Fine dining in Houston at Le Jardinier is going strong with two chefs

On a latest afternoon, two cooks stood aspect by aspect within the kitchen at Le Jardinier inspecting a single dish like a puzzle.

Lunch had simply ended when the restaurant’s culinary director, Alain Ferzoli, a veteran of wonderful eating, confirmed chef Felipe Botero find out how to put together a beet salad. He cleaned the plate with a vibrant beetroot in fast, quick strokes. A pile of finely minimize produce, together with inexperienced apples and avocados, is roofed with a lattice of microgreens.


“Each aspect ought to have a that means,” Ferzoli mentioned. “There must be nothing overwhelming.”
The salad, a brand new dish on the autumn menu debuting October 9, seems to be like a bit of artwork, which isn’t stunning, contemplating that Le Jardinier is a French restaurant situated within the Museum of High quality Arts in Houston. It is also a examine in fusing artwork and meals as a part of the restaurant’s ongoing Culinary Canvas sequence, with an upcoming exhibition that includes works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh.
The fixed tweaks Verzeroli and Botero make to enhance every dish are nothing new within the restaurant world. However mentorship at an formidable restaurant is changing into more and more uncommon as diners and even fellow cooks query whether or not wonderful eating is related or how individuals wish to eat today.
The cooks who lead Le Jardinier totally consider in good meals, even when their model is a bit more relaxed and ignores the heavy, buttery French recipes which have virtually outlined Michelin-caliber eating.
“Being a chef is unquestionably an extended strategy to go, however Felipe has it in him,” Ferzoli mentioned.

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Verzoli labored beneath Joel Robuchon, thought of by many within the restaurant trade to be the gold customary of wonderful eating, for almost 20 years. He cooked in kitchens that amassed Michelin stars earlier than opening Bastion Assortment’s first Le Jardinier restaurant in New York Metropolis shortly earlier than the pandemic. At this time there are 4 Le Jardiniers, together with in Miami and Geneva, Switzerland.

Since opening Le Jardinier in Houston in 2021, the French chef has been coming to city a number of occasions annually. His most up-to-date go to was to collaborate with Botero on the autumn menu and Culinary Canvas partnership.
Within the immaculate kitchen, the place you’ll be able to see your reflection on the stainless-steel surfaces, the cooks wore pressed white chef coats with pens and tongs in a single pocket and a towel positioned neatly on every of their hips.
They mentioned fall dishes, like burrata salad and Maine scallops served with velvety cauliflower discs.
Ferzoli speaks in a low voice with a French accent. Botero and different cooks say he’s strict however at all times calm, not often elevating his voice.
The 2 initially labored collectively at Le Jardinier in Manhattan. That is the place Verzuli mentioned he was impressed by Botero’s first and final work ethic and fixed questions.
“At this stage of my profession, I’m considering of passing the baton on,” Ferzoli mentioned. “I wish to be like a beacon, guiding individuals and sharing my expertise with the subsequent technology.”
Botero, 33, got here to the USA from Colombia and mentioned he did not have a profession in thoughts when he began taking English classes. He started studying about wonderful eating and was impressed by figures like Anthony Bourdain.
He had labored at various New York eating places, together with Danny Meyer’s Union Sq. Café, however wished to maneuver into wonderful eating when he interviewed for a job at Le Jardinier.

One cause is that he likes the look and precision of a well-mounted portray.
“Who you’re will present on the board,” Botero mentioned.
Verzeroli provides his recommendation on find out how to cook dinner a dish extra effectively or find out how to place components on a plate, however when the 2 see eye to eye, perfection is required. In Botero’s kitchen, for instance, he would not need anybody tearing off a bit of the tape used to label components. Each bit is minimize exactly.
Neat, clear and arranged,” Botero mentioned. “We at all times goal to attain that right here.”
Verzeroli’s affect on Botero’s management type will also be seen in Le Jardinier’s kitchen.
“Typically individuals assume it is screaming on a regular basis whereas working within the kitchen,” mentioned Mariana Figuera, who joined the crew a 12 months and a half in the past as a cook dinner. “(Botero) tries to show everybody in a pleasant approach.”
The 28-year-old chef moved to Texas after attending culinary college in her native Venezuela, however Figuera mentioned eating places would solely rent her for server work and different front-of-house roles. She attributed this to her “child face, and I am very quick, in order that they by no means trusted me.”

Figueria additionally shared Botero’s desires of working in wonderful eating, however she wasn’t assured that an institution like Le Jardinier would rent a 5-foot-tall chef with a shorter resume.
“He mentioned, ‘If I don’t assume you are able to do it, I received’t give you the job.’ It’s good to be afraid,” Figueria mentioned.

Figueria, who has been promoted to sous chef since she began, creates flawless dishes like her signature burrata salad and, extra just lately, the foie gras dish that earned her the nickname “Mariana Torchon.”

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The dedication of Le Jardinier’s prime expertise is one thing Chef Olivier Jean, whose restaurant L’Atelier Robuchon in Geneva has earned two Michelin stars, has seen at Botero. The 2 labored collectively when the Houston native got here to Geneva earlier this 12 months to cook dinner and study from different cooks within the firm.
And in early November, Jean is scheduled to be in Houston to collaborate on a “Style of Switzerland” occasion with Botero.
It is also a part of the tradition of mentorship that is important in wonderful eating.
“You may’t study every part in class,” Jin mentioned. “Behind the work of a chef are all of the hours you place into your craft.”
The 2 crossed paths when Gene mentioned he watched Botero put together components when he was an apprentice chef in New York Metropolis. He added that he was not shocked to see the younger chef’s rise inside Le Jardinier’s kitchen.
“I am positive he’ll turn into a Michelin-starred chef quickly.”

bao@houstonchronicle.com

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