Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 1: Mark Holley of Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar

It's almost a misnomer to call this an "interview." When you talk to Chef Mark Holley, it goes like this: ask him a question and then get out of the way. Holley is a whirlwind with deliberate direction. One sees this both when he speaks and as he surveys his new restaurant, Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, giving his staff instructions as he winds his way from the dining room to the kitchen and back again.

I am not silly enough to stand in the way of a whirlwind. That's how you get sand in your eyes. So, sit back and listen to Mark Holley, a chef who has been a respected figure in Houston's food scene for more than 30 years, tell his story. Here, we learn how he came to be a cook and then a chef; how he ended up at the forefront of Pesce for over a decade; and finally how he came to start his new, eponymous restaurant.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of our Chef Chat, where we'll get to learn more about Holley's and find out how the food at this Midtown seafood restaurant is similar to--and different from--the cuisine for which his prior place Pesce was known.

EOW: How did you get involved with food?

My real mom, who I lived with during the summers, was more of a Southern cook, but I'm from Dayton, Ohio, where there's a big German influence. My stepmom, Mary, would make antipasti. I was one of the few kids who ate three or four different types of cold cuts and salamis. She'd make plates of a few different types of soft and hard cheeses and was a big black and green olive fan. There would always be some kind of cracker, too. She'd usually do this around 8 or 9 o'clock at night. I was the youngest so I was always there. The older kids would always be out doing their thing.

We also had sardines and anchovies. I was probably the only kid on my block eating anchovies on my pizza at age 13. My stepmother, Mary, introduced that to me. Around 16 or 17, I challenged myself to cook breakfast, so I had to learn to make eggs, sausage and bacon--all the fundamentals. It was always fun; never work and never hard. I always looked forward to it and planned days to cook for the family.

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook