- talking about food. His latest food quest takes him to Beijing, China this weekend.
A James Beard award winning cookbook author, Byres operates Dallas-area restaurants Smoke (in Oak Cliff and Plano) and the Theodore (inside Dallas' NorthPark Center), among others. He's become an international ambassador, you could say, who speaks on behalf of Texas and American food.
"When you ask people what they think of America, they think hamburgers and hot dogs, they think pizza," the chef says. "They really have this really commercial lens."
Trips like his upcoming one in China, organized in part by the Department of Commerce and the U.S. and China National Tourism Administration, allow Byres to dispel myths that Americans eat only pizza, drink Coca-Cola and wear Nike shoes.
The trips have made Byres want to be "more of an American cook and less of a Southern barbecue cook," he says.
Fellow Dallas chef Scott Romano will join Byres in China.
Byres explains a little more about why he's taken to traveling.
Is it difficult to define what 'American' food is?
Byres: Getting out into the world and talking about American food, it's a wide spectrum. It can be anything! We are this huge melting pot of people. There's ethnic diversity everywhere.
It's hard to tell the story. So when I'm out there, I talk about honoring traditional recipes. I talk about regional sections of the country.
... Going to a place like China, they have thousands of years of Chinese civilization. We have a few hundred years of being known on a map. Our food culture is super young.
Do you come away with new ideas about food?
Yeah, each place I've been, I've been able to bring something back.
[... And] it does break stereotypes. ... We're not all cowboys, we don't all know how to ride horses, we don't all carry guns. ... The most interesting thing is, our food is really cool because there's no rules. If you're in a village that has had a 500-600 year tradition of this recipe, you can't change it! Here, I'm going to add avocados to [a dish] and all of a sudden it becomes Tex-Mex.
I think the American story is interesting because there are less rules and there's less of this transient food trail.
Does it engage you personally?
It's important for me to have purpose and connection. And going out and doing this stuff does that for me.
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