The French Cowboy rides again at River Oaks District’s first restaurant
After months of feverish anticipation, the first of eight restaurants at the luxurious mixed-use development River Oaks District is getting ready to make its debut. Toulouse Café and Bar, a French brasserie concept from Dallas-based restaurant group Lombardi Family Concepts, will open for dinner April 4. It’s the first of two Lombardi Family restaurants to come to ROD; Italian restaurant Taverna will open in May.
While the restaurant may be from out of town, diners will find familiar faces in the dining room and the kitchen. Owner Alberto Lombardi has hired Philippe Schmit as executive chef and former Smith & Wollensky general manager Giorgio Ferrero to run the dining room.
“I asked around which one was the best chef in Houston, because we like to hire local people. They told me there was a famous chef, Philippe; they call him the ‘French Cowboy,'” Lombardi tells CultureMap. “I call him. We have a meeting. I took him out to talk about philosophy. We say, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s try.’ As an Italian, we say, we make him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
French bakery chooses Rice Village for second location, adds wine and beer to both menus
Owner Rabih Salibi tells CultureMap that he will open a second location in Rice Village, at the site of the recently-shuttered Mercantile coffee shop. Although he had considered an option in Montrose, Salibi says Rice Village is a better fit. The area’s pedestrian traffic will allow the bakery to be open from 7 am until 10 pm (the Westheimer location currently closes at 3 pm).
When the new location opens in August, it will incorporate several lessons learned during the first year, with additions to the menu at both locales. First, each location will feature a dedicated coffee bar. Second, both locations will begin serving beer and wine. Finally, Philippe Schmit, the acclaimed chef who recently parted ways with Toulouse Cafe & Bar, has returned to help Flo Paris develop new menu items that will make it more appealing as both a brunch and dinner destination.
“American people like to drink a lot of coffee,” Salibi says. “We use Lavazza. The general manager of Lavazza in Texas came just to see what’s going on. She was impressed by how much we use coffee from them. She was really surprised. I’m surprised, too.”
Adding beer and wine will allow Flo Paris to serve something its customers have been asking for almost since day one. Expect 15 to 20 wines by the glass with a mix of French, Italian, and Californian options. Cheese plates are also coming.
“When you are talking French, it’s cheese and wine. We don’t want to serve cheese without wine,” Salibi explains.
Salibi has also hired two new chefs from France — Schmit describes them as “rock stars” — one for the savory side and one to assist baker Dany Srour.
“Most of my time I spend creating new dishes to change a few things at Flo here and also for the new location,” Schmit says. “Rabih wanted a larger variety of food that we can rotate, also more adapted to the new location and the new hours.”
Schmit showed off a number of new dishes that are coming to Flo Paris’s menu, including eggs Benedict served on one of the bakery’s croissants, a duck proscuitto Napoleon, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on toasted brioche bread (for the kid’s menu), and a savory eclair filled with crab salad and topped with a tomato glaze. French “boulanger-style” pizza, which is known for its thick, foccacia-like crust, will be available by the slice in a variety of flavors.
Srour has also been busy. On the savory side, he’s developed a new bread with sundried tomato, cheese and olives. Additions to the pastry side include a pistachio-flavor opera cake and a classic palmier (the classic “elephant ear” pastry).
With so much success and such promising prospects, only one truly bad thing has happened to Flo Paris in its first year — a rare zero-star review from Chronicle critic Alison Cook that trashed almost every aspect of the bakery’s offerings. Salibi hasn’t commented publicly on the dressing down, but he plans to continue working hard every day to prove her wrong.
“I decided, and I told chef Philippe, the best thing is not to react and not to call her,” Salibi says. “Leave her alone. Let’s continue what we have to do. I think she will make another article. I don’t know when. She will say ‘I’m sorry about Flo Paris.’”
Private Chefs at Your Service – Culinary magic happens behind the closed doors of some of Houston’s affluent family homes.
We all know the awful truth: The key to looking and feeling great is putting the right things in your body. But with the hustle and bustle of daily life, it isn’t always possible to make healthy home-cooked meals that taste good and can nourish an entire family. Enter the private chef.
While the perception has always been that only celebrities, professional athletes or the super wealthy can afford the services of a gourmet chef, the demand in Houston for freshly prepared meals and assistance with multi-course dinner parties on the regular has created a thriving market for personal chefs. Dreaming about enjoying a lifestyle of the rich and famous is only natural, but living like the other half may not be as far off from reality as you think. Meet some of Houston’s most skilled cooks offering personal chef services.
