Chef Chat, Part 1: Ronnie Killen of Killen's Steakhouse
We caught up with Certified Executive Chef Ronnie Killen of Pearland's Killen's Steakhouse to discuss what it was like interviewing with the White House and the reason for a steakhouse in Pearland, of all places.
EOW: I understand that back in 2005, you were one of the finalists vying to be the Executive Chef at the White House. How did that opportunity come about?
Killen: In 1995 and 1996, there was a rib cooking-competition that one of the perks was getting to cook for former President Bush, the dad. So when I did that, I got to cook at their house. They're really big barbecue people. Then in 1999, after I graduated from school, I worked at the Hyatt Regency in Austin and that's when W was governor. I met them again, and they recognized me. Then later in 2004, I did the commissioner's party for the Super Bowl, where I met the Bush family again. So by this time they've seen me do barbecue, Tex-Mex in Austin, and then upscale cuisine at the party. So later they sent me an invitation to apply for the job.
EOW: What was that interview process like?
Killen: It was really neat seeing letters and envelopes from the White House. After I sent them all my information, I went up there in November 2005 for three days. I got to help with one of the state dinners with the President of China there. It was great to get to go behind the scenes of the White House and see how things worked. The whole process to just go to the White House took about three months for approval with all the background checks. I entered the White House through the East Appointment Gate, where I was first X-rayed with my knives. Then I moved onto a smaller room where they screened me for any drugs with some sort of sensors. It's something that I'll never forget.
EOW: Besides the White House, where else has your culinary career taken you?
Killen: I've worked in Palm Springs, California and Ridgedale, Missouri. I was also in London for a while, where I got to cook for Prince Charles, William and Harry. My pastry instructor actually made Princess Diana's wedding cake.
EOW: So after all these places, why Pearland?
Killen: Because this is where I'm from. I graduated from Pearland High School. My brother's a coach here. My family is here. The opportunity is here. I don't have to charge extremely high prices on our food because my overhead is low, so we can pass the savings onto our patrons. The steaks we have here from Allen Brothers of Chicago are the exact same steaks as those served at high-end steak restaurants in trendier parts of Houston. For a four-year period of time, we didn't have to raise our prices. We recently raised prices, but more for the seafood items, due to the Gulf Coast situation. So, like I said, the opportunity is here, and we've been fortunate. If we can get business here in Pearland, we can get it anywhere.
Come back tomorrow to learn the secrets about Killen's crème brulee bread pudding and get the chef's response to Robb Walsh's unsavory review.