Troy Guard, left, and Hugo Ortega during a special collaborative dinner at Xochi.

Last Thursday, Denver-based chef and restauranteur Troy Guard was addressing a roomful of patrons who had come out to his collaboration dinner with chef Hugo Ortega at Xochi. It was the fourth in Guard’s Kitchen Kollab series, which he launched earlier this year so that Houstonians could get to know him better. (More collaborations may be announced soon.)

To date, he’s collaborated with Drake Leonards of Eunice, Chris Davies of Uchi, and Levi Goode of Armadillo Palace. The Xochi collaboration event, a four-course wine pairing dinner, sold out in two days. People want to get to know Guard better.

“He’s a household name in Denver!” exclaimed a patron in the back of the private dining room as Guard explained, very modestly, that his TAG Restaurant Group was composed of no less than eight restaurants in the Denver area. This fall, Guard will bring his award-winning steakhouse concept, Guard and Grace, to the newly renovated Allen Center development downtown. And it’s ambitious: A 15,000-square-foot space that will span two floors.

Yet, you might be wondering: Who is Troy Guard? Why Houston? And what will Guard and Grace bring to Houston that we don’t already have? Those answers and more in the interview below: 

Houstonians don’t really know you yet. What can you tell us about Troy Guard? 

Troy Guard: It’s very hard for me to talk about myself. I grew up in Hawaii. In Hawaii people call ‘ohana’ family. I’m just very friendly, I’m outgoing, and I like to be around a lot of people, and I like to do a lot for the community.

How did you end up in Denver?

I was living in Singapore at the time, and I met a chef there named Richard Sandoval in 2001. And he’s like ‘Hey, I’d love to do a restaurant in Denver with you; I love your style.’ Back then, I was working at the Raffles Singapore, and I was cooking a lot more Asian fusion. I’d always wanted to work for the best people, so I started with Roy Yamaguchi in Hawaii, and then I worked at the Peninsula in Hong Kong, the Raffles Singapore and also at Tao in New York.

What brings you to Houston?

Brookfield Properties (which is managing the Allen Center property) suggested it. But we’ve been coming here for about four years now. My wife and I—we like it so much that we’re opening a restaurant here, and we’ve already bought a house.It’s in the Heights. We’re going to go back and forth. This sounds super crazy, but I told my wife to take care of it, and I haven’t even seen it yet. But we’re coming down in three weeks and we’re going to furnish it and get it ready, and then we’re going to be down here, for, I hope, the rest of our lives.

What is it about Houston that made you take the plunge and decide, ‘Okay, this could be our second home'?

You know, I never thought I could live in Denver, but once I got there, I was like, ‘This place is great.' Same with Houston. People are like, ‘It’s so hot,’ or ‘It’s so big.’ But I came down here and what I like most about it is the culture. It’s so diverse. Denver is not. Here, you can eat any type of food. The people exude Southern hospitality—they’re super nice. I like the building; I like the neighborhoods. I do like the weather. Now, honestly, I haven’t been here for July and August. But my wife and I—we both like the trees, we like the vegetation, we like the humidity, it’s close to the Gulf. There’s just something about it, people are just really sincere and open and nice, and we’re super excited. And hopefully, if we can do this restaurant really well, we want to bring some other concepts here as well.

You have eight concepts. Tell us what they are.

So, one is Bubu, and we’re going to bring that to Houston right away in the One Allen Center food court. It’s a quick-casual spot. I grew up in Hawaii, and it’s a Japanese rice cracker. Sometimes they glaze it with teriyaki or seaweed, or all kinds of different flavors. The one in particular that we named it after is just basically a rice cracker. So, we eat it with salads or on sushi and stuff. It’s crunchy-poppy. So, we have two of those—about to open our third in Spring.

We have four taquerias. We have a burger bar. We have a breakfast place called Hashtag. We have the original restaurant, TAG. We have a place called Mister Tuna—that was my dad’s nickname growing up in Hawaii—that’s wood rotisserie fire cooking. There’s Guard and Grace, the steakhouse. And then we have a rock ’n’ roll American place named FNG, which stands for ‘fuckin’ new guy.’ It’s fresh pastas, meatloaf, roasted chicken, burgers. The hospitality people love it. I don’t tell everyone that. If it’s family, I tell them it stands for ‘fun and good’—that’s the PG version.

Colorado lamb shoulder barbacoa, masa gnocchi, sweet corn veloute, and huitlacoche by Troy Guard for a collaborative dinner with Xochi.

Image: Mai Pham

Let's talk about Guard and Grace. You have one already in Denver. It’s 9,000 square feet, but the new one in Houston is 15,000 square feet.

Well you know what the saying is: 'Everything’s bigger in Texas.'

But that’s even big by Texas standards.

They gave me the option of 9,000 or 15,000 square feet; I took the bigger one just because of what we’ve done in Denver. If we could, I would like more space there, because we’ve grown and grown and grown. We do a lot of private dining. It’s in a business district. There’s lots of tourism, lots of business, lots of conventions, lots of local people. 

But you do know how many steakhouses there are in Houston, don’t you?

A ton. Just like Denver. And everyone said, ‘Oh gosh, another steakhouse.’ But I think ours is a little bit different. We’re light and airy. Lots of windows. Very modern. When I think of steakhouses, I think of wood, dark, a lot of cream, very heavy dishes. Ours aren’t. They’re light, they’re clean, they’re fun, they’re healthy.

Give me a few examples of your signatures, then.

The top two appetizers are wood-roasted carrots with house-made yogurt and pistachios and a carrot-topped salad. And then our grilled octopus with a red pepper sriracha puree, with beans and chorizo. We have a raw bar. We do our own charcuterie in house. So, we make our own salamis and soppressatas, also some of the cheeses—we make mozzarella and ricotta.

Where are you sourcing your meat?

Here in Houston we’re going to use 44 Farms and Buckhead Farms. Getting back to the restaurant, what makes us different and special is big windows, modern, light and clean. The name Guard and Grace is, I think, strong yet feminine— Guard is my last name and Grace is my daughter’s name—so it’s kind of nice and sweet. We also started doing little petite filets—four ounces. I would also go to steakhouses and be like, ‘Why are they so big, I don’t want to eat all that steak.’ So we’ve been doing four ounces, and people love it, they come more. We have lots of salads, lots of fresh fish, we make our own gnocchi. So, I think it’s very different and fun. We try to use as much local [food] as we can.

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