With more than 25 years of restaurant experience around the globe, Philippe Schmit proudly offers his services as a private chef to Houston’s elite. “The French Cowboy,” as Schmit is sometimes known, is originally from Paris and a certified Maître Cuisinier de France, but has called Houston home for the past decade. The chef’s services include high-profile dinner parties in private homes and extravagant catered affairs at destinations from museums and galleries to ranches and hunting lodges.
Since leaving his eponymous Galleria restaurant, a day in the life for caterer and consultant Schmit now involves creating menus, purchasing and prepping food, coordinating kitchen and service staff, and going the extra mile with printing personalized menus and providing floral or valet services. Schmit explains that what is most important to him though, is providing his guests with an interactive dining experience. Opting to cook in an open kitchen, he welcomes conversation and invites everyone to get a sneak peek of all the action.
Chef Philippe Schmit launches new private catering operation
All the cowboys move on to the next gig when the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo packs up after the show Sunday. The cotton candy stops spinning. The rides stop twirling. And critters return to the barn.
But for Houston’s most restless cowboy – Philippe Schmit, better known as the French Cowboy – the culinary rodeo at his namesake Philippe Restaurant & Lounge has only just begun. Having just marked its second anniversary, the Galleria-area restaurant seems to have been in a constant state of motion and change since it opened. There were nonstop parties; accolades for sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd (including being named one of 2012’s top sommeliers of the year by Food & Wine magazine); shifts in the kitchen and menu changes; and a high-profile recognition for Schmit, who was inducted into the elite ranks of the Maitres Cuisiniers de France last year.
The new year has brought even more changes. It began with the introduction of Phil’s Wine Lounge, a re-conceptualization of the restaurant’s buzzy downstairs bar. That was followed in February with the introduction of a new box-lunch takeaway program (four menu items, priced between $8 and $12) for to-go customers.
And this month, Philippe launches a private catering operation, a boutique dining service where Schmit will work with customers to create culinary experiences as lavish as they like. The catering service can be designed for as few as four guests to as many as 60 and could include Schmit preparing food in customers’ kitchens, depending on the wants of the clients, he said.
“Just because I’m cooking at your house and not in my own kitchen, I’m not going to take it down (a notch). I’m going to challenge myself.”
The catering operation can include everything from cocktail and wine service to service staff and service ware. “If they really want to spend, they can also have Vanessa there, but she’s more expensive than me,” Schmit said with a wink. Why the new catering operation now? The busy chef said it made sense now that things have “settled down” at Philippe’s two-year mark. “I was too busy to do it, but I made a few exceptions,” he said. Even now that he has managed business to the point that he can add more responsibilities to his plate, Schmit is piling on even more: a new restaurant patio. Philippe is readying a new, landscaped 60-seat patio that should be ready for customers in April.
“Wait till you see it,” he said, adding that its inauguration will no doubt command another party. But the French Cowboy, who is starting off the year by digging in his spurs, would have it no other way.
SOME MORE THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT SCHMIT:
My favorite food is sushi, which is very different than what I cook. I truly love the combination of wasabi/soy sauce/pickled ginger, and I love the chefs at the sushi bar preparing it in front of you.
I’m inspired by books that I mostly buy at the Librairie Gourmande in Paris. My favorite food magazine is Thuries; I receive it every month.
An indispensable cookbook is “Larousse Gastronomique” because of the wide variety of food it covers. It’s mostly all of the classics mentioned in one book that I can relate to.
My favorite place to hang out is a Starbucks, but I will not give you the address. It’s where I can put my thoughts together late on Sunday, where I create dishes or marketing ideas.
I’d love to travel to Vietnam for the kindness of its people, the lightness and flavors of the food and its history with France – and the strong influence that Houston has with its Vietnamese community.
A restaurant that excites me is Apicius in Paris. The execution is so precise, with straightforward but creative food you can taste with three or four main components max.
I watch “Inside the NBA” because I’m passionate about basketball. I’m truly blessed that Kenny Smith was in my restaurant after watching him for so many years.
Chef Philippe Schmit Makes a Rare Appearance at Kris Bistro
What does the chef from Philippe have planned next?
