Photography by Danny Fulgencio
Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, executive chef at José, was named Eater Dallas’ 2018 Chef of the Year for her culinary creativity. She was invited to host a dinner at the prestigious James Beard House in New York, but it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how she describes her food: “It’s traditional Mexican food along with elevated plating and seasonal and local ingredients.” A first-generation American, she attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After graduation, she moved to San Francisco and then returned to Dallas in 2008. Her husband, chef Daniel Pittman, was executive chef and co-owner of LUCK at Trinity Groves. Their daughter, Isabella (“Izzy”) is 7.

On Accomplishments

Most proud of:

“Being a mom. I went from not wanting to have kids early on in my career to finding out I was going to be a mom at 31, right when my career was taking off. It’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. Nothing before Isabella was as fun.”

On Challenges

The most challenging thing she’s overcome:

“Walking into a restaurant that was already established and having the entire staff walk out. We adapted, and we overcame. Honestly, it was my husband who helped me. We couldn’t just shut down the restaurant. I looked up and my husband was washing dishes. “What do you need?” he asked. “What can I help you with?””

On Misconceptions

Misconceptions about her business:

“People think it’s overpriced for what it is. Mexican food for a lot of people is equivalent to street food. People think, “Oh, I’m not going to pay that for those tacos. I can make that at home, or I can go to the street vendor and get them for cheaper.” Our food deserves to be elevated just as much as Japanese, French or Italian cuisine.”

On Advice

The best advice she’s ever received:

“Change your attitude or change your environment. Also: In order to be successful, you have to be in a constant state of innovation and development.”

On Influences

Greatest influence:

“My mom. She came to the U.S. when she was 19 and started knocking on nice houses in Highland Park. Someone brought her in. She wanted to clean houses, and someone asked if she could cook. She lied and said yes. She tried to make a meal for this ornery Southern woman, and it failed, but the woman ended up loving her tenacity, her drive and her will to continue learning. She hired her, and she worked for her for several years. I have a lot of respect for that. My mom always taught me not to give up and keep trying.”

On Growth

Advice she’d give to her younger self:

“You don’t know everything right now. There’s so much more to learn about the culinary world and life. Keep traveling.”

On Her Day

Typical schedule:

“I wake up around 6:15 a.m. to get my daughter ready for school. I have breakfast with her, send her off to school and then come to work. I’m usually done around 10 p.m. Then I head home and have dinner with my husband.”

On the Essentials

Essential items for work:

“My cell phone and tacos. We make handmade tortillas in the restaurant all day every day, and I have to taste them.”

On Inspiration

Her inspiration:

“I visited Marca Ortiz’s restaurant in Mexico in 2011. I had just found out that I was expecting. I was making Mexican food with French ingredients and calling it modern Mexican. But when I ate her food, I knew that it was French with Mexican ingredients, which changed my whole perspective on what elevated Mexican cuisine should be. Her restaurant was whimsical with bright pink walls. She had long black hair, and she wore combat boots and bright red lipstick. I thought, “That’s a badass. I want to do what she’s doing, but I want to do it in Dallas.””

On Gender Discrimination

“I haven’t had a whole ton of that in my career. I just also don’t put up with it.”

On Ordering

What to order at her restaurant:

“Try seafood, usually ahi tuna, that’s lightly marinated with lime and olive oil, and we make a sauce that accompanies it. The sauce in particular is made with something seasonal and local. This week it was Damascus strawberries. Next week it’ll be peaches from a local farm. After that it might be Texas watermelon.”