Michael O'Connor, chef of Houston Country Club's Garde Manger, is just about as private as the club he works with. We luckily ran into him late-night for a drink and convinced him to talk about himself and his "geeky" craft.
Eating Our Words: How hard is it to get a meal from you?
Michael O'Connor: HCC is a private club. The only ways to dine with us are to be a member, come as the guest of a member, or attend one of our banquets as a guest.
EOW: Your kitchen situation is a little unique compared to most upscale restaurants. Can you walk us through the club?
MOC: We can cook for up to 1,200 guests in one sitting so our kitchen accommodates for our 60 chefs. I'd say it is about three times the size as a high-end kitchen.
EOW: What is your culinary background like?
MOC: I actually started out at Rice University and decided that cooking full time was calling my name. I got in as a line cook six years ago and worked my way through our summer kitchen, casual kitchen, and now head our Garde Manger. Our executive chef expects us to have the capability of running every single department, as we should be able to do. EOW: It was hard tracking you down for an interview.
MOC: I like the country club for that very reason. They allow me to experiment with food while maintaining a low profile.
EOW: Besides cooking, what inspires you outside work?
MOC: Food consumes my off time, but in a good way. I hang out with other peers in my industry, grab a beer at Anvil, or take pictures of wildlife and floral settings. I am also a geek by nature so anything tech-based has my interest.
EOW: Yeah flowers and birds tend to end up on our plates, don't they?
MOC: Haha, I guess.
EOW: How about giving us some [insight] into your day off?
MOC: Sure, well I start with a late (very late) lunch at Oporto on Richmond, and the rest is up in the air.
EOW: Any dishes in particular you always get?
MOC: I always suggest exploring someone's menu. Just because you might not have enjoyed one dish on the menu does not mean there isn't something there that is exciting.
EOW: Have a recipe to try at home?
MOC: This is my go-to dish for quick and delicious:
Michael's Brown Butter Sauce and Sauteed Filet
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- 2 filets of flounder or snapper (salt and peppered)
- 3 tablespoons of butter in a pan
- juice of one whole lemon
Use medium high heat until butter stops foaming. Place filets on butter, cook 80 percent top, then flip for final 20 percent. Continuously adjust your heat to not burn the butter. Plate fish and garnish with chopped herb of your choice Lower pan heat and juice lemon over browned butter. Spoon butter/lemon sauce over fish. Serve with a small salad.