"We have the great good fortune of going back to the well," co-proprietor Ti Adelaide Martin said in a press release issued Friday. "Chris has been a key part of our team for nearly two decades and his talent was apparent from the first day. He is a true foodie and a product purist, a long time believer in knowing everything about the food 'from dirt to plate.'" Barbato is quoted in the release: "My philosophy is a modern adaptation on traditional Creole food. There is something special in taking a dish that has been served in the same way for so many years and refining it."
Gonzalez began his culinary career with a rare and highly coveted opportunity as an apprentice under Chef Eric Ripert of New York City’s revered Le Bernardin. He caught on quickly and worked most stations of the kitchen in his first year. In 2000, Gonzalez relocated to New Orleans to work for Commander’s Palace under the helm of late Chef Jamie Shannon. Gonzalez quickly adapted to the bold flavors of Creole food and fell in love with the city and its cuisine. Proprietor Ti Adelaide Martin selected Gonzalez for the position because of his foundation of culinary knowledge and appreciation for the restaurant’s style. “As Ti’s mother Ella would say, I didn’t require much ‘Creolizing,’” he says. Gonzalez continued his career at Commander’s Palace for the next five years, eventually working his way up to sous chef under current Executive Chef Tory McPhail.
After Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005, Gonzalez was offered the position of executive sous chef under longtime colleague and friend Chef Danny Trace at Café Adelaide. Three years later, he made the move to Houston to assume the position of executive chef at Bistro Alex & Bistro Bar in Houston. “I’ve been so fortunate to work for some of the country’s most renowned culinary minds,” Gonzalez says. “I’ve learned from the best, and Bistro Alex gave me the opportunity to grow and mature as a chef.”
After more than a decade of culinary experience with the Commander’s Palace Family of Restaurants, Gonzalez returned to New Orleans in 2012 as the executive chef for SoBou, the newest addition to the expanding restaurant group. His menu reflects his upbringing and culinary training, combined with the flair of New Orleans street food and Louisiana’s freshest ingredients. “SoBou will be a modern Creole saloon, authentically Louisiana with a great list of cocktails,” Gonzalez says. “This restaurant fits my philosophy of combining perfect execution of straightforward cooking methods with accents of bold flavors to let the freshness and quality of the ingredients shine.”
An integral veteran of the Commander’s Palace Family of Restaurants, Chef Trace was the executive chef of Commander’s Palace & On The Rocks Bar at HarborWalk Village in Destin, FL before coming to Houston. Chef Trace was hand-picked by co-owner Alex Brennan-Martin to re-open and guide the landmark kitchen at Brennan’s after months of rebuilding from Hurricane Ike.
An avid outdoorsman since early childhood, Chef Trace cites his father and grandfather – who taught him hunting, fishing, crabbing and crawfishing – as two of the most influential figures in his culinary path. “I just grew up around cooking, at home with my family and outside, hunting and fishing,” he says. “My brothers and I would hunt wild ducks, rabbits, deer you name it. My grandfather and uncle were both cooks in the military. The guys I know all cook. It’s kind of all we know.”
The thrill of turning the daily catch into a fresh, savory meal became his passion, landing him in the culinary arts program at esteemed Johnson & Wales University. Trace earned his culinary degree in 1995, but says his real professional education began when he started in the kitchen at Commander’s Palace. “You think you know something until you step into a place like Commander’s,” he says. Over the next ten years at Commander’s, Danny honed his skills under late Executive Chef Jamie Shannon and his mentor, Ella Brennan, who dubbed Chef Danny “the complete package.” He quickly worked his way through all stations in the kitchen, winning the attention of the Brennan’s and becoming an integral member of the venerable culinary team.
Further education has come in the field, where Trace has made a point of spending time with food producers: going out on commercial fishing and shrimp boats, visiting catfish farms, hunting wild boar and rattlesnakes. Danny has also been the witty on-air cohort on the Commander’s Palace fishing, hunting and cooking show, “Off the Menu” that aired on the Turner South Network for five years.
Weathering Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath with family in Texas, Trace was glad to come home to Louisiana to take up the culinary reins at Café Adelaide in November 2005. In early 2008, he was given the opportunity to lead the new Commander’s Palace at HarborWalk Village in beautiful Destin, Florida...although leaving New Orleans was a tough decision; Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan speculate it was the deep sea fishing that tipped the scales for Danny to make the move.
Now at this critical time of rebirth for Brennan’s of Houston, Trace is more than ready to raise this Houston culinary icon to new heights. Danny looks to balance his menu with modern Creole cooking and Brennan’s ever-evolving Texas Creole cuisine, while digging into his well of knowledge with the playful and spirit- influenced cuisine he honed at Café Adelaide, and the “Floribbean” style he created in Destin.
After high school, McPhail attended Seattle Community College and received an ACF-accredited degree in culinary science. Counselors suggested he pursue work in either the Big Apple or the Big Easy, citing their respective fertile culinary learning grounds. New Orleans, with its history, soul, and Mardi Gras celebrations won him over, and at just 19, he was hired by Commander’s Palace Executive Chef Jamie Shannon and worked through all 12 stations of the kitchen, honing his craft and making a positive impression on his boss.
In search of “as much experience as possible, as quickly as possible,” McPhail later completed a series of stints at culinary hot spots, including the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, FL; the Michelin-starred L’Escargot in London and its sister restaurant Picasso Room; and the Caribbean/Creole-intensive Mongoose Restaurant in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In spring of 2000, McPhail returned to the Commander’s family as executive sous chef at Commander’s Palace Las Vegas. Though he loved his job there, New Orleans beckoned—as did Shannon—and he returned to the Big Easy, where the Brennan family named him executive chef of the original Commander’s Palace in January 2002.
Today, McPhail continues his dedication to creating and sustaining strong relationships with local purveyors, as well as executing exciting dishes in the Commander’s kitchen. “I’m always thinking very forward when it comes to Creole food,” he says. An animated and resolute chef who pursues culinary perfection, McPhail delights in exploring a variety of flavors in his seasonal menus—embracing Creole traditions while updating classic dishes with fresh, local ingredients.
McPhail has earned numerous accolades for his work and has appeared on several top-rated television programs, in addition to a number of industry-related events.