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Dallas' celebrity top chef John Tesar cooks up steak and burger empire

Dallas' celebrity top chef John Tesar cooks up steak and burger empire

Chef John Tesar, Knife
Chef John Tesar is ready to go all in on burgers. Photo by Rhi Lee

If you follow Dallas' top chef John Tesar on Instagram, you'd probably come to the conclusion that he's always on the road. There's the strawberry he picked at Napa in mid-September. The L.A. tour stop in August at Barnes & Noble for his Knife Texas Steakhouse Meals at Home cookbook. His June check-in at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

But despite his globe trotting, Tesar has plans for Dallas-Fort Worth, including the launch of a spin-off Knife Burger chain, with three locations already in place.

Tesar's fortunes have soared since his second go-round on season 10 of Bravo's Top Chef, when his enduring tenure as finalist vindicated him personally and professionally. Combined with the continuity he's enjoyed at Knife, his steakhouse at the Highland Dallas hotel, he's enjoying a spell of stability and prosperity. On October 6, he'll oversee the ninth edition of his annual Burgers & Burgundy fundraising event for DIFFA/Dallas.

"After all I've done from the Mansion to Spoon to Cedars Social, I stumbled across the Knife concept," he says. "Working with 44 Farms and HeartBrand beef, I'm taking it to the next level. We'll be opening a Knife at the Shops at Willow Bend in Plano with over 500 pieces of meat. We'll still serve the entire animal, but we'll be expanding the dry-aged process for which we've become known."

Tesar's modern take on a steakhouse, Knife has unusual cuts of meat, steak sold by the inch, and a custom-built aging room where steaks are aged for 240 days.

"We'll be expanding that with meats that are aged for 45 days, 60 days, 90 days, and 120 days," he says. "We'll feature those in a steak tasting so that you can compare the characteristics of the various aged steaks."

He says that it's more of an intellectual approach to steak. "It seems like there are new steakhouses opening every week," he says. "I want to get out of the trend of getting stomped on. Working with 44 Farms and Heartbrand, they age it like nobody else can, and it gives us a unique insight."

In addition to the steakhouse, he's also returning to his first and early love, the burger joint. Knife Burger will debut at the Food Hall at Legacy West in November.

"It'll be simple," he says. "We won't be doing pork or chicken or lamb. We'll be doing the same burgers we serve at the steakhouse, including the Magic burger, the Ozersky, and the pimento, and also a patty melt, skinny fries, avocado fries, one nice salad, and four shakes."

The second Knife Burger will be attached to the Knife steakhouse that's opening at the Shops at Willow Bend, and that's penciled in for February.

"The Knife at Willow Bend will have a nice burger and butcher shop attached in the mall, where you can get some of the items at the restaurant in a take-home format," he says. "So, for example, you could get the bacon tasting we do, where you could take it home in a cryovac package. It makes perfect sense in a retail environment."

The tentative opening for Willow Bend is January. That'll be followed by another Knife Burger set to open in Fort Worth, on what is now being called Crockett Row at West 7th, the rebranded West 7th retail development.

"At Fort Worth, we'll also have a bar, and that'll be the first one with alcohol," he says. "The Knife Burger and the bar will be one entity."

No longer on the table are openings in Houston or San Francisco. "We had San Francisco in our sights, but it's so expensive," he says. "We're going to keep it Texas-centric."

That said, he is consulting on a restaurant concept in Colorado called Element Kitchen.

"I consider Colorado to be almost an extension of Texas," he says. "John Tesar can be a national name and a voice on cooking, but I don’t have to leave the state."