There are two very interesting chef/restaurateur interviews in the local blogosphere lately, thanks to the Press’ Mai Pham and Eater’s Amber Ambrose.
Pham interviewed La Fisheria's Aquiles Chavez, the Mexican celebrity chef whose restaurant opened last month. Chavez has a fascinating story to tell, from how he got his trademark mustache to why he left Mexico for Houston. “It was because of the violence. They tried to kidnap me. They weren't successful, but they tried. ..They robbed my house in Villahermosa one time. That was the key to say, ‘I'm going to move to the United States.’” He chose Houston because one of his partners is married to a Houstonian.
Once here, Chavez felt like he needed to Mexify our city a little. To brighten it up, in other words. “Houston is not a cozy city. There's too much concrete, it's too tough. Do you remember the movie The Wizard of Oz? The beginning of the movie is black and white, and then they go to Oz and it's all in color. I wanted a splash of color in the city of concrete.”
Chavez also talks about how he combines the classical French techniques he learned back in ‘90s with a deep understanding of authentic Mexican food, in all its regional guises and glories. He gained this knowledge in part by hosting a television show that took him all over Mexico in the search of the best dishes.
How does Chavez want Houstonians to react to his restaurant? He tells Pham a wonderful story. “Three guys came in wearing suits, very formal. I thought they were bankers or CEOs or something. They came for lunch and drank magaritas de habanero. After the first margarita, they took off the jacket. And I said, "Oh, it's a good start." Until the first taco, they took off the shoes. These handsome guys took off the shoes. And I'm the happiest person in the world, because this is the best compliment for my restaurant. Because I believe that cooking is a way to show your love.”
You can keep your chips and salsa. We’ll take the love.
Ambrose interviewed Anita Jaisinghani, the Beard-nominated owner of Indika and Pondicheri. Jaisinghani presents a different side of the restaurateur coin, talking mostly about how hard the business is. She had to become her own building contractor at Pondicheri when a partner dropped out. “The project almost fell through. It was at a very delicate point at one time.”
She also had the humbling experience of losing almost her entire crew in the first three months. “That was a wake up call that maybe I'm not as good at picking out people as I thought I am.” Why was it so much harder to keep people at Pondicheri, as opposed to Indika? For starters, at Pondicheri she serves breakfast, so people have to get to work at 6 am. “Everyone who has a drinking problem can not show up for work in the morning, and I figured that out. I never thought about that. It's just one of those aspects of business that you don't think about.”
Jaisinghani also talked to Ambrose about her plans to spread the healing power of Indian food far beyond Houston. "There's a healing power to spices that is just phenomenal. I'm a huge, huge believer in the culture that I come from. I want to cook the food that people love and enjoy and I feel like I'm doing that here. I do want to take this concept out of Houston. I'm not sure where or when, but I do.”
Reading these interviews you get a little taste for how the world is coming to Houston these days, and how very lucky we all are to be here.