Remembering Chef Grant Gordon's Life in Food
Chef Grant Gordon
Photo by Mai Pham
Anyone who knew chef Grant Gordon, whether it was through a restaurant, eating his food or being his personal friend, knew what an incredible person he was and that he was a truly skilled chef. Gordon established a name for himself in Houston as one of the most talented chefs under 30. He received a number of accolades, awards and recognition from various publications and organizations, including the James Beard Foundation.
Gordon was a native Houstonian who graduated from Memorial High School. Kevin Naderi, chef and owner of Roost and Lillo & Ella, actually grew up with Gordon. They started kindergarten together, but it wasn't until high school that Naderi discovered that Gordon, like himself, wanted to become a chef.
"It was cool to find out that he loved to cook because there wasn't anybody else I really knew in my grade that was wanting to be a chef," Naderi says. "So we clicked more over that which was pretty cool. We always kept in touch since then."
During their senior year, Gordon worked at Rickshaw, a sushi bar in River Oaks, and Naderi worked at the Double Tree Post Oak. Naderi says they always jokingly bragged about their jobs and their future successful careers. Both attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York, but Gordon stayed to finish the program, while Naderi came home to Houston to enroll at the Art Institute.
Matt Marcus (left), Kevin Naderi (center) and Grant Gordon (right) were all friends in the Houston culinary community.
Photo by Mai Pham
"I would keep in touch with him on social media and whatnot and we would talk when he was in town and I knew he was doing great," Naderi says. "Funny enough I was the one who was worried about myself landing a good job, but I knew that he was going to crush it wherever he went."
At age 20, Gordon worked at the restaurant Zoot in Austin. He told Mai Pham in a 2011 Chef Chat, "Zoot was progressive American. I was there one-and-a-half years. It was cool. After that, I really wanted to work on my resume, so I moved to New York. For a year I worked at Café Boulud in New York, which was the best experience I had as a cook. I was by far the youngest. I was in the right place at the right time, so I was able to move up quickly."
Gordon progressed through the industry at a rapid pace. He left New York for Dallas before finding himself working the line at two-starred Michelin restaurant Cyrus in Healdsburg, California. At Cyrus, Gordon served as the chef de partie and worked his way up to lead line cook where he was re-acquainted with fellow Houstonian Matt Marcus, owner and chef of Eatsie Boys. The two had met in 2006.
"Fortune had it that a couple years later, I applied for a job in California," Marcus says. "Little did I know that Grant was already in that kitchen and I show up and I hear that there's another Jewish guy from Houston in the kitchen and I was like,'Wow that's really weird,' and it turns out it was this kid that I talked to years ago about going to [the culinary institute]."
Grant Gordon was an incredible leader in the kitchen.
Photo by Mai Pham
Gordon and Marcus worked side-by-side for the next few years, and Marcus says he was "one of the best cooks I have ever seen work a line."
Coincidentally, Marcus and Gordon weren't the only Houston chefs to meet in California.
"I stayed with [Gordon] while I was in San Francisco for about two weeks. That's where I met Matt Marcus -- Matt was working at Cyrus -- and Roy Shvartzapel, who is at Common Bond now; Roy was the head pastry chef and baker [at Cyrus]. It was cool. That was where I got to really talk to him," Naderi says. "I got to know him really well. He was really into Mad Men. He watched every episode and I was like, 'Man can you change the channel?' I think his response was, "Bro you're living at my place for the week. Shut up!'"
Gordon left Cyrus for Houston a year before Marcus and became the executive chef at Tony's. He was only 25 and surrounded by older, more experienced chefs.
"Well, when I moved back to Houston, I figured that with my experience and my resume that I could get chef jobs, so I was mainly looking at sous chef jobs," Gordon told Pham. "This situation ended up being the best because when they actually hired me here as an entry level, he could see that I had experience, and I think that was when they were planning on opening up a third restaurant and they thought that I could maybe be the guy there, so they bring me in, train me here and then just send me over that way, but they ended up just wanting to keep me here."
Marcus returned to Houston shortly thereafter and was reunited with Gordon at Tony's.
"That kitchen had been there for as long as Grant had been alive, and he was a master and commander of the whole kitchen," Marcus says. "Every single cook in there gave him the respect that he deserves and he had complete control of his kitchen and I was always impressed with that because there were some cooks who had started working there at the same age of Grant and now they have been there 25 years."
But age didn't seem to be a factor for Gordon.
"I started at the bottom, and I was not given anything," Gordon told Pham. "I had to earn it. I had to earn the respect of the kitchen. I had to earn the respect of waiters. I had to earn it...We have some amazing people that work here [Tony's], incredibly talented people. And I'm lucky and grateful for that because they make me look good - they make us all look good."
Grant Gordon served as executive chef at Tony's at the age of 25.
Photo by Mai Pham
In 2012, Gordon was not only placed on the Forbes' list of 30 notable people under the age of 30, but he also became a semifinalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef Award.
He worked at Tony's from 2009 until February 2014; near the end of 2013 he helped open the restaurant's new steakhouse, Vallone's. Reflecting on his time at Tony's, Gordon told Kaitlin Steinberg, "It was an extremely difficult decision. Mr. Vallone taught me the true meaning of work ethic and to always put the guest first. I will never forget my time there, but it's time for me to move on."
Recently, Gordon announced he would be opening a new Montrose restaurant, The Edmont, with Camerata's sommelier David Keck and Paulie's Paul Petronella. The partner trio planned to open the new restaurant in 2016.
Naderi notes that when he thinks about Gordon, he can't picture him without a smile on his face, and he wants everyone to remember the positives because Gordon was always a positive person.
"Grant was an amazing chef," Marcus says. "There's really no other way to put it. He was a master of the craft of what we do and he had super high standards and always wanted to be perfect. He could cook anywhere, anytime and he was just a great chef."
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