Until last night, Houston diners had not seen or heard much from chef Philippe Schmit since he left his eponymous restaurant, Philippe Restaurant + Lounge, in September. Last we heard, there are plans to rebrand the place as “TABLE.” According to the placeholder page on the old Philippe website, TABLE was to have opened around this time, though we’ve heard nothing new on that front for a few months now.
But Schmit emerged triumphant last night to wow a full house of guests with a five-course foie gras dinner at Kris Bistro. The nearly impeccable dinner served as a reminder that despite a current lack of restaurant, Schmit remains amongst the best French chefs in Houston. Helping Schmit was his former wingman from Philippe, chef Jose Hernandez, who has recently had his own restaurant troubles. After opening La Balance Cuisine in Katy to universal media praise, Hernandez left in mid-December after only a few months due to disagreements with his business partner.
Dinner started with a decadent little cup of royale de foie gras, a foie gras mousse topped with a port reduction. From the cup, you could scoop up the mousse with a tiny spoon and top the accompanying toasted brioche sticks. Next was a duck and foie gras terrine with a pistachio mousse and a spoon that held a single “cherry” of spherized port—an touch of molecular gastronomy I loved.
The third course was the only one that didn’t seem like a home run—a slider with a generous slab of seared foie gras made the hunk of albacore tuna that it rested on seem incongruous. The foie gras simply didn’t meld with the flavor of the tuna in the same way that it would have on seared beef.
The fourth course recoverd with a foie gras-stuffed chicken breast. While the chicken itself was fine, the component that wowed our table was the rich consommé in which it had been bathed. I’m convinced that the next time I’m home sick someone needs to deliver a pot of it. It will heal whatever’s aling me.
I eyed the dessert course with trepidation. From Schmit’s description, it sounded a bit like a relative of an Elvis sandwich: “White chocolate mousse cake with carmelized banana, peanut butter, and foie gras ice cream. Boy, was I wrong. It more than held its own with the glass of eight-year-old Sauternes served alongside. Something mystical gave the outside of the rounded cake a beautiful amber color and the thin layers of peanut butter ganache were restrained and elegant. The foie gras in the quenelle of ice cream alongside was as much felt as tasted. The mouthfeel was silky and there was no overpowering richness to make one shy away from him. I took small spoonfuls and made it last as long as possible.
Kris Bistro is located inside Culinary Institute LeNôtre and with one exception of a tray of glassware being dropped, the Institute’s students served diners like total pros. Resident chef Kris Jakob oversaw the festivities and kept everyone on track.
After dinner, I asked Schmit the questions many Houston diners are wondering: What are his plans? Is there another restaurant in his future? The chef said another pop-up dinner will likely happen in a few months, but as far as restaurants go, there’s nothing concrete in the works. “Ideally,” Schmit said, “it would be a place already built out as a restaurant to allow us to open it quickly, but I haven’t found the right one yet.”
Personally, I’d love to see him ensconced in a small venue like Étoile—someplace small enough that allows him to have a good handle on what goes out of the kitchen. That was something that seemed to be lacking during the last several months at his prior restaurant, a huge place that sometimes served hundreds of diners a night. There is still a need in Houston for small French restaurants that showcase fine, innovative touches. Schmit has proven time and time again that he embraces innovation and can marry it in a way that respects the traditions and methodology of fine French cuisine.
It’s a fair bet that he won’t be borrowing other restaurants to showcase his creations for too long, though. You just can’t keep a good chef down.
Philippe Schmit now consulting at Drexel House
If you’ve been wondering what Philippe Schmit has been up to, look no further than Highland Village. The popular French chef who made foodies and socialites fall in love with him at Bistro Moderne and his own Philippe Restaurant + Lounge can now be found in the kitchen at Drexel House, 3974 Westheimer.
Schmit said that a friend introduced him to Drexel House owner Aaron Webster and the two hit it off. Now Schmit, who has been doing catering, pop-up dinners and food events since leaving Philippe in Sept. 2013, is consulting for the Highland Village eatery and wine bar. He started this week and has an “open-ended” gig as he makes changes and additions to the Drexel House menu.
“I’m very happy to cook again,” said the chef who was once dubbed the French Cowboy for his way of putting a Texas spin on classic French dishes. “I’m going to reinvent myself, again, for Drexel House.”
And at the same time reinventing Drexel House, apparently.
