Chef Roy Shvartzapel Talks About His Wildly Successful New Bakery, Common Bond

Photo courtesy Common Bond
Shvartzapel in the space that would become Common Bond during build-out.
On Tuesday at 6:30 a.m., there was already a line of people waiting to get in. It wasn't a rowdy crowd who'd been camped out all night like the folks who brave the elements and each other to get their grubby hands on flat screen TVs on Black Friday. There weren't any flat screen TVs for sale inside anyway.

No, this crowd had gathered for something else: Pastries.

Tuesday was opening day for Common Bond, the long-awaited bakery helmed by pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel, who honed his craft at some of the best restaurants around the world including El Bulli in Spain and Balthazar and Bouley in New York City. He's gathered a team of equally talented individuals from restaurants around the country with the goal of creating the best bakery in the America.

At least, that's what he told CultureMap back in November, in a quote that he's since gotten a lot of flack for. Who is this guy, coming back here from New York with the aim of taking Houston by storm?

I sat down with Shvartzapel and his wife, Tali, to find out.

Oh, and I also ate some chocolate chip cookies. I haven't had chocolate chip cookies all over America, so I can't definitively say that they're the best. But they are pretty damn good.

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The Bull and the Pearl Is the Latest Hip Pop-Up to Feed Houston

Photo courtesy The Bull and the Pearl
Ben McPherson, left, and Matt Wommack, right, are building a fan base for an eventual restaurant.
"I kind of stay away from pretentious food, but I try to bring something a little different to the table," says Ben McPherson before launching into an explanation of his re-imagined hushpuppy. It's more like a beignet than a dense ball of cornbread, but it retains the sense of the south that McPherson and his partner, Matt Wommack, have embraced.

The two chefs are the masterminds behind The Bull and the Pearl, a series of pop-ups and supper clubs that they hope to parlay into a restaurant sometime in the near future. They met while Wommack was at Goro & Gun and McPherson at Batanga, both part of the Market Square revival Downtown. When they started talking about future goals, they realized their plans meshed nicely, and they set out to begin building a brand for an eventual restaurant.

For now, they're feeding hungry Houstonians at pop ups, most recently at Paulie's and Good Dog, and monthly supper clubs featuring more upscale menus. Even the more upscale menus steer clear of "pretentious food," though. The most recent supper club meal on April 15 had a seafood theme and featured dishes like red snapper crudo, gulf fisherman's stew and smoked pork rillete with shrimp toast.

The seafood-heavy menu refers to the "pearl" part of the duo's name. And the "bull"? That's all steak.

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Food Network Chef Alex Guarnaschelli Talks "America's Best Cook" & Houston Restaurants

Categories: Chef Chat, TV

Photo courtesy of Food Network
Alex Guarnaschelli coaches one of her home cooks during filming of "America's Best Cook."
Lately, Food Network seems to be adding a multitude of new shows, pitting professional chefs against each other and against Food Network stars. But now, the culinary channel has added a series that showcases amateur home cooks. "America's Best Cook" is a cross between Master Chef and The Voice. Home cooks auditioned to join one of four teams led by four Food Network chefs representing a specific region of the United States: North, South, East and West. Chef Michael Symon represents the North; chef Cat Cora represents the South; chef Alex Guarnaschelli represents the East; and chef Tyler Florence represents the West.

After the auditions, each team now consists of two home cooks, who will go head-to-head in various challenges with the other regional teams. The last cook standing will receive $50,000.

We spoke with the chef mentor for Team East, Alex Guarnaschelli, about her role on the new show; she even told us what she likes about Houston's restaurant scene.

Guarnaschelli is the executive chef of Butter in New York City and is most often seen as a judge (and sometimes a competitor) on the popular cooking competition, "Chopped." Her ever-increasing knowledge of the culinary arts makes her not only a fierce competitor in the kitchen, but also an intimidating judge. However, in "America's Best Cook," Guarnaschelli will have to take on another role -- being a mentor.

