In a move that should surprise absolutely no one, given chef Randy Rucker's notoriously short attention span, Bootsie's Cafe is closing at the end of the month. Rucker and company are packing up their chef's knives and moving back inside the Loop, according to a press release that we mysteriously did not receive at here at the Houston Press. Luckily, we have Mai Pham to keep us updated over at the Examiner.
It won't be the first time that Rucker has operated a restaurant solo in Houston: Many people will remember first being dazzled by his food at the late, great laidback manor. Prior to that, Rucker worked in kitchens across town, doing time at Quattro, Mockingbird Bistro and Mark's American Cuisine. When laidback manor closed in October 2006, Rucker set to working with the Cordúa group and operating a series of pop-up dinners called "tenacity," giving the city one of its first experiences with the now popular concept.
That same year, Rucker left the Cordúa group and his supper clubs behind to take the executive chef postition at Rainbow Lodge. During this time, he participated in one of the first Chowhound Throwdowns, but became frustrated after losing, spouting off on Twitter: "my first and last of this sort........another bs job from houston...congrats." Rucker left Rainbow Lodge a year after accepting the job, despite receiving a rare four-star review from the Chronicle's Alison Cook. He threatened to move to Peru, where he'd visited while working with the Cordúas, but was soon back in Houston.
Again, despite receiving rave reviews -- both locally and nationally -- and a James Beard Foundation Award nomination for the restaurant, Rucker seemed restless in Tomball. Some locals weren't as receptive to his ever-changing menu, while many Houstonians weren't willing to burn the gas required to drive out to Tomball for one of the restaurant's famous multi-course meals. Plans for restaurant connate, an "accessory" restaurant for Bootsie's, never panned out, and soon the restaurant had trimmed back its hours significantly.
As recently as the Star Chefs gala, Rucker seemed unhappy with the restaurant as a whole and diners' attitudes towards his meticulously constructed meals. At one point in the evening, the Bootsie's crew dumped the contents of their ingredient tubs onto the table -- tired of plating edible flowers and delicate vegetables only to have them blown off careless diners' plates in the wind -- and was overheard saying dismissively that people could just eat off the table like a trough. Later that night, the Bootsie's crew dumped all of their liquid nitrogen into the Four Season's hotel pool, causing damage that required the pool to be drained and repaired.
Rucker's Twitter stream shows a chef who was at times happy with his work -- "Don't get me wrong I love what we have pulled off in tomball but I am itching to get back to houston and blew it up!" -- and at times defensive and angry, once telling his Twitter followers "Fuck you," if they didn't make the drive to one of his dinners. Other times, he was just senselessly vitriolic, recently telling one follower that the restaurant she'd eaten at that night "sounds like a dump."
On the other hand, it's difficult to ignore Rucker's talent and his vision in bringing truly modern cuisine to Houston. He's still one of the only chefs I know who forages for ingredients, attempting to make every meal a special and unique creation that's fully of the moment. He's devoted to using Gulf seafood and other local products as well as shepherding other young chefs who want to blaze that modernist trail alongside him.
It seems that the answer to Alison Cook's question of whether Rucker could turn Tomball into a culinary destination is a resounding "no." But I hold out hope that he'll be able to lend a hand turning Houston into a destination when his new restaurant opens at 5219 Caroline this fall, and I have my fingers crossed that this Rucker project lasts more than a year.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.