If you haven't tried Terrence Gallivan's cuisine yet, it's probably because the somewhat elusive chef has only been cooking in Houston for short bursts of time. He did a one-month stint as part of the sold-out Just August Project in August 2010 with Seth Siegel-Garder and Justin Yu, and didn't resurface until the announcement of the Pilot Light Restaurant Group's (Pilot Light) formation (with Siegel-Gardner) earlier this year. Even then, to try his cuisine, you would have to have been one of the lucky few to get tickets to the three inaugural dinners they held at Revival Market (I was not so lucky).
This month, Pilot Light is back with another series of exclusive eight-person-per-table, eight-course dinners that they are hosting in a private residence, so I jumped at the chance to chat with him before he goes off-radar again in January.
Without further ado, let's get to know Chef Terrence Gallivan.
EOW: You're not from Houston.
TG: No, my whole family's from New York -- Long Island. I spent a lot of my childhood in Virginia, a place called Fredericksburg, which is about an hour south of DC. Spent the last eight or so years in New York, working at various restaurants.
EOW: Tell us some of those restaurants.
TG: I started at Aureole, Charlie Palmer's flagship restaurant on 61st Street. Worked there for about a year, in between going to school at the New England Culinary Institute, which is in Burlington, Vermont. After that, I was part of the opening staff at The Modern, which is in the Museum of Modern Art, one of the Danny Meyer restaurants. It was a pretty awesome undertaking, and I was lucky enough to be one of the first cooks hired there.
EOW: Very cool. Tell me more.
TG: We had the fine dining restaurant and then we had the Bar Room at The Modern. I worked under Chef Gabrielle Kreuther, an Alsatian, who had worked a long time at Jean-Georges. Incidentally, he just won the Best Chef Beard Award for New York a couple of years ago. So, I learned a lot from him. His style is a good blend of classic technique, obviously, because he was French, but he also had some pretty unique influences as far as flavors go because of his tenure at Jean-Georges. I worked there for two years, then left to work at Gordon Ramsay, which is where Seth [Siegel-Gardner] and I met.
EOW: How long ago was this?
TG: This was about six years ago, in '05.
EOW: How long did you work there?
TG: We were there for about two years.
EOW: What did you do?
TG: We were both sous chefs at Maze. Basically there were two restaurants, fine dining which was Gordon Ramsay at the London Hotel and then Maze, which was this offshoot concept run by Jason Atherton in London. He sent a lot of the guys over from London to train us. Our first menu was his signature menu at Maze. We wanted to work the Maze side because it was a little bit forward-thinking as far as the food went, and because he'd spent a lot of time at El Bulli. There were some Spanish influences, it was a bit more casual, the whole idea was small plates, little bites Gordon Ramsey-style. It was interesting, a good experience. We opened there with a pretty all-star crew.
EOW: So this was Maze?
TG: Well, we all worked in one giant kitchen, with two separate suites, and pastry in the center. We were running room service for the hotel, private dining, social events, things like that, as well as the daily service at Maze. It was good for us, interesting, obviously because of the shouting and stuff that people talk about, but also, we had the chance to work with some really great people.
EOW: Do you mind my asking how old you are?
TG: I'm 31.
EOW: You're 31, and so you said you've been in the industry for how long?
TG: My first job was washing dishes at an old Irish pub at my hometown in Fredericksburg.
EOW: And when did you know that you wanted to do this?
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TG: When I first started, I was 14 or 15 years old, washing dishes, making pizzas and salads and things like that out of the pantry. So I think I was first drawn to it because it was fun -- you know, cool. All the guys were drinking, and smoking and doing the things that people usually do in a pub. It was a college town. So that part was kind of fun. And then, a good friend of mine had a restaurant in Fredricksburg, and he was basically the one who taught me the ropes as far as basics -- how to properly hold a knife, how to make a stock, how to properly cook a piece of meat, bake bread, things like that. So I worked there for about a year and a half, and then he told me that if this is what I really wanted to do, then I had to go to school. So, I went to school.
Check back with us tomorrow when Gallivan shares the details about Pilot Light's formation and future.