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Where the Chefs Eat: Benjy Mason, Mark Decker, Richard Knight

Categories: Chef Chat

turkey neck cn.jpeg
Photo by Mai Pham
"The turkey neck at Crawfish & Noodles may be the single best dish in town," says Benjy Mason.

This week, our Where the Chefs Eat series visits the The Heights-area chefs of Treadsack, the restaurant group that includes the ever popular Down House, D & T Drive Inn, and the opening-in-the-near-future Hunky Dory and Foreign Correspondents. We asked them the regular questions, and we got some amazing answers, because these are chefs who love to eat. Happy reading and get ready to take some notes.

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Where the Chefs Eat: Joseph Stayshich, Mike Potowski, Daniel Nossa

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Joseph Stayshich's daughter loves the morning thali at Pondicheri.

This week, we check in with the chefs from the Benjy's family -- Joseph Stayshich, Mike Potowski and Daniel Nossa -- to find out where they like to chow down about H-town. While all the answers are thoughtful and give a good roadmap of great eats around town, Nossa, who calls himself the "sandwich guy" at Local Foods, is obviously a foodie. His recommendations are so detailed and specific that you might want to print this out and hang it on your refrigerator, or take notes as you go along.

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Baker Spotlight: Drew Rogers, Owner of Drew's Pastry Place & Star on TLC's Bakery Boss

Photo by Molly Dunn
Drew Rogers became a pastry chef at the age of 40 and established Drew's Pastry Place.
If you have ever searched for authentic Italian pastries and desserts in Houston, you've probably been sorely disappointed. Although the Bayou City is home to many bakeries that make cupcakes, cakes, cookies and other American sweet shops, it is seriously in need of establishments dedicated to creating cannoli, tiramisu, pignoli, rainbow cookies and other Italian specialties.

After making a midlife career change to become a pastry chef, Drew Rogers set his sights on opening his own shop, with a goal of making the classic Italian pastries he grew up eating in New Jersey. But, the process of establishing Drew's Pastry Place has not been the one Rogers imagined.

"I went to work for Houston Country Club after [culinary school]," Rogers says. "The week I graduated I got a job offer at Houston Country Club -- which was great -- under a Master Chef, and his name was Chef Fritze Gitschner. And at the time were only 58 or 59 Master Chefs in the world and he was ranked in the top ten. So, for me to work under him my first gig out of school was incredible and I learned a whole lot from him. I was there for three-and-a-half years."

Rogers' parents knew that he wanted to open his own bakery, so they offered to assist him in creating, designing and opening Drew's Pastry Place in Vintage Park, a true family business. Rogers decided to audition for Next Great Baker on TLC, but was not selected as a finalist -- he was a runner-up. However, this misfortune might have been a blessing in disguise.

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Where the Chefs Eat: Lance Fegen, Travis Lenig, Steve Marques, Eric Laird

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo courtesy of BRC Gastropub
BRC Gastropub's burger is one of Travis Lenig's go-to foods.

We're ringing in the new year with a return of our Where the Chefs Eat series. This week, the chefs from F.E.E.D. TX Restaurant group -- Liberty Kitchen, BRC Gastropub and the new Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette -- tell us where they like to eat around H-town.

Lance Fegen
Culinary Director/Owner, F.E.E.D. TX Restaurant Group

Photo courtesy of F.E.E.D TX Restaurant Group
Lance Fegen

Standard go-to: Steakhouse Bar at San Luis Hotel. I eat bone-in filet and a wedge every other weekend when my friends come to visit me in Gtown.
Cheap eats: Cafe Lili. Couple of times a month for fried cauliflower and kibbie and all of their cold salads.

Best-kept secret: My secret eat is running up to Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette just before closing and getting a huge bowl of our killer street-style Caribe/Mexi pepperpot soup. It's so deep in flavor and very hands-on where you add to your liking, like grilled lime, sliced jalapeño, avocado, fresh cilantro, sliced radishes and Fritos. Comforting and satisfying and like $8. Can't go wrong.

