Chef Chat, Part 1: Roy Shvartzapel's Culinary Journey to Common Bond
His last name may be a little challenging to pronounce correctly, but chef Roy Shvartzapel of Common Bond is practically a Houston native. After traveling the world and working in some of the most renowned restaurants, he came back home to open the wildly successful, upper-crust bakery at Westheimer and Dunlavy. I get the feeling that this guy has two or three books in him, if only he had the time to write them.
Chuck Cook Photography Chef Roy Shvartzapel of Common Bond Cafe & Bakery
Common Bond only opened a few months ago, but it's already so popular there's an average 45-minute wait in the mornings to get in. My Facebook feed is peppered with photos of friends waving around big, crunchy, brown croissants with as much pride as if they were carrying a Louis Vuitton satchel.
This is no overnight success story. After graduating from Culinary Institute of America, Chef Roy traveled the world for years, working for some of the top chefs in the world--sometimes for months with no pay just to learn their craft. His journey has not not just been about feeling the well-heeled masses, though. He's also lived and worked in the one of the poorest areas in the world. So, besides having great culinary knowledge to share, he's accumulated some valuable perspective on life's values as well.
In part 1 of our interview, Chef Shvartzapel describes the long, star-studded culinary journey that began in Houston and took him all over the globe until he made his way back home to open Common Bond. We'll pick up the story tomorrow in Part 2 and talk about some issues of importance to us consumers, like that 45-minute wait time.
EOW: Where were you born?
EOW: When did you come to Houston?
EOW: How did you get into baking?
RS: The love affair began when I was in college. I grew up in a home where food was central to all things, which is typical in a Middle Eastern home. If you'd have asked me pre-college if I could see myself becoming a chef, you could have just as easily asked if I imagined becoming a conductor in a symphony. It was just as plausible--meaning, not plausible.
EOW: Before your freshman year in collage, what did you think you were going to do?
Chuck Cook Photography One of Common Bond's huge, crusty croissants alongside a hazelnut chocolate brioche bun.
RS: I was going to play in the NBA. I used to play professional basketball. I'm 6'1".
EOW: So, tall enough!
RS: Tall enough... or not, because I'm doing this. (smiles)
EOW: How did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
RS: It happened after I graduated. My first job in the industry was as a server at Carrabba's. That was my introduction to the non-amateur side of food. I was a great server, but the problem was that I couldn't stay out of the kitchen!
As far as places to get your feet wet go, it's a remarkable establishment. I have a deep love for Johnny and all that he does. He's been in business for 30 years and has never had a year where the previous sales were more than the current ones.
By the way, I am referring to the original two locations, not the ones owned by Outback. I'm not knocking them; I'm just saying that they're different. I wish more people were aware of that because visiting [those suburban locations] affects their judgment of the original Carrabba's. Go to the one on Kirby and let's have a chat after that.
That definitely sparked a fire in me to pursue this new hobby of mine. After I hung up the basketball shoes, like every good Jewish boy I was like "All right! Time to be a lawyer!" I realized very quickly that was not going to be my angle. If I'm not in love with what I'm doing, I'm worthless.
This story continues on the next page.