Chef Chat, Part 2: Mark Holley of Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Phaedra Cook
Chef Mark Holley in front of his new restaurant, Holley's Seafood Kitchen & Oyster Bar.

In Part 1 of our Chef Chat, we learned about Mark Holley's extensive experiences at some of the best restaurants in the United States, including Brennan's, Commander's Palace and his prior restaurant, Pesce.

In Part 2, we'll learn more about his latest endeavor, Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar.

MH: I was involved with every step of this project: the furniture, the design, the colors--I was involved in every aspect and learned a lot. The reason why was that I wanted more: more out of my career, more in life and more of a challenge. I wanted to spread my wings and expand. I'm an analytical person, so I liked the idea of designing a restaurant and understanding it. Anytime someone did something, I made them slow down and explain it to me so I understood it, which enabled me to make a better decision.

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Chef Chat, Part 1: Mark Holley of Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Phaedra Cook
Chef Mark Holley in the kitchen of his new Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar
It's almost a misnomer to call this an "interview." When you talk to Chef Mark Holley, it goes like this: ask him a question and then get out of the way. Holley is a whirlwind with deliberate direction. One sees this both when he speaks and as he surveys his new restaurant, Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, giving his staff instructions as he winds his way from the dining room to the kitchen and back again.

I am not silly enough to stand in the way of a whirlwind. That's how you get sand in your eyes. So, sit back and listen to Mark Holley, a chef who has been a respected figure in Houston's food scene for more than 30 years, tell his story. Here, we learn how he came to be a cook and then a chef; how he ended up at the forefront of Pesce for over a decade; and finally how he came to start his new, eponymous restaurant.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of our Chef Chat, where we'll get to learn more about Holley's and find out how the food at this Midtown seafood restaurant is similar to--and different from--the cuisine for which his prior place Pesce was known.

EOW: How did you get involved with food?

My real mom, who I lived with during the summers, was more of a Southern cook, but I'm from Dayton, Ohio, where there's a big German influence. My stepmom, Mary, would make antipasti. I was one of the few kids who ate three or four different types of cold cuts and salamis. She'd make plates of a few different types of soft and hard cheeses and was a big black and green olive fan. There would always be some kind of cracker, too. She'd usually do this around 8 or 9 o'clock at night. I was the youngest so I was always there. The older kids would always be out doing their thing.

We also had sardines and anchovies. I was probably the only kid on my block eating anchovies on my pizza at age 13. My stepmother, Mary, introduced that to me. Around 16 or 17, I challenged myself to cook breakfast, so I had to learn to make eggs, sausage and bacon--all the fundamentals. It was always fun; never work and never hard. I always looked forward to it and planned days to cook for the family.

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Chef Chat, Part 2: Adison Lee of KUU

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Phaedra Cook
Chef Adison Lee of KUU. In the background is the computer-controlled, fish made of metal and lights that is a centerpiece of KUU's modern-meets-tradition interior design.

KUU is a Japanese restaurant that marries tradition and technique with modern twists. The high-aiming newcomer, to my mind, at least, falls into the category of Houston restaurants that includes Kata Robata, Uchi and MF Sushi. Now that we know about the chef's experience, this comes as no surprise. We discovered in Part 1 of our interview, chef Adison Lee is a protégé of Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa, of the renowned, worldwide Nobu restaurant chain.

In Part 2, we learn more about KUU and find out three dishes that the chef recommends for first-time guests. They're not cheap, but they most certainly are representations of the best that KUU has to offer.

EOW: How do you differentiate yourself from places like Kata Robata and Uchi?

AL: I try to not compete with anyone and come up with my own concepts. I make a lot of traditional recipes but I do modern plating styles. If you come to KUU, you'll have some fish here that you won't find somewhere else.

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Chef Chat, Part 1: Adison Lee of KUU

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Phaedra Cook
Chef Adison Lee of KUU

KUU, a fine Japanese restaurant that opened six months ago, is tucked in the back of Memorial City's new "lifestyle center" near Vallone's. I wish it faced the feeder road of I-10, because KUU is putting out cuisine that deserves to be front-and-center.

Although Chef Adison Lee resists comparisons, the refined, modern takes on Japanese food and delicate platings reminds me very much of Uchi without the long wait.

Inside, wood, metal, modern art and glass combine to create an atmosphere that is sophisticated, yet warm.

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Chef Chat, Part 2: How Do You Pronounce Giacomo's, Anyway?

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Phaedra Cook
Chef Lynette Hawkins of Giacomo's Cibo e Vino fusses over a table at lunchtime

In part 1 of our Chef Chat with Lynette Hawkins of Giacomo's, we discussed how it started out being a counter service restaurant. The customers didn't like it, though, and the restaurant is now 100% table service. Why didn't it work, though? We find out here in Part 2.

We also get three recommendations on dishes to try from chef Hawkins and talk about her best friends.

EOW: There are a couple of Italian places in town that have a counter service model (like Paulie's, for example) and it seems to work. Why didn't it work here?

LH: I think my big mistake was that I put [the names of the dishes on the menu] in Italian. Paulie's is simplified. It's in English and recognizable. Silly me, I have "orecchiette Giorgione" and no one can pronounce it much less figure out what the hell it is. I don't know what I was thinking. I was used to La Mora and forgot that "Oh, gosh. People understood the menu because the waiters were there to translate it for them." They had time to peruse the menu and weren't nervous because they were standing in line and people behind them were urging them to move on! That was a big mistake. Looking back on it, I wonder how I could have been so obtuse!

