Chef Chat, Part 1: Lynette Hawkins of Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
Photo by Phaedra Cook Chef Lynette Hawkins of Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
Chef Lynette Hawkins had already made a name for herself in Houston years before opening her casual Italian restaurant, Giacomo's Cibo e Vino. Hawkins' prior endeavor was La Mora Cucina Toscana. She operated it for 16 years before shutting it down for some very sensible reasons. (We'll cover those details later in this interview.)
Hawkins' Tuscan cuisine was missed, so there was much rejoicing when she opened the new place. Even so, Giacomo's was not an overnight success. Hawkins originally envisioned a counter service setup where customers would order cichetti (small plates) and other items. Customers rejected the setup.
These days, Giacomo's provides table service for both lunch and dinner. Why didn't the initial concept work? How has Giacomo's evolved into a stable, successful neighborhood restaurant after that misstep? Today, get up to speed on Hawkins' restaurant background, then come back tomorrow to learn more about Giacomo's evolution.
EOW: How did you first get into cooking?
LH: Well, I was definitely a late bloomer as far as getting into professional cooking. I had no idea I could make a living at it. I was very interested in cooking when I was a little girl but it was just a fun thing I did with Mummy.
The first time I realized I could make a living at it was when I was a manager at Driscoll Street Café [no longer open] and the chef didn't show up for work. I had to make quiche. I came up with a soup that I'd seen him make before and the customers loved it. I thought, "Well, this is really cool. Maybe I can be in the kitchen instead of just being in the front."
So, I decided that I was going to work in restaurants where I admired their management and food. I went to work for Damian's as the manager but I did a lot of training there in the kitchen to prepare for opening the Carrabba's on Woodway. I was the general manager and--again--the chef didn't show up. I worked there for two years and that gave me the confidence to open [La Mora Cucina Toscana].
Photo by Phaedra Cook A slice of seasonal pie from Giacomo's: in this case fig with a crumble topping.
EOW: At what age did you start cooking in professional kitchens?
I was 36 years old. I didn't go to school to become a restaurateur. In fact, I studied architecture and got a business degree. The only reason I got into the restaurant business was because I was working in restaurants while I was in college. When I graduated and went to work at a marketing company, it just wasn't my bag.
I missed the camaraderie and excitement of the restaurant business. Working 9-to-5 was really boring for me. So, I actually started working part-time at night just to get back into that excitement and fun. Then, some friends opened Driscoll Street Café and I thought because of my business background I'd be able to help them manage. I quit my marketing job and went to work for them. That's how it all started.
EOW: That's awesome, because the conventional wisdom is that you have to be young to get started in the restaurant industry.
LH: I just didn't know my own mind. I don't know how people know at an early age what they want to do for the rest of their life. I was fortunate that I did find something I enjoyed so much.
This story continues on the next page.