Schmit said while he is respecting the existing concept and menu, he’s also putting his own stamp on it. “I want to create dishes that work with the existing menu,” he said.
Already he has plans to create a beef stew that he’s calling a “Texan Bourguignon,” and wants to introduce dishes such as steak frites with a peppercorn sauce and beef short ribs. He’ll create some new toppings for Drexel House’s popular lineup of pizzas, and he’ll be adding new desserts to the menu.
The plan for now, he says, is to work on the dinner menu and offer daily specials. And while Schmit fans will be happy to know they can see their favorite French chef in the restaurant (he’ll actually be cooking there weekdays), he said it’s still Webster’s hand guiding Drexel House. “I work for him. At the end of the day it’s still Aaron’s place.”
During a chat with Schmit Thursday he said he’s still working on opening his own restaurant. He has investors and he’s “still looking for the ideal location to open a small bistro,” he said.
And in between his private catering and other gigs, he is busy working on bringing the Master Chefs of France (Maitres Cuisiniers de France) from Canada, United States and Mexico to Houston for the organization’s annual congress in June 2015.
The Michelin man: Chef Philippe Schmit spent $12,000 eating in France and you get the benefit
When Philippe Schmit of Philippe Restaurant + Lounge headed to France in March to officially receive his Maîtres Cuisiniers de France designation, it wasn’t just a homecoming for the Roanne-born chef.
Instead Schmit embarked on a two-week tour of some of France’s Michelin-starred restaurants, including L’Abeille, Le Mini Palais, Le 39 V and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, soaking up the latest trends in French gastronomy. Upon his return, he created a special menu based on the ingredients and technicques he liked the most, and presented the creations in an exclusive dinner.
“I’m going to save you $12,000,” Schmit said, referencing the jaw-dropping amount he spent on his trip.
First up: a not-so-subtle reminder that sometimes it’s all about getting the best protein. José Pena sardines are perhaps the only luxury tinned sardines in the world (they are even sold at Galeries Lafayette) and Schmit said they were the best he had in France. They may or may not have snuck into America in his suitcase.
Schmit created an amuse bouche of sardines, a tomato focaccia bread and seaweed butter, served alongside a couple thin slices of jamón iberico, also known as the most expensive pork in the world. I savored the jamon by itself, but the combination of bread, butter and sardines was so deliciously salty and pungent it made me question everything I know about the tiny, underappreciated fish.
The salty fish was followed by a light gazpacho served in a snifter and topped with an equal space of shrimp bisque foam, adding a subtly rich, creamy layer of flavor, as well as a dash of chorizo dust. It was a beautiful dish as presented, and Schmit says the shrimp-chorizo gazpacho will soon be on Philippe’s menu, though possibly in a slightly different format.
It’s not a French meal without escargot, and Schmit served them in an bite he said was proliferating around Paris — in cromesquis, or croquettes of pig’s feet. The croquettes were heavy on the breading but the addition of a sweet, almond-y orgeat emulsion gave a nice rounder flavor.
The fourth course gave me some doubts when I first saw it — a mess of bright green and brown in a martini glass — but it ended up being one of my favorites. The green was a pea puree while the brown was a sauce of pureed morel mushrooms, served in layers with an hour-poached egg and a light touch of balsamic reduction, plus a powdered truffle oil rimming the top of the glass and two sticks of toasted brioche for dipping.
Between the truffle and the morel, the smell and taste was so rich it reminded me of foie gras for a moment, while the mellow sweetness of the peas rounded out the dish nicely. It was by far the most unexpected dish, and based on Schmit’s travelogue slideshow, it was a creation that closely hewed to its Michelin-starred inspiration.
After this, the courses took a slightly more traditional turn: A sous vide glazed cod filet was paired with asparagus three ways and a lardon emulsion, and a juicy duck magret confit served in a make-shift sandwich underneath a thin layer of phyllo dough with rhubarb and baby vegetables in a tangy orange and beet jus.
Desserts, which ranged from a bright Basque sheep cheese to a delicate blanc manger with strawberries, were a high point, as were the wine pairings from beverage director Vanessa Treviño Boyd, which included a sparkler from California’s Roederer Estate, a crisp Basque txacolina and an uncommon white burgundy.
The dinner was a reminder why Schmit is the only chef in Texas to receive the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France title. His menu may take inspiration from his adopted home, but the basis of his cooking is a true love and understanding of French gastronomy.