Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 1: Federico Cavatore and Chef Raul Garcia of Cavatore's

If you're reading this, most likely you're interested in all things digestible. You are not only aware of the difference between organic and biodynamic, but you have the solstices etched out on your calendar. You know where all the latest and greatest places are that serve pork belly mousse, candied ginger paper, and tofurky-infused vodka. Really, nothing gets past you, so I challenge you to think of the last time you've indulged in good,old-fashioned comfort food.

What I'm referring to isn't comfort food with a twist, but a warm, hearty meal that you, your 8-year-old son and your 76-year-old father all would enjoy. One establishment in Houston that has been cooking up Northern Italian comfort food is Cavatore's in the Heights. Opened in 1984 by the late Giancarlo Cavatore, the restaurant stayed in the family and is run by his wife Ana, son Federico, and daughter Dolores. They just celebrated their 27th anniversary in October, and I caught up with Federico Cavatore and Chef Raul Garcia for a look at the restaurant's history and some insight on the its longevity.

EOW: What's the story behind Cavatore's?

Federico Cavatore: My dad, Giancarlo Cavatore, and my mother opened this restaurant in 1984. My father had the idea of trying to implement Texas with Italy by bringing a Texas-style barn from Bastrop, Texas. It's a 100-year-old barn that was disassembled in Bastrop, brought here on this location and rebuilt. The decor in the restaurant dates back to the 1940s when my father was a child in Italy. There's a lot of photos of the director Federico Fellini with many other pictures of Sophia Loren, who he and my uncle knew back in Italy. Over the years, my father traveled around Texas and bought a lot of antiques that would match up with this barn. Still to this day, I'll walk around this place and find something new that I've never seen in all these years that we've been open.

EOW: So this is a strong family business with an equally present family clientele. How does this affect the food that you serve here?

Raul Garcia: The most important thing we serve is consistency. It's the same as it was 10 years ago as it was today. Our clientele relies on that fact.

EOW: Being a family-run business, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages?

FC: The advantage of having a family-owned and -operated restaurant is that a lot of the times family is all you have, times get tough, and you stick through it together....We come to work every day with one another, and yet we still spend the weekends together, as well. We're very close. Another advantage of working for a family is that we understand that things happen. People get ill, or you need to go to the hospital or something like that we try to work with them. There isn't much turnover here;the most recent hiree has been here three years.

EOW: And the disadvantages?

FC: The disadvantage is when you make a mistake, they let you know that you made a mistake because they're your family. You know, there's no hiding from it. Now that can become a bit of problem because it's personal. A lot of the times, they are involved in everything that happens and everything that you do. For instance, if you we're working for somebody else, they might not tell you exactly how they feel. You know they want to keep a business-only standpoint, and don't want to get too personal with you, but here it's on the table from day one.

EOW: Let's travel back in time, back seven or eight years ago, when the Atkins Diet was the rage. How was Cavatore's affected?

RG: We weren't really hit by it. Maybe cause it's Houston, and we've been here a while. We've been pretty strong throughout all the different diets and throughout the recession.

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Nancy Kerschen