Chef Chat, Part 1: Greg Lowry of VOICE
Trained at Culinary Institute LeNôtre with a specialization in French pastry, Lowry jhas had stints at Tony's, Farrago, Mulberry, Max's Wine Dive (the latter two in Austin), and, most recently, as executive sous chef at the short-lived but borderline legendary Rockwood Room. Eating Our Words recently sat down with Chef Lowry to discuss the evolution of the VOICE menu, the Toque 5 dinner series, growing up a Red Sox fan in Houston, and more.
EOW: When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?
GL: When I decided I disliked college. I'm not one to sit in a classroom; I'm a real hands-on learner. I was 19, and I had just started college when I injured my knee. I was a college soccer player, so I was trying to rehab my knee, travel with the team, train with the team, and keep my grades up, and it just got to be not what I wanted to do. I grew up in a heavily Italian family, and we were cooking from the time we could hold a spatula. And I'd worked in restaurants since I was 15, so I decided that culinary school was the way to go.
EOW: What was your first job at a restaurant?
GL: My first job was at Kelly's Del Frisco's Steakhouse out on FM 1960, which is no longer there. I think they got sued by Del Frisco's Double Eagle. But it was the premier fine-dining establishment for North Houston for a long time. I was the food runner - low man on the totem pole. It wasn't all that enjoyable, but I really liked being in the kitchen, watching the guys cook and seeing the energy that came out of it.
EOW: I understand VOICE just redesigned its menu. When Michael Kramer left VOICE last year, it was after the hotel announced it wanted to go in a more casual direction. What sort of parameters were you given when you came in, and how have things evolved since then?
GL: Some things had changed before I was brought in. When Kramer left, we had an interim chef -- a sous chef from one of our properties in California -- and the restaurant had just started doing a bento box concept called the VOICE box, which operationally was a nightmare. It was killing our PPA [per person average], because it was three courses for $29 as opposed to a steak for $29 plus a salad or appetizer or what have you. As of last Wednesday we decided to do away with that, and have replaced it with a new spring menu.
As for being "casual," we don't want to consider ourselves fine dining, but we still want to serve fine-dining food and have fine-dining service. We also want people to be able to come in wearing shorts and a T-shirt and enjoy dinner. And if they want a burger, they can have a burger. It's a hotel, so we've got to appeal to our entire clientele.
EOW: Why did you move away from being a pastry chef?
GL: I got burned out on it, to be honest. But having a pastry background is invaluable. Pastry teaches you a discipline that hot food doesn't, because everything is done by the recipe, as opposed to a little pinch here, a little pinch there. Baking is a science, and having that perspective is imperative. Pastry also allows you to balance your flavors and textures. I think you'll see that we have more textures than the average restaurant, and a lot of that comes from pastry concepts.
EOW: Is it difficult for you not to look over the shoulder of your pastry chef?
GL: Yes and no. She's pretty short, so it's easy to look over her shoulder. [pause for comic effect] No, she and I collaborate a lot. I give guidance; I don't like to tell her, "This is what you have to do." For the new menu, my sous chef, my chef de partie and I brainstormed and then we started cooking through stuff. It's not just me writing a menu and saying, all right, you guys go execute it. Same thing goes with pastry.
Tune in tomorrow for more with VOICE executive chef Greg Lowry.
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