Chris Leung – restaurant connate, Bootsie’s Heritage Cafe

Nov 18, 2010   |   Chefs

Chris Leung

Chris Leung of Bootsie’s Heritage cafe is among Houston’s most talented pastry artists.  As a young chef devoted to elevating his craft, Chris combines exotic flavors with both traditional and modern techniques to achieve consistently stunning results.

After studying with Chef Eddy Van Damme, Chris joined Houston Country Club to work under Chef Jeffrey Guy where he served as Assistant Pastry Chef until taking a position at Yelapa Playa Mexicana.  While at Yelapa, Chris created creative twists on Latin American classics as well as imaginative new creations.

He credits Alex Stupak, Oriol Balaguer, Christophe Michalak, Pierre Herme, and Albert Adria as his inspiration.

Chris has most recently brought his pastry talents to Bootsie’s Heritage Cafe where he has received rave reviews for everything from traditional cream pies and home made breads to immaculate French-Asian fusion dessert creations.

Manabu Horiuchi – Kata Robata

Nov 1, 2010   |   Chefs
Manabu Horiuchi

Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata. Photo by Greg Broderick

Manabu Horiuchi – or “Hori” as he likes to be called - was born in Shizuoka, Japan in 1974.  Even by the age of 10 – inspired by his talented mother – he knew he wanted to be a chef. “My mother is a very good cook,” he notes. “She never used any frozen food in her cooking when I was growing up. Everything was fresh and homemade. She makes a great bento box (the Japanese version of a lunchbox).” He took his first job at the age of 16 as a prep cook at the retirement home where his mother was the chef..

After graduating from high school at the age of 18, Hori moved to Osaka to atted the Tsuji Cluinary Institute of Japan – the country’s most prestigious culinary school. Hori excelled, graduating in 1993 with top honors and a special certification to handle and prepare blowfish.

He moved to Tokyo in 1993 to work at Sushi-Ko Honten – one of the most high profile sushi restaurants in Japan – as Executive Assistant Chef under celebrity chef Mamoru Sugiyama. Looking for a new challenge, he left in 1997 to become sous chef at Ichimura Kansai Kappou – a restaurant specializing in Osaka-style cuisine.

In 1999, Hori was bestowed the great honor of moving to Houston to serves as the Consulate General of Japan’s Official Executive Chef, preparing family meals in addition to cooking for large social events attended by dignitaries such as James A. Baker, Sen. John Glenn, and former NBA player Clyde Drexler. It wasn’t long before he was tapped as Executive Chef at Kubo’s Sushi Bar and Grill.

After piling up a long list of accomplishments with Kubo’s, Hori was again in search of a new challenge, and Azuma Group’s Yun Cheng – a long-time fan – suggested that his new Japanese tapas concept might be a perfect fit. No longer behind the scene, Hori is ready to pursue his goal “to make Kata Robata the best Japanese restaurant in America,” he says with a laugh and a look that is anything but a joke.

Seth Siegel-Gardner – Kata Robata

Nov 1, 2010   |   Chefs
Seth Siegel-Gardner

Seth Siegel-Gardner of Kata Robata. Photo by Chuck Cook

Chef Seth Siegel-Gardner has had, what some might consider, a charmed journey from helping his mother as a child with the daily cooking to working side by side with some of the greatest chefs of our time. It was not without an earnest love for the heat and thrill of the professional kitchen, however, that he made his way from curious dishwasher to passionate Chef.

After graduating from the University of Denver with a degree in Philosophy in 2002, Seth made his way to New York City, where he worked in the kitchen at Aquavit. Under the brilliant tutelage of Marcus Samuelsson, he took his developing love for cooking and added a strong set of well- honed skills. After two years, he went on to work for Scott Conant at Alto and then with Gordon Ramsay at his restaurant of the same name at The London hotel in New York City.

A true apprentice, Seth prides himself on learning what he can from everyone around him including: dishwashers, purveyors, pit-masters and of course, the chefs who have inspired and mentored him along the way. His close working relationship with Samuelsson has provided the essential foundation for the techniques and simplicity that are at the heart of Seth’s cooking today. However, it is the satisfaction he gets from preparing an enjoyable meal, coupled with the intensity of managing a busy kitchen, that fuel his ongoing culinary passion.

Seth, a native Houstonian, finally found his way home, and after and amazing re-introduction with the city of Houston and his amazing “Just 8 Project,” he had through the month of August, he brings this passion and experience as Chef de Cuisine to Kata Robata, one of Houston’s best Japanese restaurants.

