Chef Chat, Part 2: Seth Siegel-Gardner of Kata Robata
EOW recently spoke with Seth Siegel-Gardner of Kata Robata. Yesterday, we learned about pop-up restaurants and what British people like to eat. Today we continue our chat.
EOW: You worked in London for a year and now you're back in Houston and working at a fantastic restaurant. And after sampling some of your new dishes, I can see that you are going to be making Kata Robata even more cutting-edge. Growing up in this city, were you much into the restaurant scene?
SSG: Everyone has this romantic notion of the chef who was growing up watching his grandmother cook and soaking it all in. My mom does catering, practically, for her friends and family. She had a catering business for a while, but she got burned out, so she stopped doing it full time. I actually went to college in Colorado and studied philosophy.
EOW: Those were some of my favorite classes in school, but there's not much you can do with a degree in philosophy.
SSG: You can pretty much go back to school.
EOW: What did you end up doing?
SSG: I began the courting process, I guess you could call it, with my wife while in Colorado. She's from Houston, and I had known her for a while. After I graduated, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, so I just lived in the dorm room with her and worked in a restaurant in Hartford, and after she graduated, we drove to New York for an interview. She got the job, so we moved to New York and I just walked around to restaurants and dropped off my resume. Aquavit called me back, and I started as a fish cook and eventually, when I left after two years, I was sous chef.
EOW: You never had any formal culinary training?
SSG: No, I always considered it, but by the time I could have made it happen, I was already too far advanced. People in school were below the level I had achieved, and it was like I would have to move backwards to go to school and start over again. Working in kitchens you start talking to people who did go to school and people who didn't to school and more often than not the people who did go to school said, 'don't go to school' and the people who didn't go to school, said 'don't go to school,' so... I already had a student loan. I didn't really need another one. I figured I'd just work.
EOW: What would your advice be then for people wanting to become a chef?
SSG: I would say go and work in a restaurant before you did anything. The CIA in New York makes you go work for six months before you're even allowed to go to school there. I think that's good. School is good for some people, and there are some people that just drink and do drugs and skip class, and it's a waste for those people. I've worked with plenty of people like that.
EOW: Do you have a specialty?
SSG: People always ask "What's your favorite thing to cook?" and I don't really know...
EOW: Well, I was thinking more in terms of genres. Such as, do you make pastries and desserts?
SSG: I think as a chef, pastry is something you get segregated from. You're either a line cook or you're a pastry cook. But a good chef should be able to make anything.
EOW: Speaking of good chefs, where do you like to go eat when you're not working?
SSG: I think most chefs want to go see their friends. Like Ryan Pera - I had the best meal of my life at his house. And Chris Shepherd. I love Nidda's. Tony Mandola's is great. Moon Tower is cool. There need to be more places like that.
EOW: Let us finish things off by you telling us what you have planned for the future of Kata Robata.
SSG: I just changed the menu. Horiuchi and I are collaborating, bringing stuff for each other to try. We teach each other new ways of looking at things. I want to keep the food at a high level, but bring in new ideas. I definitely don't want to wake up being the worst new restaurant next year.
Join us tomorrow when we sample Chef Siegel-Gardner's new menu additions.