Sunset & Sewanee, the cross-streets where I grew up in Houston, TX influenced me, my cooking, and my style. After thirty years as a professional cook, this blog is a way of slowing it down…to sit back on my patio with a glass of Macallan 12 and share my love for food and entertaining. My goal is to help you develop your own style and enjoy passion in your cooking and life.
Houston in the late 60’s and early 70’s was a very different place than it is today. We rode our bikes, wandered around the city, and knew almost everyone in a four-block radius. My friends and I would drop in at our local grocery store, the J.M.H., to return salvaged coke bottles for deposit money, then to Buffalo Pharmacy for an exceptional cheese burger and handmade chocolate milkshake made by a short order cook who would show us how he could “remove his thumb” before our amazed 8 year old eyes.
Ask a question from your butcher, grocer, or pharmacist and it would be answered by someone who had been trained in that occupation for decades. You could trust the answer. West U was a place where everyone in the neighborhood would get together, several times a year to celebrate holidays with a cold beer and some homemade summer sausage. It was a world that has vanished in favor of cell phones, iPads and grocery store employees who turn over from month to month. Gone are the soda fountains and the easy conversations with the cook behind the counter. Now it’s a pre-cooked burger in a bag, tossed in your general direction with a slam of a fast food window.
My grandparents and great-grandparents lived just a mile down the road. My grandmother’s homemade chili and chocolate pie were some of my first culinary awakenings. She, along with my mother, gave me respect for cooking techniques. My grandfather was an avid hunter, fisherman and gardener. During the Second World War, Victory Gardens were everywhere and my grandfather’s house was no exception. He grew fresh heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, beets, beans, peas, lettuce, turnips, squash and peppers to mention but a few. He also had fully mature pecan trees and kumquat bushes, while my parents offered huge Brown Turkey fig trees, pomegranate, black plums and banana as well as fresh herbs and onions of their own.
At any given meal we might have a delicious mixed salad made with tomatoes so fresh that they still were warm from the sun, followed by Gulf flounder stuffed with shrimp and spinach, baked perfectly with brown butter and fresh lemon. My grandfather, affectionately known as Pap-Paw, by his grand kids, started out as many did in the region, as an oil well wildcatter. Although he had retired by the time I came around, he was nevertheless a no nonsense, suffer-no-fools type of guy. His love and respect of all things outdoors influenced me heavily in my life. When he allowed one of us to come along fishing, hunting or foraging for his “supplies,” it was a great honor we eagerly accepted to later hold over our other siblings and cousins who were jealous of the missed experience.
As a small boy, I remember driving for hours up to the Texas hill country to small German and Polish settlements like Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, Lockhart, Brenham, Chappell Hill and Boerne to purchase sausage, bacon, ham, milk and cheese, because those places offered simply the best to be had.
In a sense this is where you and I are going to go. We are going to cross this country for the best ingredients and resources for you and your culinary adventures. Almost every chef you see or watch always says it starts with the best ingredients. That’s true. In most cases, chefs can’t honestly take credit for what nature has brought to them. I’ve experienced this in my career and if you are looking to have something exceptional, something to build memories around for yourself, family and friends this is the best place to start.