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After walking the audience through the proper way to grill a ribeye, Chef Dean Fearing sits down in the comfort of his backyard and pulls out a guitar.
“This is all about Texas,” he says before strumming the opening chords of an old Rodney Crowell song, “I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This.”
It’s over an hour in to the Taste of Texas Virtual Cookout, which streamed Saturday, May 16. For three hours, chefs and musicians from across Texas gathered, hosted on the Facebook page of Fort Worth’s iconic honky-tonk, Billy Bob’s, to generate support for independent restaurants across the state who are suffering through the COVID-19 crisis. It’s their second Dishing Out Relief fundraiser.
It’s eternally Saturday night in this free, virtual concert and cookout. The cookout is an ode to National Barbecue Month, meaning nearly everything was meat, smoked, grilled or slow-roasted to perfection. Chefs from the DFW area had a strong turnout including: Dean Fearing, one of the “fathers” of Southwestern cuisine; Lucky Campbell mixing an Old Fashioned from behind the bar at The Standard Pour; Tim Love marinating spicy garlic shrimp; Kent Rathbun grilling fajita chicken; Richard Chamberlain roasting pecan wood pork; and Nikky Phinyawatana of Asian Mint whipping up a peach and white chocolate mint cream parfait.
Before COVID-19, restaurants in Texas numbered 50,000, Dr. Emily Knight, president and CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, points out in her opening comments. The TRA predicts more than 30 percent will be closed and $84 billion lost in sales by the time the pandemic ends. Already, 688,000 restaurant and food service jobs have been lost.
Of course, Dr. Knight isn’t talking about the Chick-Fil-As or the Applebee’s found in strip malls everywhere, though they’ll certainly take a hit. It’s the independent restaurants, the ones who depend on a daily traffic of regulars, the mom’n’pop shops that need support most.
“Our objective is to provide immediate relief by getting the money to restaurants quickly,” Knight says. “The effects of this pandemic have been devastating for restaurants all over the state, and now we’re all coming together to help each other out.”
Knight says they’ve given grants to 400 independent restaurants, and that their overall goal, with events like these, is to raise $10 million.
Lucky Campbell, the mixologist behind The Standard Pour, Clover Club and Parliament, all in the DFW area, shows viewers how to infuse whisky into spiced apples for a smoky-sweet Old Fashioned. Statesboro Revue then appears on screen to play three songs from his “man cave.” It’s been a while since he’s taken the stage. He hasn’t been touring because of his torn shoulder, courtesy of a car accident earlier in the year. Playing Billy Bob’s, he says, was a dream of his, and it’s because of his love and respect for them, and appreciation of all venues that host musicians like him, that he chose to participate Saturday night. His four-year-old son came and sat on the couch halfway through to watch.
The headliner of the evening is Bri Bagwell, 7-Time Texas Regional Radio Awards Female Vocalist of the Year. She has a new single “As Soon As You” on Texas Country radio, though she didn’t play it, favoring her Texas country radio hits “Cheat on Me” and “If You Were a Cowboy” instead.
During his segment, Tim Love, a DFW chef known for concepts like downtown Denton’s Queenie’s Steakhouse (and the secret late-night donut shop that operates out of its side door, aptly named Side Dough), makes a simple barbecue shrimp. He downs a shot of the tequila he’s using for flavor. “This is how we do it in Texas,” he says.
Love chops garlic cloves very fine, and soaks shrimp skewers in barbecue sauce before grilling them on a sizzling grill. While they cook, he shows off his real talent: juggling oranges.
“We’re here for a very important reason,” he says. “It’s really amazing to see everyone come together and help each other out, play good money, cook good food, and stick together even when we have to stay apart.”