Chef Marcus Paslay keeps his kitchen real, using whole, raw products to create truly scratch-made dishes.
There aren’t many chefs I’d send into my grandmother’s kitchen, but Marcus Paslay is one she would have loved. That’s because they’d see eye to eye on what it means to be cooking from scratch. Unlike chefs who say scratch-made simply means they are making homemade dishes by combining ingredients—even if those ingredients include prepared foods—Chef Paslay takes a purist’s stance on the subject.
“To me, what it means is that we are buying whole, raw products; they’re not prepared or tampered with in any way until they get here,” Chef Paslay explains. “Then we’re taking these whole raw products and cutting them, cooking them, curing them, butchering them, whatever we need to do to turn it into food. That’s what I mean when I say scratch-made.”
Clay Pigeon Food and Drink, the restaurant he opened three years ago in Fort Worth, is all about translating pure food preparation into a polished dining experience—a philosophy that has earned him accolades as one of the Lone Star State’s top chefs. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an avid hunter as well, and Paslay agrees analogies can be drawn between his passion for hunting and his food philosophy.
“Yeah, I think with my style of cooking there are parallels: We do everything in-house. We make all of our bread and ice cream, and we do our own butchery, make our own bacon and sausage. If you look at the industry as a whole, I don’t think a lot of restaurants do that anymore, that from-the-ground-up kind of food—all scratch-made food,” he says. “I think there’s a parallel to that and hunting, because you are closer to the product in its original state when you do food that way, and two steps before what we do is the killing of the animal.”
His skills as a hunter run the gamut from hunting big game with a bow, to shotgun sports (basically for bird hunting—think dove, pheasant, duck), to fishing. Laws prohibit bringing any of his trophy catches into the restaurant to serve, but the spoils of his hobbies come home to feed family and friends. “We use the whole animal, it’s pretty fun,” he says.
The same whole-animal approach applies to Clay Pigeon as well, and while there’s not a separate butchering room at the restaurant, he explains, “We have a good-size kitchen, so we’re fortunate in that regard, but we don’t have infinite space or resources. However, being dinner only, we have all morning and afternoon to get things done.”
The Road Home
As committed as Chef Paslay is to the quality and integrity of the food he’s serving, what originally attracted him to the industry was the business aspect. “I’ve always been attracted to the restaurant business—how transparent it is and how immediate the feedback is. I can’t think of another business where someone can order a product from me and within 10 minutes I can have feedback from that order,” he says.
Ironically, he didn’t consider being a chef as a viable career option until his junior year of college. He was pursuing a business degree at the University of Oklahoma, but decided to chuck that route and follow the dream. “I was starting to think about restaurants more, and the business of restaurants, and the [cooking] hobby turned into an obsession. It just became one of those itches I felt like I needed to scratch—so I dropped out of college, applied to culinary school at the CIA, got in, and moved up to New York.”
That was the first of many moves along his journey to opening a restaurant. After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America, Paslay and his wife—both adventuresome spirits—traveled and worked around the country. “We were in Alaska briefly—I was the chef at a hunting and fishing lodge in the middle of nowhere, it was a great experience. And from there we came back to Texas and my wife went to UT Southwestern Medical and got her doctorate,” he says. But they hadn’t come back to stay; they hit the road again, spending time in Seattle, Colorado, and Hawaii.