One City, Indivisible, with Support and Criticism for All.
Houston has arrived. With Forbes naming us one of the coolest cities and bon appétit lauding Oxheart as a culinary gem, the city is having its moment. A 180 from those other moments (Enron, “Fattest City,” Ike) we’d all rather forget. For most born and raised here, myself included, this city has always been the canvas for wonder and opportunity … everyone else is just catching on. There is no shortage of opinions and these opinions can either make or break you. And quite frankly, we’re open to criticism. Constructive or not, because with it, comes change. And if you know this city, you know change is rampant.
This city supports its local talent and strives to hone it, perfect it and let it thrive. Nowhere is it truer than in this culinary realm. A handful – two handfuls – of chefs have grown, supported and sprouted together in the city to help each reach their potential and in turn help Houston reach its potential.
While there are those that are blessed with a particular skill set, others go the apprenticeship route and some choose the academic route. Culinary Institute Le Notre, run by husband and wife team, Chef Alain and Marie LeNotre, offers an academic route with hours not only spent in a classroom setting but also in the kitchen lab plus an internship at their very own Kris Bistro. With over 40 years of experience, Chef Alain and his staff of Executive Chefs supervise and instruct students on the basics, guiding them into a world of cuisines with 85% of the focus done hands-on in the kitchen labs.
he Kitchen Incubator offers the genius of licensed commercial kitchens for rent and the additional value of advisory services and business development to turn your culinary goals into fruition. Their website states “you can come in with an idea and leave with a business.” They’ve helped launch over 18 businesses in two years with seven of those graduating to their own facilities. Boomtown Coffee, coincidentally featured in Open on page 60 this month, is one of those. Here, a community of like-minded individuals comes together to help perfect a business with the ability to test and bounce ideas off each other before exposing it to a sea of criticism.
There is no lack of excitement though for new or innovative thinking. In fact, Houstonians encourage it and although it seems like on Yelp and other review sites, customers feed off the bad experiences, there’s nothing like the satisfaction of discovering a new favorite that has yet to be shared. It’s your secret for a month and then the word spreads and it’s foodie/curiosity madness. And there are plenty of know-it-alls willing to tell how to make your food better or how to run your business. Wouldn’t you like to tell them how to run their house?!
One such place that has reviewers, foodies and restaurateurs waiting in anticipation is the double concept known as The Pass and Provisions. From the moment the news dropped of not one but TWO chefs sharing the same space to provide different experiences, the city was intrigued. It could change the culinary blueprint. Two chefs: comrades, not rivals, but supporters of each other’s passion sharing burdens, hardships and triumphs – it’s unheard of! But fascinating! The Pass will be a fine dining prix fixed experience while Provisions will be centered around a wood-burning oven in a casual community setting. The idea is romantic.
And with such inspiring up-and-comers, iconic institutions reinvent themselves. Not to keep up but as a sign of growth and evolution. The idea that as you change, so too can your vision and presentation. And although we maybe weary of change, we do it every day so why shouldn’t these institutions be able to do the same? Chef Monica Pope is a trailblazer of this refreshing idea. Pope’s T’afia fed the masses for almost a decade. In that time Pope evolved and so did her vision. The Sparrow frees itself from the cage, the symbolism of not conforming to what others feel you should but rather to think outside of the box. Freedom to return to what is true. Going back to basics with food, ingredients and presentation, making your dining experience about great food, a casual setting and your family. The dream progressed but the passion for food and the entertainment of dining remains the same.
These natural progressions, supported by a community eager for triumphs while seeming to like criticizing, in reality is hopeful for success. When these culinary experiments become permanent establishments not only do the dreams of these creative culinary artists become a reality but also the city of Houston is praised for what we, locals and transplants who’ve grown to love the city, have always believed – Houston is what dreams are made of. Come to think of it, Forbes got it right. We are pretty dang cool!