At the time it didn't even occur to me but now I know that's [the key] to successful counter service places. My menu needed to be explained. People needed to sit, relax and look at the menu at their leisure.

When I first opened, the counter service people were asking for lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza... Pasta Carrabba... (laughs)

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Chef Chat, Part 1: Lynette Hawkins of Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

Categories: Chef Chat

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].

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Chef Chat, Part 2: Roy Shvartzapel and What's Next For Common Bond

Chuck Cook Photography
Chef Roy Shvartzapel of Common Bond Cafe & Bakery and a display of freshly baked breads
Check out the first part of our interview with Chef Roy Shvartzapel.

At Common Bond, colorful desserts are lined up like painted soldiers behind a glass case. A big metal rack holds generously sized loaves of freshly baked bread. There's a selection of coffee drinks and you can even grab a light lunch before the kitchen closes at 3 pm.

Is it surprising that people are willing to line up at Common Bond in the morning and wait 45 minutes for breakfast? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

While we were interviewing chef Roy Shvartzapel, a gentleman with a white beard from Lafayette walked up to compliment him on the quality of the croissants. "A friend told me that of all the things that surprised him about Houston, the thing that surprised him the most was finding croissants here as good as what he had in Paris," he said. "You've done a great job here."

And why are those croissants so good? In part 2 of this interview, we talk about the mechanics of making the perfect croissant dough. We also get the scoop on another other baked goodie that will make its first appearance just in time for the holidays and find out about chef Roy's ultimate goals.

EOW: What do you think about the 45-minute average wait time here at Common Bond?

RS: I've visited places like that over my career and used to say "One day, I'm going to have a place where people wait in line for things that I make." I think there's a value in that. Not for me, but particularly in a city like Houston that's the ultra in non-pedestrian. We, on a scale from one to 10 in pedestrian life, are at a zero. We're not even at a one. It's the infrastructure. We cannot have, for example, a subway system. We're just not designed that way.

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Chef Chat, Part 1: Roy Shvartzapel's Culinary Journey to Common Bond

Categories: Chef Chat, Sweets

Chuck Cook Photography
Chef Roy Shvartzapel of Common Bond Cafe & Bakery
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.

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?

RS: Israel

EOW: When did you come to Houston?

RS: Two

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.

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Baker Spotlight: Bobby Jucker of Three Brothers Bakery

Categories: Chef Chat, Sweets

Photo by Molly Dunn
Bobby Jucker, son of Sigmund Jucker, owns and operates Three Brothers Bakery with his wife and aunt.
For the past 65 years, Three Brothers Bakery has sold a multitude of European baked goods, such as rye bread, challah, Kaiser rolls and danishes, as well as many classic American treats like cupcakes, cakes, cookies and pies. Robert "Bobby" Jucker, son of one of the original three brothers, Sigmund Jucker, now owns and operates Three Brothers Bakery, along with his wife, Janice, and his Aunt Estelle, wife of Sol Jucker, Sigmund's twin brother.

Bobby grew up at the bakery on Braeswood where he would join his father and uncles in the kitchen to learn how to make various breads by hand.

"The first thing I learned was twisting egg rolls, and those are not Chinese egg rolls," Bobby says. "And then I learned how to make bagels by hand. And then once you know how to do that, it's like you're stuck there; you're doing everything now because stuff is getting thrown at you. So you learn how to make French rolls, and you learn how to do all the different breads and learn how to do rye bread and everything else. So, that's kind of how I learned. You just kind of get pushed into it and before you know it..."

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Chef Chat, Part 2: Talking Trenza and Those Pesky Closing Rumors With Susie Jimenez

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Chuck Cook
Jimenez holds up a plate of carnitas next to a portrait of her late father, who created the recipe she uses.
This is the second part of a two-part Chef Chat interview. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

On the day of our visit, Susie Jimenez was working in the kitchen and had been all day. She'd been on-site since 7 a.m. and would be there a few hours past our 5:30 p.m. visit. She's one of those enviable people who looks great even in casual cooking garb and no makeup. Perhaps boundless enthusiasm is a beauty secret.

In Part 2 of this interview with Jimenez, we get down to brass tacks about the controversy surrounding Trenza. Is it good? Is it closing? What's the deal? On more lighthearted notes, we also talk tequila and some of the bizarre foods she's eaten.

EOW: Would you like to address the rumors swirling around about Trenza being doomed?

SJ: Some places can open the doors and be automatic hits. Trenza is not a common Tex-Mex restaurant or an Asian restaurant. I've got a really different menu, and it's going to take time for people to catch on. I didn't expect that in two months I was going to be making money like "Ka-ching! Ka-ching!" It's going take awhile.

I'm not going to worry about the rumors, even though they are hurtful. People listen to social media. It's the world we live in right now. My employees show up to work every day and do the best job they know how to do, whether we have 100 people or just a few. We can only do the best we can on our end. I didn't sign a 10-year lease or pick up and leave a successful catering business, move from Colorado, leave my husband for Trenza to not succeed. I came here to work my little ass off and make sure it does. People can just hold on to that rumor for a bit. We've got a ways to go before we're going to give up.

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