Chef Chat: John Signorelli of The Remington

Colorado-bred John Signorelli is executive sous chef at the Remington Restaurant (1919 Briar Oaks Lane), located inside the five-diamond Hotel St. Regis on the West Loop. The Remington was rated one of the top 100 hotel restaurants in America in a 2006 Zagat survey, based on food quality, décor and service.

What exactly is an executive sous chef?

I'm second in command under Executive Chef Garret Fujieda. Half my job is administrative: preliminary hiring, interviews, payroll, costing...financials. One of my main responsibilities is menu creation. I test dishes first in the kitchen. We run my menu ideas as specials and tweak them depending on how they're received.

Your restaurant is said to serve New American cuisine. What does that mean for the Remington?

We serve regional modern American cuisine showcasing the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, the Atlantic Northeast and the Southeast. We unify contemporary preparation with traditional flavors.

What's a sous chef's biggest headache?

One challenge is obtaining products from other parts of the nation or the world, finding key ingredients in season. Sourcing can be fun, though. It's like going to a worldwide farmer's market over the phone.

You worked for the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Half Moon Bay, Osaka, New Orleans, Marina del Rey. Was this by choice or were you asked to transfer?

Both. I was hired by Ritz Carlton right after graduating from the Culinary Institute. I asked to help open the Osaka restaurant because I was an exchange student in Japan in high school, so I have many ties there. I was there for several years, so Japanese cooking is an influence.

What are your thoughts about the Remington's reputation for a "clubby" atmosphere?

I don't think that's true all around. It's an alluring atmosphere with a good social scene--a fun atmosphere. The bar is a bit more casual, approachable, hip. The restaurant is refined and elegant, but approachable, too.

What type of diners do you attract?

We have what we call transient guests, who return regularly. Also people from the River Oaks area, but also other neighborhoods. We often have VIPs from around the world. They are usually in Houston on business.

Your menu offers "signature" dishes. How do you decide what's signature and what's not?

I try to steer clear of that; I don't want one thing to represent what we do. But there are definitely dishes people have come to expect. An example would be our lobster and crab bisque. A signature item is one that would have regular guests up in arms if it were not available.

If you were eating at the Remington tonight, what would you order?

We have the freshest seafood you could imagine. I would have the seared Baramundi, it's a Hawaiian fish that looks like snapper. It's served crisp over a deconstructed clam chowder, with Peruvian purple potatoes, andouille sausage, steamed clams, mushrooms, corn and asparagus. It's a reworked chowder as fish sauce. I would have the Baramundi with either a Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.

What do you cook at home?

I'm not allowed to cook at home, because I use ten pots at a time. My wife is an incredible cook. Sometimes she comes up with ideas that I end up using at the restaurant.

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