"All of our food is born from these types of places. It's the foundation of what we do."
Staying true to his Gulf Coast roots, Chef/Owner Bryan Caswell imparts his love for fishing and the ocean in his seasonally-changing, award-winning Reef restaurant. Diners love the spot's refined blend of locally-grown produce and use of Third-Coast-caught seafood, as do foodies on the national stage. He has expanded his restaurant empire with Little Bigs and El Real Tex-Mex. Caswell has been named a Finalist for a James Beard Award and Food & Wine magazine named him one of the "Top 10 Best New Chefs" in 2009. In 2010, Caswell also competed on the third season of The Food Network's The Next Iron Chef and hosted Best in Smoke, also on The Food Network.
"A lot of people miss Houston's rich history-homegrown and immigrant-because they stay in their own little bubble and don't really know what their city has to offer."
Hot on the heels of opening his certified-green restaurant, Haven, Executive Chef and Co-Owner Randy Evans continues to source locally-grown produce in his modern Texas-style cuisine. The restaurant--which opened in December '09--is the product of Evans' more than decade-long experience in Houston's culinary scene. As Executive Chef of Brennan's Restaurant, the Art Institute-grad was named one of three "Chefs of the Future" by Texas Monthly magazine. In 2010, Esquire magazine named Haven one of the top 20 new restaurants in the U.S. For insider recipes, check out Evans' award-winning cookbook, The Kitchen Table.
"We always say that it's the people that make Houston what it is. These are the people that make Houston."
Dubbed the "Alice Waters of the Third Coast," German-born, Houston-reared chef Monica Pope has been revolutionizing Houston's culinary scene since she opened her first restaurant in 1992. She shares her passion for connecting local farmers and consumers with weekly cooking classes, an online cookbook and Sparrow Bar + Cookshop and Beaver's restaurants. Pope has also enjoyed national recognition in the form of a James Beard award nomination and a spot competing on 2010's second season of Bravo's Top Chef Masters. She is the only Texas woman chef to be named Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine thanks to her inventive, "eat where your food lives" cooking style.
"There are actually very few people living in Houston that are originally from here, so we have access to so many cultures-things to see and things to taste. People need to take advantage of that."
Midwest-raised Chef Chris Shepherd spent weekends as a child scouring farms throughout Oklahoma in search of straight-from-the-vine tomatoes, fresh corn and peas. He left boundary-pushing Catalan restaurant to open Underbelly in March 2012, featuring locally-sourced food inspired by the ethnic diversity of Houston. The Art Institute-alum and former Executive Sous Chef-turned-Sommelier of Brennan's brings his farm-to-table passion to fruition at the new spot, which was named one of the best new restaurants in the country by both Bon Appetit and Esquire. The 2013 James Beard Award finalist was also named one of the Top 10 Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine.
"One of my favorite aspects of food are the stories behind what we eat. Houston is a city with fantastic food stories. You can spend a lifetime eating your way through it"
As a child of one of the city’s most well-respected food families, Chef David Cordua has had a distinct advantage in Houston’s culinary for most of his life. At age 15, he worked at his family’s Americas restaurant before attending college at the University of Santa Clara, where he earned a finance degree. After college, Cordua moved to France, attending Le Cordon Bleu and training in Paris’ most well-known kitchens, including La Tour d’ Argent. Two years later, he moved back to the California bay area, manning the stoves at top restaurants before returning to Houston to open a second Americas outpost in The Woodlands. Now, Cordua is executive chef of the latest Americas location, which opened in River Oaks in 2010, the same year he was named Up-and-Coming Chef of the Year by My Table magazine.
Robert del Grande
"There is always more going on in the food scene in Houston than you think. There are always interesting things happening that are fun to discover. The culinary tours reminds me of back in the old days when we used to get inspiration from interesting things."
