Chef Chat, Part 2: Rebecca Masson of
Fluff Bake Bar

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Rebecca Masson inside of the shop that will become Fluff Bake Bar

In Part 1, we learned about Rebecca Masson's journey that would take her from the slopes of Breckenridge, to one of the finest culinary schools in the world and, eventually, to Houston.

Here in Part 2, we'll find out how she became a contestant on "Top Chef: Just Desserts" and sought crowd-funding to take Fluff Bake Bar from a rented kitchen space to a storefront bakery on Gray Street.

By the way, Masson has been a long-time supporter of the dog rescue organization Lucky Dog and has hosted several dinners along with other volunteer chefs to benefit the organization. The tenth (and final) of these dinners is on October 26th. Keep a watch on the Fluff Bake Bar Twitter feed for the announcement that they're going on sale. If you've never been to one of these, they are always an amazing, multi-course experience.

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Chef Chat, Part 1: Rebecca Masson of
Fluff Bake Bar

Categories: Chef Chat
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Rebecca Masson inside of the shop that will become Fluff Bake Bar
We haven't had a Chef Chat with Becky Masson since 2010 and a whole heck of a lot has happened since then. Here are just a few highlights. 

In 2011, she competed on "Top Chef: Just Desserts" and represented Houston admirably, despite not winning. Not too much later, for the first time Fluff Bake Bar found permanent retail placement for its desserts at Revival Market and Inversion. In 2013, the Kickstarter intended to fund Fluff Bake Bar looked for weeks like it wasn't going to succeed and ended up getting the last big chunk of cash needed on the very last day. 

With any luck, Fluff Bake Bar may even be open in time for Thansgiving. Cross your fingers that the City of Houston approvals and permitting go through quickly so we can all order pies. 

In Part 1 of this Chef Chat, we get some in-depth information about Masson's roots: how she went from being a Colorado snowboard bum to the Cordon Bleu and then to Michelin-starred restaurants in France and New York. How did she get to Houston? Read on and find out, then come back for Part 2 tomorrow to find out how Houston almost lost her again. 

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JohnMichael Lynch Named Executive Chef of Hotel Granduca

Photo by Mai Pham
JohnMichael Lynch is the new executive chef of Ristorante Cavour at the Hotel Granduca.

After a nationwide, year-long search, the Hotel Granduca has finally named a new executive chef: JohnMichael Lynch. Since taking the reins approximately five weeks ago, the classically trained 31-year-old -- who is responsible for all aspects of hotel dining, from banquets, to pool and bar, in-room dining and the flagship restaurant, Ristorante Cavour --has been working seven days a week (which coincided in part with Houston Restaurant Weeks) just to get situated.

Lynch started cooking while in high school. When he realized he wanted to become a chef, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York. He spent his early years in New Jersey and the Washington, D.C. area, where he worked under Jeffrey Buben (a James Beard Foundation Best Chef Winner in 1999) at Bistro Bis, before joining the Cherokee Town Club in Atlanta for seven years. In 2013, Lynch was named American Culinary Federation (ACF) Southeast Region Chef of the year while a chef de cuisine at Cherokee. He later did a short stint Chevy Chase Club in Maryland before joining the Hotel Granduca.

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Chef Chat, Part 2: Amalia Pferd of Good Dog Houston

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Amalia Pferd of Good Dog Houston

Food trucks are awesome. They're also a challenge to run and sometimes even finding a stable location to park and do business is problematic. Good Dog Houston still has its truck, but they've successfully made the transition from being on the road to being a traditional restaurant in the Heights.

In this final part of our Chef Chat with Amalia Pferd, (part One was yesterday) find out more about the restaurant, their new retail program that lets you have a Good Dog Houston experience at home and how they focus on using local products both in their dishes and behind their bar.

EOW: At what point did you decide, "The truck is no longer working. We really do need a storefront."

AP: A few months before we opened here we stopped with our regular routines. It's just Danny and I, so we needed to focus on getting the restaurant opened. We were paying rent and you just try to get it going as quickly as possible. We felt like slowing down on the truck would really help us push and get the restaurant open.

EOW: Was the storefront always the goal or did you realize there was only a certain point you'd get to with the truck?

AP: The storefront was a dream. I remember the first week we were on the truck and I was like "Where's my walk-in??" because we were out of butter. It's the sort of thing you don't think about when you're a line cook. I said right away, "This isn't going to work." It was a real dream that we'd get something bigger and more permanent. Throughout our time [on the truck], we were working on building a fan base and a business plan that would be successful as a brick-and-mortar.

