Chef Chat

Erin Smith Leaving Plonk, But Not Leaving Houston

Last week, Eater Houston broke the news that Erin Smith -- executive chef at Plonk Beer & Wine Bistro and one of the few female execs in the city -- would soon be departing. In her place: Lindsey Vanarsdel, who is currently Plonk's executive sous chef.

During her nearly three-year tenure at Plonk, Smith had transformed it from a quiet neighborhood wine bar into one of the most intriguing restaurants in the city. A wine-pairing dinner I attended saw Smith create memorable courses such as a white gazpacho with almonds, grapes and chile oil, while her regular dinner menu featured craveable dishes like veal breasts stuffed with lardo from Revival Market, dates, kale and hazelnuts, served alongside a butternut squash risotto.

While it's heartening to see Plonk promote from within and keep a woman in charge of its successful kitchen, many in the food community were astonished to see Smith part ways with a restaurant that's allowed her enormous creative freedom as well as a place that's so much a part of her identity that her Twitter username was -- and still is -- @PlonkChef.

"When you identify yourself so strongly in something, as I do with Plonk, it becomes very difficult to imagine separating yourself from it," admitted Smith in an email, discussing her departure and future plans.

"But it's also a very important step in the growth of a chef to prepare...for new opportunities and experiences," she continued. "I consider myself very lucky to have been a part of Plonk for the past three years and take great pride in the progress we've made and the team we've built; I look forward to what the future holds both for myself and for Plonk."

Contrary to initial reports that Smith would be leaving for the Pacific Northwest, she countered: "My final day at Plonk will be October 13, and, after a brief vacation, I plan to return home, to the city and the industry I love."

Added Smith on Twitter the day that her resignation was announced: "I wouldn't dream of leaving Houston. You guys aren't getting rid of me anytime soon!"

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Katharine Shilcutt