* Photo credit – Chuck Cook

David Grossman – Branch Water Tavern

Oct 4, 2010   |   Chefs

David Grossman of Branch Water Tavern

Life’s touchstone moments happen unexpectedly. For Chef David Grossman, who spent his childhood immersed in food cooking with his mother and grandmother, it was when a copy of Auguste Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinare fell into his hands. At the time he was studying government at The University of Texas at Austin and working as an entry-level cook to make some extra cash.
“My copy is probably from the ‘60s, but it was translated in 1921 from the text originally written in 1907. It details over five thousand different preparations and discusses everything from making stocks to cooking vegetables to braising meats and more,” says Grossman.
Immediately impressed with his encyclopedia of French cuisine,  he began to cook his way through the book on his days off.  “While the foods discussed within this tome could be considered outdated or old fashioned by some, they represent timeless flavor combinations that are delicious, and will always be delicious,” he says.
After working two years as an entry level cook, Grossman sought more knowledge and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.  During his time at the CIA, he spent an externship with Roland Passot of La Folie in San Francisco, gaining a tremendous appreciation for using only the finest ingredients, while mastering solid French cooking techniques.
Upon graduating top in his class from the CIA, Grossman signed on with Alfred Portale at Gotham Bar & Grill in Manhattan.  There he learned unwavering consistency, preparing more than 400 dinners a night in Chef Portale’s intricate style.
Next, at Restaurant Oceana, Grossman sharpened his seafood skills while working under Chef Cornelius Gallagher, learning the importance of meticulous attention to detail, as well as how to prepare and cook anything and everything that lives in the ocean.  Following his stint at Oceana, Grossman moved to East Hampton, where he was employed by Chef John Delucie, owner of the Waverly Inn, a favorite celebrity spot. “At Waverly Inn, I learned the value of catering to the restaurant patron,” said Grossman.  “At the end of the night what matters most is that we meet and exceed our customers expectations”
Grossman’s time in New York gave him immeasurable experience, which he poured into the Houston kitchens at Reef and Gravitas. Branch Water Tavern will reflect the years of experience Grossman gained from working at some of the most respected restaurants in the country.
He sums his culinary perspective in just a few words, calling it “classically inspired modern American cooking.”  “It is very much this idea of timeless great food that we want to bring to Houston,” he says.

LJ Wiley – Yelapa Playa Mexicana

Sep 26, 2010   |   Chefs
LJ Wiley

LJ Wiley of Yelapa Playa Mexicana

LJ Wiley has thrown his heart and soul into every culinary role he’s ever had, each a stepping stone on his journey to finding a way to enlighten people with illuminating information and incredible flavors.

Wiley developed a strong foundation from the start, working at Smith & Wollensky, Brennan’s and Bank. In 2005, he ventured to New York City to work for Jean Georges Vongerichten at Spice Market, and to attend the French Culinary Institute (FCI). Realizing quickly that he was learning far more in the kitchens of New York’s elite, Wiley sacrificed formal classroom training to devote more time to his teachers at Spice Market and high-end giants like Morimoto, Perry Street, Alto and Gordon Ramsay.

In 2007, Wiley trekked to Macau, China with his New York mentor, Stanley Wong, to open three restaurants in the Venetian Hotel & Casino. Before leaving Macau, he also assisted in opening a fine-dining steakhouse in the Hotel Grand Lisboa, alongside Don Alfonso Restaurant and L’Atelier de [Joel] Robuchon. Returning to Houston in April of 2008, Wiley took a sous chef position at Cullen’s Grille, adding many of his gastronomic inventions to the menu while structuring the administration of the kitchen.

Now co-owner of and executive chef at Yelapa Playa Mexicana, Wiley’s creations are often described as inspiring. With micro-seasonal menu changes, locally-sourced product and a borderless style, he leads the Yelapa concept, teaching young cooks variations on global themes while dazzling patrons with an unusual Pacific Coast Mexican style.

Randy Rucker – restaurant connate, Bootsie’s Heritage Cafe

Sep 26, 2010   |   Chefs
Randy Rucker

Randy Rucker of Bootsie's Heritage Cafe and restaurant connate

Randy Rucker is passionate about food & wine and all that it inhabits.  His drive to find the freshest ingredients and to uphold them so that their natural integrity is not lost is only one example of his dedication to his career and his craft.  His respect for classic techniques and his quest to find new and exciting ways to re-introduce food is a story that can only be experienced through his cuisine.