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Chef Chat, Part 1: Amalia Pferd of Good Dog Houston

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Amalia Pferd of Good Dog Houston
Houstonians have raved about Good Dog Houston's gourmet hot dogs ever since they started serving them from their baby blue food truck a few years ago. In time, the owners, Daniel Caballero and Amalia Pferd, were able to secure a storefront location in The Heights which now serves as their home base.

The truck is still around. It usually adorns the restaurant's parking lot, but it's still taken out for events and catering.

Recently, Pferd was honored as a finalist for Up-and-Coming chef for the 2014 Houston Culinary Awards. You might think that's unexpected for someone who specializes in gourmet hot dogs, but there's more to Pferd's background than you might know.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2, where Pferd will talk about the challenges she and Caballero had in transitioning from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar with strong neighborhood ties, their new retail program and her top picks for what menu items you absolutely must try at Good Dog Houston.

EOW: How long have you been in Houston?

AP: I've been in Houston since I was nine years old. I moved from Orange County, California. My dad got a job here. I did, however, go to college in Colorado. I returned to Houston in 2005.

EOW: When you went to college, did you expect that you were going to become a chef?

AP: I went to college for psychology. I realized in my senior year that was not what I was going to do, but finished up anyway. I tried the whole "real job" nine-to-five thing. I didn't really fit in or feel comfortable or excited about it so I decided to go to culinary school. I went to [Culinary Institute] LeNôtre and finished that in 2007. I was working at Houston Country Club during that time. I worked under Chef Charles [Carroll]. That was great and I learned quite a bit.

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Chef David Coffman Joins Cullen's Upscale American Grille

Photo courtesy of David Coffman
Before assuming the role as executive chef at Cullen's Upscale American Grille, David Coffman worked at other Houston restaurants, including Katsuya.
Chef David Coffman takes the reins of executive chef at Cullen's Upscale American Grille today, September 2. Coffman has experience at a variety of Houston restaurants, including Goro & Gun, Benjy's on Washington and in Rice Village, and Katsuya.

The decision to bring Coffman on board at Cullen's was made on Thursday, August 28, by the owner Kevin Munz and general manager Ryan Roberts. Cullen's is currently going through a transition to revamp its menu offerings.

"We just recently did a tasting for those guys [Munz and Roberts] and they all thought it would be a huge benefit for me to come on board over there and work for those guys and help bring their restaurant back up to award-winning and where it needs to be," Coffman says. "Kind of liven it up a little bit."

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Chef Chat, Part 2: Gerry Sarmiento of Mezzanotte & Piqueo

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Gerry Sarmiento of Mezzanotte and Piqueo restaurants
During our interview, Gerry Sarmiento, the chef-owner of Mezzanotte and Piqueo restaurants, mentioned that he and his wife Adriana wanted to create the kind of place that they would patronize themselves. Part of that job is to create an atmosphere where customers feel recognized and cared about. I personally experienced what that meant a little less than two years ago.

One night, I was on my way from downtown to a group dinner I'd arranged at Piqueo. There aren't that many Peruvian restaurants in Houston, so I invited about eight friends to meet me and my family for a shared culinary adventure.

On the way, I stopped at a gas station and when I came back to my car, it wouldn't start. A kind stranger tried to help me with no luck. It was now time for our dinner reservation and I was still 35 minutes away. It was my idea, I had arranged it and I wasn't even there.

I imagined my friends sitting around waiting for me and my stress, embarrassment and frustration grew. I called my husband to let him know the situation. Of course, he offered to come get me, but I asked him to stay at the restaurant with our kids, be a good host, tell everyone to order dinner and not wait for me. One of our friends attending the dinner came to fetch me, sparing me a $40 cab ride to Cypress.

By the time I walked into the restaurant, I was an hour late.

Gerry had been informed of my situation. Instead of getting upset that a table of 12 people was holding off on ordering their dinners and tying up a big table for an hour, he and his lovely wife gave me a hug and a glass of wine. He said, "We're sorry you got stranded. We sent your friends some wine to the table to keep them calm while they were waiting."

Our group had a great dinner, ordered more wine and that was good, for when I returned to pick up my car... it had been towed. But least I had a nice dinner with people that I cared about before I had that unhappy discovery.

I've always been grateful to Gerry and Adriana for salvaging that evening. I don't know how many restaurants would have done that for its customers. But that's how they are.

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Chef Chat, Part 1: Gerry Sarmiento of Mezzanotte and Piqueo

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo courtesy of Mezzanotte Ristorante
Chef Gerry Sarmiento behind a striking rack of lambchops at Mezzanotte

I admit that I have a soft spot when it comes to Mezzanotte and Piqueo. They are some of the few fine dining establishments in my neck of the woods, Northwest Houston near Cypress. When I'm too tired to drive into town or just want to be treated nicely close to home, I go to one of those two places. I tend to gravitate to Piqueo, because my family loves Peruvian food, but we've had lovely family meals at Mezzanotte on more than one occasion.