For the better part of three decades, Robert Del Grande served as executive chef and partner of Houston's nationally-acclaimed Cafe Annie. In July 2009, Del Grande closed Cafe Annie and opened his flagship restaurant, RDG + Bar Annie, offering fans an innovative take on regional cuisine. The self-taught talent, who was named a James Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Chef 2010, also carries a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and serves as co-founder of other successful dining ventures including The Grove and Café Express. Del Grande has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Bon Appetit, Conde Nast Traveler, Food & Wine and Gourmet.
"As chefs we are constantly looking to discover something new and to be inspired. Many of the stops along the culinary tours provide an opportunity for people to explore and learn about the amazing diversity Houston has to offer."
For more than a decade, Chef Terrence Gallivan has been quietly practicing inspired cooking. The New England Culinary Institute grad--who discovered his passion working at a bistro in his hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia--went on to man the stoves at NYC's Charlie Palmer's Aureole, The Modern, Gordon Ramsey at the London Hotel and Fiamma. In spring 2008, he took over as executive chef at August, before (ironically) spending the month of August in Houston, helping create The Just 8 Project--a wildly-popular one-month pop-up restaurant with Chef Seth Siegel-Gardner and Chef Justin Yu. Although Chef Gallivan returned to NYC for a brief stint as executive chef of Alto, it wasn't long before he returned to Houston for good, where he co-founded Pilot Light Restaurant Group. He and Chef Siegel-Gardner opened the two-concept restaurant The Pass and Provisions in September 2012.
"It's neat to be able to get out and explore other parts of the city that take just as much pride in their cultural foods as we do. The tours are a great way to celebrate the great food community we have in Houston."
Goode Company Restaurants president Levi Goode carries on his family's tradition of offering Houstonians and visitors authentic, made-from-scratch Texas cuisine. Growing up, he learned traditional recipes from his family's Texas and Mexican heritage and worked his way up the restaurant ranks. After graduating from the Art Institute of Houston's Culinary Arts program, Goode continued to tap into his passion for the industry, taking on the role of food testing and development for Goode Company. Today, the married father of three oversees all culinary and business operations for the company's concepts--Goode Co. BBQ, Goode Co. Seafood, Goode Co. Taqueria and the live-music venue, Armadillo Palace. Goode secured James Beard Award nominations for the "Outstanding Restaurateur" category in the 2009 and 2010.
"Houston is great because of its diversity and proximity to South America, which influences the palate of most people-they're much more tolerant to hot and spicy food than the Northerners would be."
After growing up in Gujarat, India and earning a Masters degree in Canada, Anita Jaisinghani moved to the U.S. in 1990, pursuing a long-time passion for cooking. After operating a small catering business and later, manufacturing fresh chutneys to provide to local grocers, she went to work in Café Annie's pastry division, honing her pastry skills and learning the elements needed to operate a fine dining restaurant. In July 2001, Jaisinghani opened a progressive Indian concept, Indika, capturing the attention of national publications including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Time magazine. In the time since, she's launched a casual Indian venture, Pondicheri, and earned two James Beard nominations for Best Chef of the Southwest 2011 and Best New Restaurant.
"Houston has an amazingly diverse ethnic food culture. I love discovering all that this city has to offer. It always brings me inspiration."
Pastry Chef Rebecca Masson, a recent contestant on Top Chef Just Desserts, has earned a pretty sweet reputation in Houston's culinary world. Known locally as the sugar hooker, the Le Cordon Bleu grad has manned the mixer at restaurants like New York's Daniel and The Red Cat, as well as Houston's Catalan, Ibiza and 17* Restaurant. In the time since leaving her post, Masson has consulted for top spots (Canopy, Vic & Anthony's), helping create signature items for their dessert menus. Fans are also able to taste drive her premium pastries at Chef Ryan Pera's Revival Market or order them through her own Fluff Bake Bar.
"Houston has an 'open door policy.' It has welcomed me--and many others--with its arms outstretched. It is rich with ethnic urban markets, shops and eateries. Many Mexican products are available here, so it feels like home."
