Chef Chat, Part 1: Jamie Zelko of Zelko Bistro
We had a great time catching up with one of Houston's hottest and humblest chefs at her cozy bistro in the Heights.
Eating Our Words: So we've been hearing a lot about your fried green tomatoes. Why is there so much buzz about them?
Zelko: I really don't know. I can't tell you why mine would be so great. All I do is cook the things I would like to eat in a way I would want to pay for them. I was one of the first Houston chefs to get Texas green tomatoes and I love the movie. I thought it would be cute and quirky to come up with this dish. I've been so lucky that people are tearing it up. Cooking isn't rocket science when it comes from the heart and soul. When you're cooking something up for your mom and dad, don't you try making them something special to impress them a little bit? That's what I try to do with my food. I think it's working so far.
EOW: So it seems like the ace up your sleeve is the Captain Crunch breading. How did you come up with that?
Zelko: I was looking for cool, innovative, nostalgic ways to present food. By that I mean the comfort foods, the food that makes you feel really good when you leave. I want to reinvent that feeling. I want people to feel like a kid in a candy store by offering all these cool little things to try. I also try to make this a place that gives off a lot of positive energy that people take with them.
EOW: Why the Captain and not Coco Puffs or Lucky Charms?
Zelko: Captain Crunch is a corn-based cereal that's not overly complicated. I actually mix it with panko crumbs because if I only used Captain Crunch, it would be way too sweet. I did try it with Golden Grahams but Captain Crunch won out. That's all I can tell you about my testing because this is a tough industry.
EOW: So after a long day at work, what do you make for yourself to eat?
Zelko: Like most chefs, after a long day, I do not want any of the stuff on the menu. However, I do eat the Bolognese [bowl] pretty often. That's because it's what I liked to cook when I was on the line. Bolognese is simple and cost friendly. I think every restaurant should have a pasta dish and the Bolognese is the godfather of classic pasta dishes. I also eat the fried green tomatoes sandwich. We're currently serving up a fried green tomatoes BLT that is pretty awesome. I'll be honest, the BLT was something that was introduced to me by my business partner and I can eat that everyday.
Tomorrow we'll discuss Chef Zelko's efforts to bring pieces of the early 1900's to the modern-day diner and explore her hidden talents.
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