Chef Chat, Part 2: David Cordua of Americas, On His Role as Executive Chef and Favorite Eats Around Town
Executive Chef David Cordua, in the kitchen at Americas River Oaks
Photo by Mai Pham
Yesterday, we talked to Executive Chef David Cordua, of The Cordua Group, about growing up in the kitchen and culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. You can read about it here. Today we'll talk to him about what he's done at The Cordua Group, and some of his favorite things in Houston.
EOW: So fast forward to coming back here, did they start you at the bottom?
DC: It was 2007, and the reason I moved back was my dad wanted some help opening the Woodlands location. Everyone felt there was a void in the kitchen, so that's when I started hiring other young chefs to work with me.
EOW: You mentioned that you opened a test kitchen. Can you tell me about that?
DC: I hired Randy Rucker as our excecutive chef of R & D, and Jonathan Jones was going to be the executive chef in The Woodlands. During that time, we'd literally sit my dad down on an afternoon and throw 20-30 plates at him at a time. He'd give thumbs up, thumbs down. And I think if you ask both of those guys, it was a great time for all of us, because there was boundless creativity. We got to bounce ideas off of each other, and frankly I learned a lot from both of them during that time.
EOW: So when you came back, were you executive chef immediately?
DC: No, my title was brand development because it was everything from getting the uniforms picked in the woodlands to working with the graphic designers, the wine lists, so it was kind of a wide scope. After The Woodlands, I launched our catering company in the end of 2008 and I took more of a role in catering, which is something I'm still involved in today.
Small bites are displayed vertically on a custom-made catering wall
Photo by David Cordua
EOW: How much of your time is spent on catering?
DC: During catering season, I'm catering two to three nights a week. Some of it can be doing a private dinner for fifteen people, and sometimes its a gala for 500 people. We have an awesome team that's flexible and dynamic. For instance, we do an enormous buffet for 3,000 to 4,000 every Sunday for the Texans VIP tailgating, it's called the Churrascos Club. The catering kitchen has become sort of our test kitchen, because catering lends itself to custom menus, and we can try new ideas on people. And it's boundless.
EOW: So do you think the catering is more Americas or more French?
DC: It's not ethnically bound by any one cuisine, so it's more New American.
EOW: What percentage of your sales is the Churrasco's steak? Do you know the history behind that?
DC: Fifty percent. I can tell you the whole history. There was an Argentinian polo player that moved to Nicaragua where my family is from. He was trying to replicate the churrasco from Argentina in Nicaragua, which is typically the vacio. Vacio is inside skirt steak. It's long, thin, and flat. He wasn't happy with the quality of beef in Nicaragua, so he took tenderloin and butterflied it open to look like the Argentinian steak he was used to. In doing so he took a tenderloin that doesn't have much texture, added texture by carving it, and added flavor by letting it take in all the chimichurri. The only place you'll find churrasco that we serve is in Nicaragua, in Miami because of the large Nicaraguan population, and here.
EOW: So you had that in Nicaragua and brought it here?
DC: My dad's family owned a churrascaria in Nicaragua called Los Ranchos. And now it's a chain. It's a family recipe that's been changed and developed over the years, but those are the roots.
EOW: Okay, so fun stuff about you. You said you were a musician. Do you have a favorite band?
DC: What am I into right now? I recently saw a band at Fitzgerald's, called Miniature Tigers. They're from Arizona. Their sound is sort of like The Shins, a little bit of Weezer, a little Beatles. They're just really fun, great melody, all their music sounded like songs I've always known.
EOW: But you're more of a jazz musician? Where do you go for live music?
DC: I love jazz. I go to Cezanne's, on Montrose, a lot. It's intimate, it's a really small room upstairs on Montrose. You kind of feel like you're in on something secret. I grew up going to Last Concert Cafe. I'd go 2-3 times a week with a fake ID, they'd have bossa nova one night, really good blues. There'a a band called The Hightailers and a band called Potroast, that's sort of like Grateful Dead, that still plays.
EOW: Do you have a favorite type cuisine, having the French background and all these other experiences?
DC: I get hard cravings for Indian. I really like Shiva's in The Village. I'm pretty traditional when it comes to Indian so I'll get the tikka masala with some lamb vindaloo. Some good dal, samosas and chutney.
EOW: Do you have a favorite cheap eats?
DC: I love Chinatown. I go to Sinh Sinh for the barbecue pork and the duck. I love it when they do it with the steam buns, even though I know it's supposed to be with the pancakes. At FuFu's, the hotpot. Chris Shepherd introduced me to Chinatown about 1 1/2 year ago. I recently discovered a great taqueria called El Gran Malo.
EOW: Mmm, love it, love it. Their tequila infusions...
DC: Their tequila, yeah. I could have stayed there all night. "I'll take beet, I'll take celery, cinnamon." I love tequila by itself but it takes in the infusions so well.
EOW: Do you have a favorite restaurant in Houston? Top five? Top three?
EOW: I love all of Marco Wiles restaurants. His three might be in my top restaurants. But I'm pretty parochial when I eat out. I stay in my neighborhood when I eat out. For sushi, I'll go to Osaka, I know they get their fish fresh on Mondays. But other than that I eat pretty ethnic.
DC: If you were going to have a last meal, where would it be? Where and who and what?
EOW: It would definitely with my family. There would definitely be some beef involved, a lot of wine. One dish that I can think of that's really close to my heart is gallo pinto. It's our red beans and rice. We have it for breakfast, lunch dinner. It's something we'd eat together at the family, at three in the morning. There's a lot of beautiful memories associated with that dish.
Check back with us tomorrow when we taste some of Cordua's dishes at Americas River Oaks.
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