PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston June 2022

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Page 29 of 67

A GRAND HOUSTON CHEF, AND BEACON OF CITY'S CULINARY HERITAGE, HANGS UP HIS TOQUE. As told to Laurann Claridge INSIDE THE HEAD OF ROBERTDEL JENN DUNCAN I t's the end of a remarkable era. Chef Robert Del Grande, the biochemist armed with a Ph.D. turned chef, has bid adieu to the restaurant where he gained both national fame and local acclaim, The Annie Café & Bar (formerly known as the much-beloved Café Annie). The James Beard Award-winning chef, who is considered one of the godfathers of the Southwest cuisine movement, GRANDE retired from his post as executive chef last month, just days before he and his wife, Mimi, headed to Austin to be with their child, Tessa, as she gave birth to their first grandchild. Ascending to the position of chef emeritus, Del Grande will stay on to assist his successor, chef Brian Sutton, as a consultant. Robert remains a partner in the Schiller-Del Grande Restaurant Group, which operates The Grove and The Lake House at Discovery Green. But before he departed from The Annie, the sainted chef sat down with us over coffee, which led to a glass of wine, to ponder the wide-ranging questions of what life outside the kitchen might look like. What does retirement look like? Retirement? I envision it as more of a gentle segue towards being chef emeritus — still engaged but more from a philosophical point of view. It's less about peeling carrots (which I enjoy; it's all in the spirit you do it in) but hopefully more about contributing the insights and wisdom that I've gathered over the last four decades. Lately I've been working with The Annie/Turner's kitchen team on how to think about a dish — in other words, what makes good culinary sense. This is often very elusive. Sooner or later, someone will ask: What is your culinary philosophy? I want each member of the team to have a good answer. I'm still thinking about that question myself. That's the point of philosophy — trying to find a deep insight about an elusive question. Your career has been full of accolades, but what has been the most meaningful? The accolades are always nice and very much appreciated. Hopefully they come with the opportunity for an acceptance speech to thank everyone that has made your career possible. No one does it alone. There are always helpful hands along the way. It's easy to forget who has opened the door for you. I always think of Julia Child, Alice Waters, and Wolfgang Puck. What is most meaningful is that I was so fortunate to have them as inspirations, and then as friends. The best accolade one can hope for is to be respected by the best in the field and to have them consider you one of them. And when one of them mentions, "I borrowed this idea from you," you feel an even deeper appreciation of being part of something greater than yourself. I read Julia Child's books in the late 1970s, and if you told me that one day, I would sit in Julia's home kitchen in Cambridge with some of the best chefs in the country and drink champagne, I would have been incredulous. At the end of that incomparable evening, Julia called us a cab. She went to a phone Robert Del Grande at The Annie Café & Bar 28

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