Best Restaurants 2019

4 Houston Chefs to Watch Out For

These culinary stars share their thoughts on their awesome year—and what they've planned for year two.

By Timothy Malcolm September 25, 2019 Published in the October 2019 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Jonny Rhodes, Indigo

Four questions for the chef sharing African American history—and garnering national acclaim—at his new Lindale Park restaurant, offering an innovative neo-soul tasting menu of dishes such as gourds in benne seed sauce and smoked turnips with collard greens.

What is the vision?

“Live-fire-centric and vegetable-forward. What we’re talking about at Indigo is agricultural oppression. We’re giving the African American perspective on it, but it’s a larger issue that impacts class.”

What has stood out this year?

“The conversation about racism and African Americans. It affects us. That’s who I am. It’s on me to take the next step forward for Indigo.”

Do you feel the work you’re doing right now has importance beyond the table?

“I think it’s extremely important. Because among all the separatism and division we have—there are a lot of things that we don’t have in common—no matter who you are, what you are, everybody has to eat.”

What’s on tap for year two?

“At Indigo, going forward and keeping that same concept, keeping that same focus. And another concept that we’re building for next year, hopefully: classic soul food in a tasting-menu format.”

Nikki Tran, Kau Ba Saigon Kitchen

Four questions for the chef sharing the history of the Vietnamese diaspora—and a very specific cuisine—at her new Montrose eatery.

What’s the vision?

“I wanted to bring Vietnamese to people at a very different angle. It’s not pho, it’s not banh mi, it’s not spring rolls. I hate the word ‘fusion.’ I wanted to bring the things that I had to go through, which was after the war ended and we were so hungry, so whatever we had, we made it into something good and made something positive out of it.”

What has stood out this year?

“A lot of Vietnamese people are surprised. Typical Vietnamese restaurants have everything from all regions in the country, but Saigon cuisine is very unique. I call it Saigon Kitchen for a reason.” 

What dish best symbolizes your vision?

“Saigon Sunrise (pork chop, pork and crab cake, egg, pork skin, fruit kimchi, broken rice). After the war all we had to eat was the broken rice—the rice nobody wanted. People in Vietnam made a great dish out of it. In Saigon people went through so much. If you go there now, it’s a city full of life. Something unwanted becomes something great.”

What’s on tap for year two?

“I think that next year I’m going to do more of me—get more of my creativity out there—and also take some of the food in Vietnam and bring it here. It’s street food that people see in Saigon.” 

Elliot Roddy, Elliot's Table

Four questions for the chef who treats his new Cottage Grove restaurant like home and his team like family.

What’s the vision?

“I’ve always enjoyed serving others and taking care of people. In restaurants you spend more time with staff and co-workers than you do your own family. I care about them just as much.”

What has stood out this year?

“We wanted the energy to be alive and vibrant, but we wanted to make it completely comfortable. Like the dining room at my townhome—it’s the same standards as there. My buddies and I would be cooking, and everyone would be sitting, talking, drinking growlers, drinking wine. We wanted to bring that same vibe.”

What dish best symbolizes your vision?

“With all our Gulf fish, people get an idea of what fresh fish tastes like. It’s salt and pepper only. The majority of restaurants I’ve been to in Houston try to cover it up instead of letting the fish do the work for you.”

What’s on tap for year two?

“Have the same mentality. Keep with fresh, locally sourced product. And we’d like to add at least another two locations.”

Austin Simmons, Tris

Four questions for the chef whose new restaurant in The Woodlands offers more than sophisticated, global-inspired cuisine—but that, too.

What’s the vision?

“I learned very quickly that if I cook the best food I can put on a plate, but the front of the house doesn’t have the training, the overall dining experience falls flat. I’m a firm believer in being able to give more than just good food.”

What has stood out this year?

“My Asian ‘grandma’ [his longtime customer/friend Margie Van Elten Blommaert] took me over to Southeast Asia. She’s like, ‘Chef, you’re one of the best chefs in the world from an execution standpoint, but if you just dial back what you’re adding to the food you’ll have a much clearer vision.’ But I could never understand what she was saying until she took me over there.”

What dish best symbolizes that vision?

“The Korean crab was an 'aha' moment for me. We have a new shrimp toast that’s actually competing with it, which completely blows my mind because that crab outsells everything else on the menu four to one.” 

What’s on tap for year two?

“I feel like my purpose as a chef today is to train as many cooks and chefs as I can—on proper technique, solid execution, building relationships with the people in the industry who can make a difference—and give them a better life for their family and their kids.”

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