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Baker Spotlight: Angie Jackson, Cake Ball Designer and Owner of Angie's Cake

Categories: Chef Chat, Sweets

Photo by Molly Dunn
Angie Jackson creates a variety of cake balls and sells them from her food truck.
The cake-ball hype took off just a couple of years ago, but Angie Jackson of Angie's Cake began her cake ball and pop business before anyone even knew what a cake ball was. In fact, the mecca for these bite-size sweets, a.k.a. Pinterest, hadn't been invented when Jackson made her first cake balls.

Jackson began baking and decorating the treats for friends as a side hobby a little more than five years ago. Friends, family and co-workers recognized her talent and requested her cake balls and pops for parties and holidays and when they wanted something sweet to eat. Her first attempt at making them, however, did not turn out quite as well as she had hoped and expected.

"I found a recipe for cake balls in the Chronicle, so I tried them and it was a disaster. I was like, 'I am never going to make these again,'" Jackson says. "The recipe tells you to use a whole container of icing, so I did, and it was just this big gloppy mess. So it was trial and error. They still tasted good, but I had to keep them in the freezer or else they would just be goopy. But that was fun, and Easter rolled around and my sister and I decided to make some cute little Easter egg ones and Easter bunnies. And after that, people started asking for those."

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Chef Chat: Bradley Ogden of Funky Chicken

Categories: Chef Chat

Photo courtesy of Funky Chicken
Chef Bradley Ogden of Funky Chicken worked with Charlie Trotter and hates truffle oil.

James Beard award-winning chef Bradley Ogden is opening several restaurants in Houston, including Funky Chicken, which had its soft opening on December 6. Its grand opening will take place on December 18. We talked to him recently about his career and plans for the new restaurants.

EOW: How did you get into cooking? Did you cook as a child?

BO: No, not regularly. My dad, who owned a big rock and roll club in Michigan, also started a restaurant, and I helped him a bit at the restaurant. He was fanatical about farm-fresh ingredients, so in that way I was always around great food: free-range chicken, beefsteak tomatoes, etc. I also did a lot of hunting and fishing on my grandmother's farm. So, basically, though I was a typical Midwest kid, I was also developing my palate. Later, my twin brother and I went off to the CIA together and I got serious about cooking, specifically farm-to-table cuisine.

EOW: How would you describe your cooking style, in three words?

BO: Fresh, seasonal, universal. Food that I enjoy cooking and eating.

EOW: Whom do you admire in the culinary world?

BO: Definitely Charlie Trotter. He was a great colleague. Also Wolfgang Puck. I think he does it extremely well, stays focused, and I admire that.

EOW: So why come to Texas? To Houston?

BO: We were working on some new projects and Bryan had a lot of friends here in Houston. They were encouraging us with our new company to come here because of the opportunity for growth and the strong food community. We looked around and fell in love with Houston.

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Baker Spotlight: Dylan Carnes, Owner and Vegan Baker of Sinfull Bakery, Wants to Go National

Categories: Chef Chat, Sweets

Photo by Molly Dunn
Dylan Carnes doesn't think she is a baker, but her scrumptious vegan products beg to differ.
Not many people wake up and say they want to be a baker when they have never baked a single thing in their entire life, but Dylan Carnes is one of those people. And she didn't decide she was going to be a regular baker -- she chose to be a vegan baker.

After moving from Houston to the northwest, serving in the Washington Conservation Corps and interning at Blacksheep Bakery in Portland, Carnes moved back to Houston with her sights set on opening her own vegan bakery, a first in the area.

"I decided once I was in Portland and practicing my own baking skills that I was going to move back to Texas because there's just no vegan bakeries here," Carnes says. "There are some in Austin -- at the time there were a couple that were pretty popular -- and Dallas has the Spiral Diner, but there was nothing in Houston."

Barely 25 years old, Carnes opened Sinfull Bakery, an all-vegan wholesale bakery, with no professional experience or formal baking education. Everything she knows about baking vegan products comes from cookbooks.

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