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DINING

Chef’s Corner T

Joey Chavez

he Brennan family has mentored countless talents through the decades, including celebrity chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. Both honed their skills at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Meanwhile, across state lines, its younger sibling, Brennan’s of Houston, has nurtured talents such as Randy Evans, Danny Trace, Chris Shepherd, and Joe Cervantez. Now add another: Joey Chavez. Unlike Brennan’s past executive chefs, Chavez didn’t rise through the ranks: “We’ve never hired someone from the outside to be executive chef. I don’t think it’s ever been done since I’ve been here,” says general manager Carl Walker, who helmed the kitchen at Brennan’s of Houston in the late ’80s and ’90s. But when Chavez’s résumé came across his desk, something told him and owner Alex BrennanMartin to delve deeper. Walker visited Chavez in Baltimore, where Chavez was executive chef at The Bygone, a rooftop restaurant at the Four Seasons. It wasn’t Chavez’s appearance on Food Network’s Chopped or being named “Best New Chef” by the Baltimore Sun Readers’ Choice Awards in 2019 that landed Chavez the job – it was his zeal for sharpening his culinary skills constantly. Below, 32-year-old Chavez, currently planning Brennan’s Mardi Gras celebration Feb. 16, discusses snaring one of the most coveted chef positions in the South, as well as his favorite Houston restaurant for crab cakes. You were born and raised in Southern California. How did you land in Texas? I got a football scholarship from Lamar University in Beaumont, but I knew that I would never go to the NFL. I wasn’t big enough, being barely 6-foot tall. Once football ended, I knew I wanted to be a chef. Did you work at Pappadeaux while working on your bachelor’s degree and culinary degree at Lamar? I was a crawfish cook. At the same time, I was working at a sushi bar, called Koi. I was also commuting to Lake Charles to work at La Truffe Sauvage, a little French restaurant. I really fell in love with the refinement and discipline that went into cooking at La Truffe Sauvage. Every night, the owner, Arthur Durham, was there cooking with his partner, Mohamed Chettouh. The two

Kimberly Park

by Dai Huynh, staff writer

were on the line every night making everything from scratch with the help of only two other people. One of the things that impressed the folks at Brennan’s was your relentless drive to expand your food knowledge. After college, in 2012, you started at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago at the Ritz-Carlton in Colorado. In less than a year, you worked your way up to sous chef. What came next? At the Ritz-Carlton, I discovered what Michelin was and who Thomas Keller was. It became my main focus to work for the best of the CHEF CHAVEZ New executive chef Joey Chavez balances traditions and trends best. Every time I had off, at the iconic Brennan's of Houston. I staged. I made it a point ture for four minutes in the sink before draining. to stage [intern without pay] at every threeNow, you can remove the lobster cleanly from the Michelin-starred kitchen in the U.S. The one I shell and toss it into pastas or garnish soups or salads. missed was Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare [in New You arrived at Brennan’s of Houston right when York]. I never was able to get in there, but I staged restaurants were forced to do curbside pickup or delivat Le Bernardin, Per Se, Masa, Dovetail, Nomad, ery because of Covid-19. Have you had a chance to Eleven Madison, The Restaurant at Meadowood, try out any of our city’s restaurants? and others. There is an Italian restaurant near my house, I saw all these great chefs, and they all had Lomonte’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria (815 worked for Thomas Keller at one point. So, that’s Plantation Drive, Richmond). The fried ravioli what I got to do. Every time I sat down to a comand pizzas are fantastic. They have a great baked puter, I would send my résumé to Thomas Keller. rigatoni with homemade sauce, peppers, and ricotI finally got a call to do a stage at The French ta. I’ve also been to Loch Bar (4444 Westheimer Laundry, then I ended up getting a position there Road). They have one of the better crab cakes and his other place, Bouchon. around. Coming from Baltimore, I miss the crab In 2016, you became chef de cuisine for James cakes. And their negroni cocktail is really good. Beard Award-winning chef Charles Phan’s OTD in When this is over, I hope to make my way to San Francisco, followed by the legendary private club, Ostia (2050 Dunlavy St.). Travis McShane Caribou Club, in Colorado, then The Bygone. Share worked for Jonathan Waxman. a technique that you learned from staging that you used regularly at these places. Editor’s note: Buzz dining columnist Dai Huynh is To get lobster to a perfect medium-rare, you bring a James Beard food-journalism award winner and water and vinegar to a boil, then you pour it over longtime Houston-based restaurant writer. the lobster. Let it sit in the water-and-vinegar mix-

TANGLEWOOD/RIVER OAKS BUZZ FEBRUARY 2021 36

Profile for The Buzz Magazines

Tanglewood/River Oaks Buzz - February 2021  

Tanglewood/River Oaks Buzz - February 2021  

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