Dean Fearing Talks Southwestern Cuisine and Collectible Guitars

March 2nd, 2016

This is an excerpt from the all-new MARCH/APRIL 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story and more photos, plus features on Billy Gibbons in Cuba, six decades of Gretsch guitars on display in Nashville, Ash guitarist Tim Wheeler, and our annual Motoring section featuring stories on the latest motorcycles and the vintage guitar and car collections of author Jonathan Kellerman, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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LONE STAR: Texas chef Dean Fearing has balanced his rise to the top through his award-winning Dallas restaurant and best-selling cookbooks with his ever-growing passion for music.

By Bob Carlin | Photos by Cord McPhail

Dean Fearing is a happy guy. And what makes him most happy is making others happy. Whether it’s as a restaurateur, as a chef cooking with and for friends, or onstage with one of his three musical ensembles, Fearing is at his best when everyone else is enjoying him or herself.

When Guitar Aficionado arrives at Fearing’s home, located in an old inner-Dallas suburb, we’re greeted by the sound of a wailing guitar. As we make our way past the family room and dining area to the kitchen, we can see that the source of the sound (which is now at concert-hall levels) is Fearing playing his newly acquired Duesenberg Johnny Depp model. However, the soulful and spirited performance isn’t for us—rather he’s trying out a new amplifier that he’s considering purchasing.

When last profiled for Guitar Aficionado (which is his “on the airplane” magazine of choice) in 2009, Dean’s restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, Fearing’s, had been open one year. His guitar collecting focused on Tele-family electrics and Collings acoustics with a few vintage Gibson and Martins thrown in. Fearing is a big supporter of Texas bottier Lucchese, and his assemblage was also featured in that issue of the magazine.

Since that time, Fearing has co-authored the cookbook The Texas Food Bible and his Fearing’s restaurant has become a Dallas institution. With the continued success of the restaurant, Fearing spends most of his time developing new dishes for the constantly revolving menu as well as overseeing the eatery and serving as its public face.

According to Fearing, it takes about two weeks to bring a new menu item to fruition. “I’ll sit down with my chefs in my office, and we’ll put the blueprint down for the dishes,” Fearing explains. “That goes all the way down to every item on the plate. And then we’ll start to run those items as nightly specials to get a little customer response. It’s amazing after all these years how good you can get something right out of the gate. We probably get it right 95 percent of the time. When the customers are saying things like, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable, it’s delicious,’ right then and there I’ll go, ‘It’s on the menu.’”

For Fearing everything always comes down to the food. “I have a motto at the restaurant,” he relates, “which is ‘we sell cars.’ My staff at the front of the house has to know every part of the menu. I have another philosophy for the back of the house, which is ‘Happy cooks produce happy food.’ That also produces happy customers.”

A big part of Fearing’s success is that his tireless work ethic keeps him happy. He realized at a young age that hard work often leads to the greatest rewards, a lesson he first learned as a junior in high school when his early musical heroes—Clarence White of the Byrds and David Bromberg—inspired him to purchase his first good guitar.

“On my birthday, I bought a new 1971 Martin D-18,” he recalls. “I paid $375 in cash that I had earned by working the whole previous summer. However, I didn’t have enough money to buy a case, so I walked out with the Martin guitar without the case! That was my first great high-end guitar. For a long time after that, I still had to work, save up, and put money aside whenever I wanted a new guitar. I’d know the guitar I wanted. I just had to save up for it.”

his success as a chef and restaurateur gave him increasing financial freedom, Fearing started to amass a small but world-class collection of player-grade vintage pieces. Fearing has always relied on guitar dealers to suggest instruments that suit his musical inclinations. Currently, Dave Hinson of Killer Vintage in St. Louis (and soon to open a store in Dallas; killervintage.com) provides advice on electrics, and Jim Baggett from Mass Street Music in Lawrence, Kansas (massstreetmusic.com), who is also an appraiser on PBS’s Antiques Road Show, is Dean’s “go to” guy for acoustics as well as all of his setup and repair work. Both also serve as appraisers for Heritage Auctions in Dallas, where, in combination with attending the two largest guitar shows in the country occurring in the Dallas area, Fearing developed a relationship with the two dealers.

Fearing has always had a weakness for Telecaster-style Fender electrics, and two of his recent acquisitions reveal that ongoing attraction. One is a 1959 Esquire. “It’s fully leather-encased!” he exclaims, beaming like a proud father. “The covering has probably been on the guitar since 1959. The single pickup sounds bold, bright, and killer! The all-leather case smells like cigarettes, like it’s lived in a bar. And then I picked up a ’63 Telecaster Custom that Tom Murphy refinished and relic’d. If you looked at it, you would never know it was a refin. You’d think it was the real thing.”

The chef’s long-term fixation with Eric Clapton, particularly Clapton’s music from his Derek and the Dominos period, has fueled Dean’s acquisition of two Clapton-style Fender Stratocasters. “About a year ago,” he says, “I picked up a Strat from my 1955 birth year that looks like it has lived in a honky-tonk for the last 60-some years. It’s my Brownie! I also picked up a ’56 Strat that is the same month and year, 10/56, as the body of Eric Clapton’s Blackie. Jay Black [formerly of the Fender Custom Shop] re-did it into his vision of the Blackie finish. So, I got a Blackie guitar almost identical to Clapton’s. The fact that I have a guitar from the same month and year as a Strat that sold for $959,500 is mind-blowing!”

The latest additions to Fearing’s acoustic arsenal include a 1939 rosewood Recording King Ray Whitley model made by Gibson for Montgomery Wards, a 1941 one-owner Martin 000-18, and a sunburst 1941 Martin D-18. But Fearing’s most special recent acquisition is a find that was also his personal “Holy Grail”— a 1935 Martin D-28, the same year and model as the Martin played by Clarence White that now belongs to Tony Rice. “I call the guitar Neutron because the Pulitzer Prize in 1935 was for the discovery of neutrons…”

This is an excerpt from the all-new MARCH/APRIL 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story and more photos, plus features on Billy Gibbons in Cuba, six decades of Gretsch guitars on display in Nashville, Ash guitarist Tim Wheeler, and our annual Motoring section featuring stories on the latest motorcycles and the vintage guitar and car collections of author Jonathan Kellerman, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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