Mexico City-born Chef Hugo Ortega has come full circle. After putting down roots in Houston more than 25 years ago, Ortega worked his way through the restaurant ranks as line cook at Prego, Executive Chef at Backstreet Café and now as the culinary brainchild behind Montrose-set Hugo's restaurant. There, he's rediscovered the foods of his homeland, serving up Authentic Regional Mexican cuisine and gaining national nods on Bon Appetit's "Top Table" list and as a "Restaurants We Love" in Gourmet magazine. Ortega was a James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Southwest in 2012 and recently launched his first cookbook, Street Foods of Mexico.
"The diversity of regional foods is one of the many things that makes Houston a great city. I'm always exploring."
With nearly two decades worth of restaurant industry experience, chef Ryan Pera has certainly earned his kitchen cred. Recently nominated as an "Up and Coming Chef of the Year" by My Table magazine, Pera has worked in the kitchens of New York's Le Cirque restaurant and Chef Jonathan Waxman's Washington Park, before serving as executive chef at Alden Hotel's *17 Restaurant and, most recently, The Grove. In fall 2010, Pera left the downtown spot to team up with Revival Meats owner Morgan Weber on Revival Market. The duo's Heights-set concept provides a brick-and-mortar outpost for locally-sourced cheeses, produce, breads and meats, among other offerings.
"Making this city grow into a food-tourist destination means starting with the chefs. And our greatest tool is education; educating ourselves and others."
Real estate fate brought Chef Seth Siegel-Gardner back to his hometown of Houston. After manning the stoves at NYC's Aquavit, Alto and Maze, as well as H-Town's Laidback Manor and Chicago's C-House, a vacant restaurant opportunity in Houston's Montrose neighborhood prompted the talented chef to pack up in summer 2010 and make his way back to the Lone Star state. Together with longtime friend Chef Terrence Gallivan and West Coast-trained Chef Justin Yu, the trio launched the Just 8 Project-a one-month, boundary-pushing culinary venture that was well-received and sold out nightly. Shortly thereafter, Siegel-Gardner signed on as consulting chef at Kata Robata, before launching the Pilot Light Restaurant Group with Chef Gallivan. The two opened dual-concept restaurant The Pass and Provisions in September 2012.
"Houston's food scene is unique because of the many cultures that rub up against each other here."
Three-time James Beard award-winning food writer Robb Walsh has devoted his career to exploring and interpreting foodways. As a child, Walsh watched his Eastern European grandmother communicate through her cooking, while his father worked as a restaurant purveyor. Today, the veteran critic has enjoyed stints on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, as a food columnist for Natural History magazine and a writer for Gourmet, Saveur, Garden and Gun and Fine Cooking. He has authored several books including Sex, Death & Oysters, which was voted one of the Best Cookbooks of 2009 by Eat Me Daily, and the recently-released The Tex-Mex Grill. In 2010, Walsh partnered with Chef Bryan Caswell to open El Real Tex-Mex Cafe.
"I want to show people the breadth and depth of Houston's food culture and to be able to share and gain new perspectives on the food with them."
Native Houstonian and Chef Justin Yu has crisscrossed the globe honing his culinary skills. He earned his bachelors in Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston and culinary arts degree from New York's Culinary Institute of America. In Houston, Chef Yu worked at *17 and The Grove, before heading west to man the stoves at the vegetable-focused, Michelin-rated Ubuntu in Napa Valley. In 2010, he ventured back to his hometown, teaming up with Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrance Gallivan for the Just8 Project--a wildly-popular one-month pop-up restaurant--before traveling abroad to work. In Europe, he served as a stagier at In de Wulf in Belgium and AOC and Geranium in Denmark. Chef Yu opened Oxheart in March 2012, which Bon Appetit included on its list of America's top 10 Best New Restaurants of 2012.