Tom Spicer sold produce to some of Dallas’ best restaurants. He created gardens for luminaries. And for decades, he’s influenced some of the top chefs in North Texas.
Spicer was found dead in his home Monday. He was 58.
Before farm to table became popular, the Spiceman, as he was called, was the go-to gardener for the freshest produce. Mark Wooton, owner of the Garden Café in Dallas, says even Spicer's greens and mushrooms had more character.
“One time I was there and he whipped out a black truffle, the size of a softball,” he said. “I’d never seen anything like that before. And he’s cooking pasta, and whips this out of the garden, and just like starts shaving it with a knife, like a pairing knife. And he absolutely respected everything that he grew and acquired. ... It was just funny to see that he didn’t overthink it.”
A great teacher
Matt McCallister, executive chef at FT33, says Spicer was an eclectic man who epitomized local food for Dallas.
“He taught me a lot of the stuff I know about foraging and picking wild edibles and stuff from around this region,” he said. “And we’ve gone on many mushroom trips, and done all that kind of stuff. He showed me all the more local places where I can source wild watercress. ... And I’ve been able to pass on and teach that to everybody that works with me. They were out picking wild onions today, and one’s out picking wild mustard flowers. And so it’s carrying forward.”
Nobody like the 'Spiceman'
Spicer was an inspiration to all those in the restaurant business, says Graham Dodds, executive chef at Hibiscus.
“I feel that Tom single-handedly started the Dallas culinary movement of getting back to nature, back to real food,” he said. “We all missed him when his shop closed. And now it’s tragic.”
John Tesar, executive chef at Knife in Dallas, says Spicer was a wandering gardener.
“He told me he was going to find wild asparagus, and I was like ‘Tom, where do you find wild asparagus in Dallas?'" Tesar said. “And he would find it. He’d go out there, somewhere toward the Hill Country, and forage something. Tom was a real botanist. He was a real agronomist, agricultural expert. ... He could have been a professor at an agricultural school. He knew that much about vegetation and plant life. It’s a real loss. It’s a sad day. It's sad when you lose any friend, especially when they’re young and talented. But I don’t think there’s going to be anyone like Tom in Dallas ever again.”