Born in Dallas, David Coffman came to Houston via South Carolina approximately seven years ago. "I wanted a place that was closer to home," he recalls. "I figured Houston had so much to offer with the food scene."
Since then, he’s worked all over Houston, putting in time at places like Katsuya, Benjy’s, 17 Restaurant in the Hotel Alden, The Tasting Room and Goro & Gun. Most recently, he was working as consultant for Delicious Concepts (which Pink’s Pizzas, Witchcraft Tavern, Shepherd Park Draft House, etc.).
Now, he’s poised to take on his biggest project to date as the new executive chef at Cullen’s in Clear Lake. The agreement was just finalized this past Thursday between Coffman, Cullen’s owner Kevin Munz, and general manager Ryan Roberts.
"This move should pique the interest of foodies across the Gulf Coast," says Roberts, who has directed the Cullen’s operation since its launch over six years ago. "With David’s vision and experience, we’re going to make big things happen. Very big things."
We caught up with Coffman for an interview about what he intends to do in in his new position.
Houstonia: How did this opportunity with Cullen’s come about?
David Coffman: I found out about Cullen’s through a bunch of friends. Matt Wommack, my old sous chef, had worked there. Also Daniel Nossa who is now at Local Foods, and Joseph Stayshich, who is now the executive chef at Benjy’s in the Village—all of those guys came from Cullen’s. Obviously Paul Lewis was there for years. So knowing those guys, I’d known about Cullen’s for some time.
Houstonia: Cullen’s is an event space as well as a restaurant, correct?
DC: There’s a fine dining restaurant. There’s a bar. There’s Big Shots, which is going to be a more casual bar. There are seven banquet rooms, and we’re getting to do an Italian space in there as well. They’re all their own separate entities, though. The bar will have its own entrance. The event space—a lot of it is up stars. Big Shots is in the back, and then the Italian will be out on the side.
Houstonia: Is your role defined yet?
DC: I’ll be the executive chef over the entire complex.
Houstonia: Are you going to be tasked with changing the menu?
DC: I like to say we’re going to be looking at "brightening up the menu." It’s a different demographic that I’m used to. I’m used to inner city Houston. Going to the Pasadena area, it’s a different crowd. So, I’m going to be leaning heavily on Kevin and Ryan quite a bit, and we’re going to be pulling up the numbers to see what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. I’m going to be running a lot of specials so I can get feedback. So that way, I can get in the guest’s head of "What do you want?" Do you want to take it a step up from just meat and potatoes and find that happy medium between inner city and suburbs? Or do you just want to just go ahead and go almost inner city? They’ve got such a reputation for steaks. So, it is what it is, but we’re going to try to spruce it up a bit.
Houstonia: How would you describe your style going into it, or what you’re most passionate about?
DC: I’m passionate about cooking good food. At the end of the day, the guests pay our bills. If we can’t give them what they want, then they’re not going to come. So we have to be willing to be very flexible. Italian and Asian are two of my large backgrounds—I’ve studied them quite a bit. So, you’ll see that flair coming off into the food, especially as we’re opening an Italian restaurant. It’s an American grill, so that really keeps it very open for us to go any route that we would like.
Houstonia: When you say "American grill," is it mostly steak and seafood, then?
DC: There’s steak and seafood—it’s really a smorgasbord of everything right now. We’re trying to get away from that. We’re going to do pastas and burgers at the bar. In the dining room, we want to keep it a little more refined food. We’re going to do composed salads, composed appetizers. I want to really utilize our local ingredients. Who can I get that’s good? Are people producing good stuff? If not, then we want to get the best of what’s out there.
Houstonia: So, when can we start coming to see you?
DC: I’m pretty much going to spend the next two weeks really observing. I’m going in to eat, so I can get the guest aspect, and see everything from an outsider’s point of view. How’s the timing of the food, how’s the food quality. I’m really going to just take a lot of notes. We’re probably going to try making some moves on stuff 30 days in. We don’t have much time with seven banquet rooms and the holidays coming up. We’ll want to get the menu locked in, the Italian restaurant up and running. We’re going to sit down next week and put some timelines on stuff and give ourselves some goals of where we want to be and when we want to be there so we don’t fall behind on things, but we want to make sure they’re realistic goals. New and big things are coming.