The Eating...Our Words 100: Christian & Lisa Seger of Blue Heron Farm

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Photo by Monica Kressman Photography
Who they are

He is a former sound engineer who toured around the world with live musical acts, before promising Lisa that if she helped him start a farm, she could make cheese. "The goat dream was a joke, really, and it's gotten too far out of hand at this point. I read an article once about an entrepreneur who rented his goatherd out to the highway department somewhere in the South to chew down the kudzu. Then he'd shear [the animals] and sell it for wool. I thought it was such a cool idea that I decided I wanted to retire and have a goat farm."

She is a former marketing copywriter and greeting card writer who found the writing "soul-crushing" and turned to farming for a more meaningful existence. "I never thought I wanted to be a farmer -- that was Christian's crazy idea -- but he lured me in with the promise that I could make food for people."

They started Blue Heron farm seven years ago. Christian explains, "You can't tell people for like, a decade, that you want a goat farm and then not do it so -- here we are."

You can find Blue Heron Farm cheese for sale at Revival Market, Urban Harvest Eastside Farmers Market and Rice Farmers Market. Menus at restaurants such as Down House, Haven and Sparrow also feature Blue Heron Farm products.

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The Eating...Our Words 100: Tracy Vaught, Owner of Backstreet Cafe and Hugo's

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Photo courtesy of Patterson & Murphy
What she does:

Tracy Vaught is the owner of Hugo's and Backstreet Cafe and a partner at Prego and Trevisio.

""I do all the planning, train managers, set all the standards for the restaurants, design menus," says Vaught. "Investments and charitable giving. I am the one who has political involvement --I try to involve myself with the restaurant associations at the state and local level."

Why she likes it:

Vaught wasn't always a restaurateur. In a past life, she worked as a geologist, and until opening her first restaurant, had no experience in the food business.

"I'm interested in food," Vaught says, "and it allows me to be involved in food on a daily basis. It's a social job. I grew up with family members who were good cooks. I used to hang out in the kitchen. I just have really good memories of that."

"I opened Backstreet in 1983," she recalls. "It was a leap. I don't think I knew it at the time, but it was."

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The Eating...Our Words 100: Gary Adair, Restaurateur, Owner of Los Tios and Skeeter's Mesquite Grill

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Photo by Henry Thiel
Gary Adair, owner of Los Tios and Skeeter's Mesquite Grill.
Who is he?

Owner of Los Tios Mexican Restaurants and Skeeter's Mesquite Grill, and, co-owner (along with his son Nick and daughter Katie) of Adair Kitchen. "I used to think of myself as a general manager, but now, with three different concepts, I guess I'm more of a restaurateur," says Adair. But he's quick to add that the latest Adair venture, Adair Kitchen, is more his children's project. "Believe me, they don't need my help," he says jovially.

Why does he love it?

"What I like most about business is dealing with the public," Adair says. "Especially for Skeeter's and Los Tios -- 25 and 43 years old, respectively -- you get a sense that your customers are the restaurant. We're talking second and third generations of patrons. Now, in many ways they know more about the restaurant than I do." In terms of managing restaurants of varying concepts, Adair speaks about targeting different customer bases as well as the expectations of counter-service (Skeeter's) versus full-service (Los Tios) establishments. "It's all the same language for restaurants," he says wisely, "just different dialects depending on the place."


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The Eating...Our Words 100: Brane Poledica, Quattro and Vinoteca General Manager

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Photo courtesy Quattro
What does he do?

Brane Poledica is the general manager at Quattro and Vinoteca at the Four Seasons Hotel. A native of Bosnia, he moved to Houston in 1996 after fleeing the war in his home country. His duties include everything from increasing revenue, promotions, marketing, booking bands for the restaurant, managing payroll and training staff.

"When you're running a restaurant you should be available at all times," he said. "Even when you are off work. Basically you try to do everything."

Why does he like it?

"You often have to deal with different guests, different requests," says Poledica. "You have to please the guests and please the employees. It's a circle. If you please the employees they'll please the guests."

"You never get bored. There's always something going on."

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The Eating...Our Words 100: Trancito Diaz, Chef and Owner at La Guadalupana

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Photo by Francisco Montes
Trancito Diaz proudly standing before his pastries.
Who is he?

La Guadalupana Bakery and Café is a small unassuming restaurant tucked away in the corner of a small lot that it shares with a convenience store and a washateria. It's easy to miss if you're driving down Dunlavy any given day of the week and not actively looking for it. However, if you do venture inside you will discover some of the best Mexican food Houston has to offer.

Receiving recognition from the Houston Press numerous times over the last few years for its breakfast -- and its migas in particular -- La Guadalupana is a gem in Montrose. This is due to owner and head chef Trancito Diaz, who opened the restaurant over a decade ago. Diaz first came to the United States as an immigrant from Mexico in 1982, where he started out as a simple dishwasher. This first job would serve as a mere jumping off point that would eventually lead to Diaz opening his own establishment.

What does he do?

Diaz oversees the full menu at La Guadalupana. Over the years he has acquired a binder full of recipes. "This is my binder, It holds all the recipes I've obtained over the years with my own personal modifications to fit my own style and make them unique to me". He manages the restaurant every day and employees his son, Robert, as a manager as well.


