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Chef’s Corner: Robert Del Grande

Dai
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Robert Del Grande

Known as one of three founding fathers of Southwestern cuisine, Martin guitar-strumming Cafe Annie chef Robert Del Grande won Houston its first James Beard Award in 1992. It would be another 22 years before another Houston chef captured a James Beard. (Photo: Courtesy of Cafe Annie and Julie Soefer)

Find out where the experts eat, with our Chef’s Corner column. This month, restaurant writer Dai Huynh interviewed chef Robert Del Grande.

At Café Annie, what was old is new again – from the moniker to signature dishes that established Del Grande as a co-founding father of Southwestern cuisine and earned him a James Beard Award in 1992 – a first for Houston. It would be another 22 years before another Houston chef (Chris Shepherd) garnered that award. 

Café Annie made an indelible mark, and changing RDG back to Café Annie just made sense. Half of Houston was calling the restaurant that anyway, Del Grande said. As for bringing back the crab tostadas, coffee-rubbed beef filet and black bean terrine, well, they never really went away. Long after the 6-foot-2 self-trained chef had taken them off the menu, regulars continued to order them as off-the-menu favorites.

The California native reminisced about coming to Houston in 1981 and his first taste of Texas barbecue.

Why Houston?

I was chasing my girlfriend. That was 35 years ago; hard to believe.

You eventually married Mimi. So, where do you two go out to eat these days?

Well, we try to eat gluten free, so the places we go to offer gluten-free dishes. We like Underbelly (1100 Westheimer Road). Chris Shepherd and I are good friends. More recently, we were at The Pass & Provisions ( 807 Taft Street). I usually order what the waiter recommends. Life is much more enjoyable when you go with the flow.

Are there any places you go back again and again?

One of the first places I had barbecue was Goode Co. Barbeque (5109 Kirby Drive). I remember being blown away. I thought it was the greatest thing because it captured everything I thought barbecue should be – the stacks of mesquite wood, the hand-rubbed brisket, the tables outside. It was this Texas thing where you know where you are by what you’re eating. It was so cool. On lazy days, we still go there.

What about Mexican?

Here, in the kitchen of Café Annie, when the guys bring in the stuff. The other day a guy brought in amazing barbacoa. It is hard to go out for Mexican when you have the real stuff in your own kitchen.

Where do you eat when you and Mimi visit your daughter, Tessa, in Santa Monica, Los Angeles County? 

My daughter and I are big doughnut fans. Sidecar Doughnuts (631 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica) has good coffee and makes gluten-free doughnuts. It is a small place, but the handmade doughnuts are really good. Mimi had the gluten-free butter-and-salt doughnuts. They were so good we brought a back a dozen.

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