Best Chef: Austin Simmons
It’s been ten years since Austin Simmons first commanded the title of executive chef at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro in The Woodlands, but it wasn’t until last year, with the rebranding of the restaurant to Tris (named after his daughter) that Simmons really began to express himself in a way that was totally unrestrained. The menu reflects his classic culinary training, his experiences traveling, but still takes into account the tastes and preferences of his regulars, and is one of the most riveting in the greater Houston area today.
No part of Tris' menu is derivative of another, and he doesn’t play to trends that you see recurring on menus throughout the Bayou City. A shrimp toast with Thai influences is a study in texture and flavor. His chef’s burger — two Akaushi Wagyu patties served on an English muffin with bacon jam — is somewhat daring but altogether fantastic. There is an ingenious poached crab served over a Korean pancake, and phenomenal wood-roasted P.E.I. oysters. You can get lobster thermidor, because it's something he just loves, as well as crab and truffle pasta, a dish of Thai-inspired Patagonian toothfish, or a traditional steak.
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Beyond his menu, in an effort to introduce his restaurant to Houstonians, he invited some of Houston’s finest chefs — from the James Beard award-winning Hugo Ortega to Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata and Kaiser Lashkari of Himalaya — to his restaurant to participate in a series of collaboration he called “Collaboreight" — eight courses, four by each chef. Course for course he showed that he had the chops to play with these industry heavyweights.
But the most extraordinary thing about Simmons — and this is a big one — is that he has singlehandedly developed a brand new category of beef called Heartbrand X. Working with Heartbrand's founder, Jordan Beeman, Simmons came up with a way to turn the meat from breed cows (traditionally sold off as ground beef) into richly marbled, delicious meat. Heartbrand X debuted in February 2019 at Tris. Served in side-by-side tastings alongside traditional USDA prime, the flavor is beefier and richer than dry-aged prime, without the associated funk. It offers ranchers a sustainable alternative for use of breed cows, and is now available for purchase within the Houston market. For that alone, Simmons should be lauded, but taken into account with everything else that he’s doing up in The Woodlands, there’s no doubt in our minds that Simmons is this year’s best chef.
Readers' Choice: Hugo Ortega