Chef Chat, Part 1: Susie Jimenez of Trenza Talks Food Network Stardom and Latin Roots

Categories: Chef Chat

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Photo by Chuck Cook
Susie Jimenez has bounced back from a Food Network Star loss to open a fusion restaurant in West Ave.
This is the first part of a two-part Chef Chat interview. Check back with us tomorrow to read Part 2.

If things had gone slightly different, Susie Jimenez might not have opened her Mexican/Latin American/Indian fusion restaurant, Trenza, in Houston. Jimenez came very close to having her own Food Network cooking show. She was the runner-up in season 7 of the reality competition series Food Network Star, losing only to Jeff Mauro, the "Sandwich King."

Instead, the woman who (mostly) wowed Food Network luminaries Bobby Flay, Giada DeLaurentis, Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson headed back to her successful catering business in Colorado. It wasn't too long afterward that friends in Houston asked her to come check out the burgeoning food scene. Soon, Jimenez fell in love with Houston and decided to open Trenza here.

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Baker Spotlight: Rachel Teichman, The Scone Artist

Categories: Chef Chat, Sweets

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Photo courtesy of Tirzah Brott
Rachel Teichman, The Scone Artist, sells art-themed scones from her home in Meyerland.
In April of 2013, Rachel Teichman moved to Houston and found most bakeries here dominated by traditional desserts like brownies, cupcakes and cookies.

She decided what the city needed was scones and established The Scone Artist, her at-home scone business in the Meyerland area. Thanks to the Texas Cottage Foods Bill update in 2013, Teichman can legally sell scones from her home.

"I wanted to try and think of a product I could sell from home that would work under the restriction, and basically I don't think the scone has been fully explicated yet in a way that some other baked goods have," Teichman says. "I just always like making them; I like giving tea parties and going to tea parties, and a scone is usually the focal point of both."

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Kevin Naderi Talks Lillo & Ella and Lunch & Brunch

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Buddha welcomes you to Lillo & Ella.
Last week was a big one for Kevin Naderi.

The chef of Roost not only opened his second restaurant, Lillo & Ella, but also braved the television game show circuit, appearing on Sunday's episode of the Food Network's Guy's Grocery Games.

He came in second on the show--"I was the winner in my parents' eyes," he says laughing. "That's all that counts."--but where the restaurant is concerned, things are going great. After officially opening to the public on Tuesday, May 20, Lillo & Ella has been drawing large dinner crowds and a slow but steady lunch clientele.

"If you look around here, everybody's busy at lunch, but it does take some time to build up your name," Naderi says. "My biggest challenge is getting people to spend an extra $2 at lunch instead of wanting to go to the more affordable joints around here."

Based on my recent lunch at Lillo & Ella, though, I'd say it's worth it.


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Sarah Penrod Represents Houston on Food Network Star Season 10

Categories: Chef Chat, TV

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Photo courtesy of Food Network
Sarah Penrod, 30, hopes to win season 10 of Food Network Star.
Food Network is looking for the next star to host a new cooking show this year, and Sarah Penrod, from League City, has been selected as a finalist. Penrod is joined by 11 other contestants vying for the title of Next Food Network Star.

But this isn't her first rodeo. Penrod had a chance at competing in Season 8 when she was chosen as a semi-finalist. After she was eliminated, she was determined to fix whatever needed fixing and become a finalist.

Two seasons later, and she has a chance to win her own cooking show on Food Network.

We spoke with Penrod about her culinary journey and how she prepared for this season. She comes from a family of entertainers and spent most of her life performing country music onstage and participating in beauty pageants. Currently, she is a personal chef and owns her own catering service. If one thing's for sure, her bubbly personality and enthusiasm are contagious -- two excellent qualities for a potential Food Network Star.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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