Stella Stola's opening four months ago in some rough waters. Fast management changes and skeptical critics rocked the grand opening, but then things started to change. Justin Basye came on board as chef de cuisine under Bryan Caswell and brought a positive outlook and solid crew with him. With the New Year, Justin has turned those rough waters into smooth sailing, culminating with his James Beard Award nomination just last week. We caught up with the rising star chef to learn the keys to his success.
Eating Our Words: How was the transition for you, moving form sous chef to chef de cuisine within days of opening?
Justin Basye: It was an incredible challenge, but I am honored Bryan (Caswell) had faith in my culinary ability. He gave me the opportunity to really turn the heat up in the kitchen.
EOW: Before...Stella Sola you cooked for a few other great places in town. What is your culinary background?
JB: In Houston I worked at Catalan with Executive Chef Chris Shepherd, laidback manor with Chef Randy Rucker...and Voice, where I really started enjoying curing meats and exploring charcuterie. Outside of Houston, I worked at a farmhouse restaurant called Bluehill at Stone Barns in New York. I was also at Restaurant August in New Orleans learning under Chef John Besh. I learned so much from each and every one of these chefs, and I owe my nomination to these influential chefs in my life.
EOW: You mentioned your love of meat curing. Has this translated to Stella Sola's menu?
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JB: You know it did. I am a pig man through and through. Our meat market and charcuterie plates are all done in-house. We just threw some suckling pigs on the menu for two. Hell, our salad has head cheese and pig ears, so you get the idea.
EOW: We were drooling over the suckling-pig-for-two dish. How does a chef end up on the James Beard Award nomination list?
JB: A nominee must be recommended by a highly influential and respected food critic. After the recommendation goes out to the James Beard staff, they send in a team of testers to make sure the hype is legit. I guess they enjoyed their meal.
Check back tomorrow as we find out what Justin eats on his day off, and how Stella Sola evolved into a world-class restaurant within months.