Spring is upon us, and with it will come -- on the best tables in Dallas -- stunning plates dizzy with ramps and fiddlehead ferns; dishes that waft a woodland aroma of morel mushrooms; appetizers that star the saline pop of lightly smoked trout roe.
If you have enjoyed such treats at Gemma or Nonna or CBD Provisions or Bolsa -- or a dozen other desirable dining rooms around town -- chances are very good that Borz Azarian and Bryan Dunn had something to do with it. Together the pair, both 31 years old, operate Rare Edibles, a purveyor of specialty ingredients that has helped Dallas' chefs elevate the city's culinary scene to one of the most exciting in the country.
It was on Thanksgiving Day 2011 that Azarian and Dunn conceived of their company; now they run it out of an office and a series of cold storage rooms in the Texas Ice House, a historic (1913) red brick building on the grungy eastern edge of Deep Ellum.
Azarian had been an accountant; Dunn had given up his job as a chef to forage for mushrooms and connect with other foragers in the Pacific Northwest. "We spent the next year learning, going to trade shows and visiting farms," says Azarian.
In the beginning, they supplied a few Dallas restaurants with Pacific Northwest wild mushrooms. "Our first sale took place on Halloween of 2012 to Matt Balke at Bolsa," Azarian says. It was chanterelles. "It was a scary moment. I'd just sold some mushrooms to this guy. We were strangers!"
Rare Edibles supplies meats, truffles, olives and olive oil, caviar, cheese and other comestibles to a who's who of Dallas chefs and restaurants.
Is that fennel pollen in your yellowfin crudo at Nonna? Rare Edibles. Karat Malossol Russian Osetra Gold caviar at the Mansion? Rare Edibles.
It's not that chefs couldn't get such things before Azarian and Dunn ditched their day jobs. But, says Casa Rubia chef-owner Omar Flores, who has been sourcing ingredients through Rare Edibles since he was in charge of the kitchen at the erstwhile Driftwood, you had to mail order them, and "you had to pay for shipping."
"Those guys are an incredible resource for Dallas chefs," Gemma chef and co-owner Stephen Rogers says of the pair. "They're bringing in those rare products that are hard to source."
Have you had any of the incredibly succulent and flavorful Heritage Berkshire pork that's been showing up lately not just at Casa Rubia, but also at Filament, Lucia and Nova, and topping bowls of mazemen ramen at Ten? Or tasted bottarga (dried cured mullet roe) from the gulf in Florida, maybe at Teppo, CBD Provisions or Filament? All sourced through Rare Edibles.
Meanwhile, Miyazaki A5 Wagyu, one of the greatest beefs in the world (A5 is the highest grade of Wagyu from Japan's Miyazaki prefecture) is extremely hard to come by. "Even the Park Hyatt in Japan, or the Mandarin Oriental -- they can't get it," says Teiichi Sakurai, who serves it at Tei-An. Thanks to Azarian and Dunn, the beef's exclusive purveyors for Texas, it has been featured at a number of other Dallas restaurants lately, including Teppo Yakitori-Sushi Bar, Tei-Tei Robata Bar, Top Knot and Uchi. The Wagyu is magnificently marbled, nearly as rich and soft as butter, and has incredible flavor. And it's insanely expensive: At Teppo, a 5-ounce serving goes for $130.
Meet the A5 Miyazaki Wagyu, along with four other great ingredients from Rare Edibles -- and see how top Dallas chefs are featuring them.
THE INGREDIENT: A5 Miyazaki Wagyu beef
- THE CHEF: Teiichi Sakurai, Tei-An
- THE DISH: Country-style gyu nabe -- thin-sliced beef with Japanese vegetables and tofu
Sakurai says Azarian and Dunn were "so nervous" the first time they brought the Miyazaki Wagyu to him. But the chef was blown away by the quality, and continues to be.
"We are very lucky to have it in constant supply. It's the world's best beef." Sakurai serves it on his omakase (chef's choice tasting menu), sliced thin and cooked briefly, shabu-shabu-style, in a broth with kuwai (similar to a water chestnut), yurine (lily root), shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves), enoki mushrooms and grilled tofu. When he tastes it, he says, "I just want to cry."
THE INGREDIENT: Lardo Ibérico -- cured fatback from Spain's famed Ibérico black-footed pigs
- THE CHEF: Omar Flores, Casa Rubia
- THE DISH: Lardo Ibérico-wrapped pickled Padrón peppers with orange-blossom honey
"I love the heat from the peppers with the unctuous fat," says Flores.
THE INGREDIENT: Maitake mushrooms
- THE CHEF: Stephen Rogers, Gemma
- THE DISH: Chicken porchetta with maitake mushrooms, asparagus, favas and chicken jus
"They have a great flavor," Rogers says of the maitakes. "They're very meaty and very versatile."
THE INGREDIENT: Bemis & James bottarga -- dried, cured mullet roe from the Florida gulf
- THE CHEF: Cody Sharp, Filament
- THE DISH: Cauliflower gratin with browned bread crumbs and bottarga
Sharp started making the gratin in 2011, when he worked with Filament's chef-owner Matt McCallister at Campo Modern Country Bistro, adding the bottarga flourish when they opened Filament in December. "I like going back to old dishes and revisiting them, and saying, 'How can I take it to a deeper level?'"
THE INGREDIENT: Heritage Berkshire pork
- THE CHEF: Justin Holt, Lucia
- THE DISH: Heritage Berkshire pork short rib with braised, stuffed escarole
"It's a stellar product," Holt says. "It's not super fatty, and it's not super lean." He cooks it sous vide for 24 hours, then grills it to order. For its accompaniment, he fills a head of escarole with house-made chorizo, garlic, anchovy, capers and oil-cured olives. "The whole head is trussed up, seared and braised till it collapses, then we shape it by hand, cut it in half and sear it. The sauce is made from "juices that come off the escarole and the pork."