The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2014

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december 2014  /  the tasting panel  /  71 he says. "Chefs that were away have now come home to open restaurants—Justin Yu [Oxheart], Seth Siegel-Gardner [The Pass and Provisions] and the guys from Common Bond are all Houstonians who came home. It's a great time to be here." Chefs are pulling inspiration from multiple international cultures, which, in turn, raises the ambitions of those who prepare regional American food. Strong evidence for this phenomenon comes in the form of James Beard Award–winning chef Bradley Ogden: "Houston is a huge and booming area, not only for Texas but for the whole country," he says. Although he continues to grow his California-based farm-to-table restaurant empire, he was so impressed by Houston that his Ogden Hospitality company opened two (soon to be three) American dining concepts in town: the fast-casual Funky Chicken, which is a counter-serve chicken and ribs restaurant, and Bradley's Fine Diner, a more upscale environ- ment serving the likes of meatloaf, Yankee pot roast and swordfish steak. Later this month Porch Society, a high-quality gastropub concept, will launch. Ogden's son, Bryan, who opened and ran Bradley Ogden Las Vegas for six years (which won a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant), lives in Houston and is a managing partner for the local operations. Bryan says he was at Auction Napa Valley a few years ago when a couple of acquaintances from Houston urged him to check out Houston. "I finally relented. When I arrived, it was a Tuesday afternoon and every restaurant parking lot was packed," he remembers. Instead of fine dining, however, the Ogdens decided on the concept of "food for everyone." "Chicken is one of those ultimate comfort foods for so many people," Bryan says while going over Funky Chicken's menu. "We serve roasted and fried chicken; the fried chicken is gluten-free. The sides are made with real vegetables. And we even have a high-quality vegan chicken substitute. We're not trying to be all things to all people, but if we can get vegetarians to enjoy the restaurant with their meat-eating friends—in Houston—then we've done our job. It's part of our philosophy that we want everyone to eat high-quality, fresh food at affordable prices." And that fits in perfectly with the current state of Houston's food scene: abundant opportunities for first-time restaurateurs and seasoned veterans alike; a globally influenced menu of foods; and vast democratization of quality ingredients for wider audiences. In short, Houston is where you should be eating right now. Managing partner Bryan Ogden oversees local operations for Ogden Hospitality.

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