It's not easy starting a restaurant from scratch with no experience, becoming a chef with no advance formal training or bringing a restaurant that focuses on a little-known ethnic cuisine to life in the suburbs. Yet Gerry Sarmiento has successfully accomplished all of those things, although there have been a lot of hard knocks along the way.

In Part 1 of our Chef Chat, find out how the Sarmiento went from would-be restaurant investor to Italian chef, then come back for Part 2 tomorrow when you'll learn more about what his two suburban dining concepts are all about.

EOW: When did you come to the Houston area?

GS: I came with Digital's acquisition by Compaq back in 1998.

EOW: At what point did you decide, "I'm done with the technology industry. What I really want is a restaurant!"

GS: Actually, that moment never came. Where I am today is due to lucky circumstances. I left Compaq when HP bought it in 2002. I played golf for six months trying to figure out what to do. I started an IT company in 2003 and it was a very good business but I didn't enjoy it. I moved to Cypress because my wife and I wanted to have a child, so we were looking for a house with a pool and a backyard and all that.

When we moved here, we started looking for restaurants. We moved from the Galleria area, so we were used to dining out. We couldn't find anything here. There was a little café nearby and that's how we came up with the idea of investing in a restaurant--not working in the restaurant but as an investment. We planned to just come and have wine with our friends and collect our profits at the end of the month. It didn't happen.

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Chef Chat, Part 2: Anthony Calleo of Pi Pizza Truck

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Anthony Calleo in front of the Pi Pizza Truck

NEWS UPDATE: at 9:15 am this morning, Anthony Calleo has announced that Sandy Witch, his second food endeavor located inside of Grand Prize Bar, has closed. This closely followed an announcement on their Facebook page of a collaborative brunch with Bernie's Burger Bus. The brunch was to be on August 31st, but it sounds like that's not going to happen now. In this Chef Chat, Calleo relates some of the difficulties associated with Sandy Witch and gives some insight on why it failed.

In Part 1, of our Chef Chat with Anthony Calleo, we learned about how he left social work and a career as a real estate broker to come back to the profession he started in: the pizza business. In Part 2, we talk about giant orders, the pizzas near and dear to Calleo's heart and fans that love Pi Pizza so much that they are willing to get permanent tattoos.

EOW: What's the largest pizza order you've ever gotten?

AC: That was definitely at Papa John's in the Medical Center--175 large pizzas. I delivered all of them in three trips.

EOW: Whaaat? Oh my gosh. That's stacks and stacks of pizzas!

AC: It was so hot in my car that my mirrors kept fogging up with the windows down in August. My trunk, backseat and floorboards were all full.

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Chef Chat, Part 1: Anthony Calleo of Pi Pizza Truck

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
Anthony Calleo of Pi Pizza makes dough tossing look like magic.

Anthony Calleo is as colorful as the Pi Pizza monster logo on the side of his truck, from his heavily tattooed arms to the words he chooses. He has a reputation for being frank and passionate about his food.

We met Calleo for his interview at the Houston Food Park in EaDo, where Pi Pizza and a few other food trucks corralled the parking lot. There's a steady flow of customers. "Now this is like making pizzas for a living," he said. He grabs a ball of dough and tosses it in the air with his fists until it makes a perfect circle. He makes it look effortless and easy, but it took months of practice to master.

Calleo's customers are so passionate about Pi Pizza that some are willing to get a Pi Pizza tattoo in exchange for one free slice of pizza a day for life. The tattoo day is held once a year, and this year they actually had to turn people away. There was simply no way that artist Gabriel Massey from Scorpion Studios would have had enough time tattoo everyone who wanted it.

In Part 1 of this Chef Chat, we'll get to know how Calleo developed his affinity for making pizza and the other career he nearly ended up doing for a living.

EOW: How did you decide you wanted to cook for a living?

AC: I wanted to cook since I was a kid. I started cooking for myself and then me and my mom. As a teenager, I had the kind of house where everyone stayed over. I used to cook breakfast for everybody. It's always been something I really enjoyed and had a knack for.

I got my first job in pizza and it's been what I always go back to for extra cash or if we were short on money I'd go back to delivering pizza or cooking pizza.

The world convinced me that cooking pizza for a living wasn't worth my time or my education. When I turned 30, I realized that was bullshit. I promised myself by the time I was 35 I'd have my own pizza place.

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