Brennan’s of Houston
3300 Smith Street
Houston, TX 77006
September 27, 2012
A Celebration of Houston's Chefs
$170 per person inclusive
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$150 per person inclusive
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HOST VENUE Brennan’s of Houston
Since our 1967 opening as a sister restaurant to the world-famous Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, Brennan’s of Houston has evolved into the city’s premier destination for memorable dining served with true Southern hospitality. From the reservationist to the waiters, chefs and every associate behind the scenes, our team is focused on the highest standard of excellence and equally dedicated to creating enduring memories of snapshots in time: the sealing of business deals, wedding proposals, joyful celebrations, and the marking of significant milestones along life’s way. And the proof is in the (bread) pudding, with loyal patrons returning time and again to create new memories. Reflecting the same warmth as our friendly greeting, each farewell concludes with Brennan’s signature lagniappe: an abundance of unforgettably fresh pecan pralines.
GUEST CELEBRITY CHEF Hugo Ortega
RESTAURANT Hugo's, Houston TX
Chef Hugo Ortega was born in Mexico City, the oldest of a family of eight children. At 15, he began working at one of several Procter & Gamble factories in Mexico to help support his family. In 1984, Ortega immigrated to Houston with a cousin and a friend. He had no contacts or job leads but was determined to make a life for himself in America. Step by step, Ortega set down roots in the bustling oil capital of Houston, Texas. He found employment as a dishwasher, busboy, and office cleaner and worked to improve his English.
After an unexpected turn of bad luck and unemployment, a friend took Ortega to Backstreet Café, where he found employment as a dishwasher and busboy. It was at Backstreet Café, according to the chef, “the great opportunity of my life came.” Tracy Vaught, owner of Backstreet Café and Prego, was impressed with Ortega’s positive attitude and willingness to learn. Ortega worked diligently, familiarizing himself with every aspect of the kitchen. Vaught not only promoted him to the kitchen at Prego, but offered to enroll Ortega in the Culinary Arts program at Houston Community College; he graduated in 1992 and assumed the role of chef at Backstreet Café, where he became executive chef in 1995. Ortega became a U.S. citizen in 1996.
In July 2002, Ortega and Vaught—who married in 1994—opened a third restaurant concept, Hugo’s, serving regional Mexican cuisine. With the opening of Hugo’s, Ortega journeyed full-circle to rediscover the foods of his homeland. Since opening, Hugo’s has been lauded by local, regional, and national media, including being named a “Top Table” by Bon Appetit, and making both the “Where to Eat Now in 30 American Cities” and “Restaurants We Love” lists in Gourmet. Ortega also has made two guest chef appearances at the James Beard House in New York City.
GUEST CELEBRITY CHEF Philippe Schmit
RESTAURANT Philippe Restaurant + Lounge, Houston TX
Chef Philippe Schmit served as Executive Chef and Partner at bistro moderne in Houston, where he was hailed as one of the city's most innovative and talented chefs since his arrival in 2004.
Born and raised in Roanne, France near Lyon, he trained at three of Paris's most respected Michelin 2-Star restaurants— Le Carre des Feuillants, Pavillon Elysee Lenotre and Restaurant Jacques Cagna— in addition to extensive training in Holland and England. In 1990 he set sail for New York and ignited his stateside career with lightning speed, becoming Sous Chef at the internationally respected Le Bernardin and later as Chef de Cuisine at Park Bistro. In 1994 he became Executive Chef at the ever-popular New York brasserie La Goulue and then Executive Chef at Orsay, which took the New York restaurant scene by storm in 2000 and is consistently rated as one of the best and most popular restaurants in New York City.
Philippe spent two and a half years planning for Philippe Restaurant + Lounge and assembled an unparalleled team of creative professionals to help realize his vision.
Philippe called on Lauren Rottet, one of the most celebrated designers in architecture today, and they joined forces to create a captivating dichotomy in the design of his exciting new venture: casual, yet chic, comfortable, yet contemporary, French, yet cowboy. The design team also included top-tier, Houston-based architect Shafik Rifaat, who has provided architectural, design and construction management services nationally and internationally for over 35 years in projects such as Houston's Tony's Restaurant, River Oaks Shopping Center and The Grotto restaurant.
GUEST CELEBRITY CHEF Chris Shepherd
RESTAURANT Underbelly, Houston TX
Chef Chris Shepherd isn’t originally from Texas, but he got here as soon as he could. The fresh, local ingredients inspired him, scouring the farms of Oklahoma as a child in search of straight-from-the-vine tomatoes, fresh corn, and peas.
Two decades ago, he applied to several culinary schools in the South and ultimately decided on somewhere he had never been before, Houston. The cultural diversity of the city intrigued Chris while attending the Art Institute. Chris began his career as a line cook at Brennan’s working his way up to Executive Sous-Chef and Sommelier. He spent 9 years at Brennan’s, nurturing his passion and talent in the culinary arts and developing his own style. Chris left Brennan’s to become Executive Chef of Catalan where he maintained partial control of the menu for 5 years.
Underbelly is Chris’ first concept that pays tribute to the abundant culinary resources, cultural diversity of our city and rich local food history. Chris works with local farmers and ranchers to raise herds, grow produce, and commits to purchasing whole crops exclusive to Underbelly. Chris is also using local by-catch, lesser known gulf species caught during commercial fishing. This relationship between fisherman and chefs is unique to Houston and promotes sustainability and more responsible use of the gulf’s resources. With Underbelly’s extensive butchering and charcuterie program, Chris’ passion for using the whole animal further demonstrates his devotion to the responsibilities of a well-run kitchen.
The menu, rather than being split up in to sections, is a list of rotating dishes inspired by Chris’ tenure in Houston. Through food, Chris tells the story of Houston from its’ beginning as a port city, to becoming the Creole city it is today, while still maintaining its’ Southern charm. Rather than following international food trends or staging around the country, Chris is inspired entirely by Houston and local restaurants off the beaten path. The various communities in Houston bring many flavors, techniques, and styles that inspire Chris and define his style of cooking. He continually works in restaurants all over the Houston area such as a Vietnamese restaurant in Pearland, Than Phoung, and Asia Market in the Heights.
Chris is the iconic Houston chef. In his free time he leads the Houston Culinary Tours: Where the Chef’s Eat, taking Houstonians and visitors to his favorite places to eat. Known for his lovable and outgoing personality, Chris enjoys interacting with people, and has requested lowered counters at the kitchen line and a community table where he can socialize with guests.
GUEST CELEBRITY CHEF Justin Yu
RESTAURANT Oxheart, Houston TX
HOST CHEF Danny Trace
RESTAURANT Brennan’s of Houston
Fresh local produce, wild and sustainable foods, and Cajun and Creole influences form the foundation for Brennan’s of Houston Executive Chef Danny Trace’s culinary style. “I put what I’ve been eating all of my life into it. I try to cook the best local food there is,” the Louisiana native says.
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.
Justin Yu photo by Paul Sedillo