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The Eating...Our Words 100: Randy Evans, Chef at Haven and Farm-to-Table Godfather

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Photos courtesy of Haven
Randy Evans has an exuberant personality that comes through in his cooking at Haven: passionate about local products and seasonal produce, expressive of its Texas roots. There's no mistaking where you are when you're eating at Haven: It's Houston all the way.

Evans's cooking at Haven is also highly influenced by a 10-year stint at grande dame Brennan's of Houston, where he worked alongside and/or mentored some of Houston's greatest modern chefs: Mark Cox, Carl Walker, Mark Holley, Chris Shepherd and more. At Haven, Evans has done more of the same: His previous chef de cuisine, Kevin Naderi, now runs the successful Roost, where you can see the farm-to-table influence of Evans in Naderi's own cooking. And his current chef de cuisine, Jean-Philippe Gaston, is shepherding Cove Cold Bar -- the restaurant-within-a-restaurant tucked inside Haven -- as it becomes one of the best seafood spots in the city.

Along with chefs like Monica Pope of t'afia, Evans and chef Carl Walker set the bar for Houston's feverish farm-to-table scene while at Brennan's in the early 2000s. Robb Walsh recollected in 2008 that they "were at the forefront of the local food movement and tirelessly promoted the products of local farmers, fishermen and ranchers."

That devotion to local fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, honey and more is still on full and lavish display at Haven, which opened in late 2009. There, the menu always touts the best food of the season -- including goodies grown in its own garden -- and Evans is usually on hand with a broad, ruddy grin under his signature shock of red hair and an always-happy "Hello!" delivered in a Texas accent as thick as his cream gravy.

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The Eating...Our Words 100: Seth Siegel-Gardner & Terrence Gallivan, Chefs and Owners of The Pass & Provisions

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Chuck Cook Photography
Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner of The Pass & Provisions
Who are they?

Siegel-Gardner: I'm a Houstonian born and raised who's getting to run a restaurant in my hometown.

Gallivan: I'm a cook, I'm a husband and I'm learning how to be a business owner.

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The Eating...Our Words 100: Kaiser Lashkari, Owner and Chef of Himalaya Restaurant in Houston's Mahatma Gandhi District

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Photo by Groovehouse
The front door of Himalaya Restaurant is decorated with signs of Lashkari's success.
Those people I know who are nuts about South Asian cuisine fall into two camps when it comes to Himalaya Restaurant. Half call it the best Pakistani restaurant in the city. The other half say that even if it's not the absolute, platonic "best," it's always worth a visit for a chat with owner and chef Kaiser Lashkari to see what new dishes he's created since their last visit.

Lashkari is a highly educated, intensely interesting, always garrulous man who attended medical school in his native Pakistan before realizing a love of cooking that would ultimately lead him in a different direction. Lashkari moved here in 1980 and obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Houston's Conrad Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.

In 1992, he opened his first restaurant in far west Houston at Beechnut and Kirkwood. It was called, simply, Kaiser Restaurant, and served only take-out meals. Lashkari's business quickly boomed and he found himself catering weddings and other affairs with increasing regularity. After a decade, customer demand for a full-service restaurant led him to open Himalaya in 2004.

Today, Lashkari is always eager to steer his guests into directions he thinks they'll appreciate and enjoy. Lashkari will even alter the spice or oil levels to suit his customers' needs, although part of the fun of eating at Himalaya is the heat coming off his goat and beef dishes. Pakistani cuisine is made approachable by simply asking the amiable chef for his suggestions, then sitting back and letting a feast fall before you.

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The Eating...Our Words 100: Nicole & Michael Graham, Owners of The Garden Hen

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Photos courtesy Nicole Graham
Nicole & Michael Graham of The Garden Hen
What they do:

Michael: The Garden Hen is unique. There is a market out there -- chicken owners who don't know how to care for chickens or to care for them when they are ill, or to bring their chickens when they [the owners] leave town. We offer everything from sourcing to incubation, chick-hatching projects for schools, a cleaning service -- we call it the "pool-man" service -- where we come by once a week to replenish bedding, feed, water, give treats and clip wings. We find birds homes and set up backyard coops, and we also build backyard coops. We built a coop in Tanglewood that would be something you might see in Southern Living magazine. In addition to chickens, we've also gotten into quail.

Nicole: A little over three years ago, I turned to Michael and said, "You know, I really want to go get some chickens." And he thought I was kidding, that it was a joke, but I was serious! We had to go source some birds; I started with three, but I got home and said, "You know, I want more than three" and Michael laughed at me again. I went back and got two more, so I started out with five birds. Michael was working with his father and uncle, but now he runs The Garden Hen full-time and I teach preschool, which I have done for almost four years.

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The Eating ... Our Words 100: Staci Davis, Owner of Radical Eats

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Photos by Carla Soriano
Staci Davis, owner of Radical Eats.

Eating...Our Words has embarked on a project to profile 100 Houston culinarians of all fields, practices, careers and backgrounds. This isn't a Best of Houston® list, it's not a 100 Favorites list and it's not in any particular order. Instead, the Eating Our Words 100 is a way to introduce our readers to some of the most notable people behind Houston's exciting and deep-rooted culinary culture. Twice a week, we'll explore a new culinarian's work, his or her inspiration and what makes Houston a perfect home.


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