His style is unique to Houston, upholding southern classics and integrating new and exciting techniques have made him one of the most exciting chefs to watch in the state of Texas.  Rucker credits his mom for getting him interested in the art and celebration of food. He knows that without her he wouldn’t be the cook he is today.  “Food is simply an interpretation of the moment or the season and should be taken seriously but having fun with your food is something everyone enjoys.  I run my kitchens with the highest level of integrity and passion because with out those two factors you have nothing!”  Rucker sources out the best and only the best from local and nationwide farmers and ranchers ensuring the guest the best possible experience.  Randy gained his respect for raw ingredients at fairly young stage in his career. Using modern techniques such as sous-vide (cooking under second closure) cooking, liquid nitrogen applications and the use of hydro-colloids has created a new avenue for discovery and exploration. 

Rucker’s professional experience begin in Rhode Island where he attended Johnson & Wales University and then migrated west to what he says was the most defining moment in his career.  Rucker spent time in Big Sur, California  working with chefs like Matt Millea and Craig Von Foester which developed his passion for raw ingredients such as artichokes, sea urchin and wild mushrooms. After a couple of years in California he returned to Houston and excepted a job as chef de cuisine for John Sheely at Riviera Grill in the Sam Houston Hotel (now the Alden) and spent time with Mark Cox as his sous chef at Mark’s American Cuisine.  Rucker then made the trip to the capital of Texas, Austin, to work as sous chef at Zoot Restaurant before making the move back to Houston to work with Tim Keating at Quattro at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Rucker has also been lucky enough to spend some time in some of the nation’s best culinary kitchens such as Tru Restaurant in Chicago and Clio Restaurant in Boston.  In December of 2005 Rucker opened, laidback manor, with his hero and mother, Bootsie.  At laidback manor, Rucker received numerous awards and accolades from national press including Food Arts Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, and he was awarded best new chef, best chef and best new restaurant from local publications.

Since the close of laidback manor Rucker has spent time with Cordua Restaurant Group as corporate R&D chef and operated an underground supper club dubbed as “tenacity” which opened the door to his present position as chef of The Rainbow Lodge in the Heights area of Houston.  Recently, he was rewarded with the first four star review in almost 9 years from Alison Cook at The Houston Chronicle and also received four stars from Modern Luxury Magazine.  At The Rainbow Lodge, Rucker was given the opportunity to have an onsite garden & citrus grove which molded the way he cooked on a daily basis.  Rucker is currently the Executive Chef at Bootsie’s Heritage Cafe in Tomball, TX where he has received rave reviews.  He is also in the process of opening a second restaurant in Tomball, restaurant connate.

Jonathan Jones – Beavers

Sep 26, 2010   |   Chefs
Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones of Beaver's

Jonathan Jones, a native of La Porte, Texas, gained a great appreciation for good food at a very young age. He is a stepson of a European cook, grandson of a butcher and was heavily influenced by neighbors who steeped him in Mexican food and culture.

Jones is best known for creating the menu and shaping the concept at Max’s Wine Dive where he received accolades from both local and national media for his culinary talents. My Table magazine named Max’s Wine Dive as one of “2006’s Best New Restaurants,” while the Houston Chronicle called Jones the “Chef to Watch in 2007.”.

Jones is a graduate of the Art Institute of Houston and has extensive experience cooking in such diverse restaurants as Lakewood Yacht Club, Chez Nous, Ouisie’s Table, eatZi’s, Aries and Riviera Grill. In 2002, Jones opened his own restaurant, Café Chiasso, an upscale Northern Italian restaurant. Café Chiasso opened to rave reviews and provided Jones the platform in which he was nominated Houston’s “Best Up-and-Coming Chef” from My Table Magazine. Jones was most recently the Executive Chef for the Cordua Restaurant Group’s Americas in The Woodlands.

Maurizio Ferrarese – Quattro

Sep 25, 2010   |   Chefs

Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro

Native Italian, Maurizio Ferrarese, joins the Quattro restaurant team as Executive Chef of Four Seasons Hotel Houston.

Chef Maurizio was born and raised in the small town of Vercelli in the Piemonte region of Italy between Milan and Turin.  Maurizio brings not only his extraordinary experience to the executive chef position but also his love for all things Italian, which makes him the perfect fit for Quattro’s authentic Italian cuisine.

Having traveled Europe and the U.S. with Four Seasons, Chef Maurizio began his career at Four Seasons Hotel Canary Wharf in October 2000 as a senior chef de partie. His next stop landed him in sunny California where Maurizio held positions in Aviara, followed by the Chicago and Hualalai, Hawaii, hotels.  A promotion to Executive Sous Chef took Maurizio back to Europe at Four Seasons Hotel Budapest before moving back home to his native country, Italy.

A former soccer player, Maurizio now spends his time relaxing and watching movies with his wife, Whitney.