Chef Chat, Part 2: David Denis of Le Mistral Talks Foie Gras, 9/11 and Energy Corridor

This is the second part of a two-part chef chat interview. To read the first part of our chat, click here.

This week we're chatting with David Denis of Le Mistral, a French restaurant located in the Energy Corridor. Yesterday, Denis shared his history working as a private chef, and told us his reason for opening outside of the Inner Loop. Today we continue our conversation.

EOW: If you were so successful at the former location, why did it take seven years to open this current location?

DD: We own our building and our land. I'm not rich. I started with nothing. I didn't have mom and dad give me money -- we give them money. So, what we did, we ran this other restaurant for seven years. And we were booming. The last two years at that location, this area became the Energy Corridor.

EOW: When did you open the original restaurant?

DD: We opened three days before 9/11. We almost closed. Everything shut down in the United States, remember? We burned our cash flow in two months. At the time, we did it all. My brother painted it. I remember my brother was painting the wall, and the TV was on, and this thing happened, and our opening was two days after that. It was a terrible time. I didn't think we were going to make it.

EOW: So, two months out, you burned all your cash; how did you pull through?

DD: I'm glad we owned a restaurant. I don't know what we would eat otherwise. And can you imagine, I was a private chef, I was making a ton of money. And I decided to stop that and open my own restaurant. I got married in 2000. When we were dating, I was the breadwinner in the relationship. Then we got married, and my wife had to help support me.

EOW: When did you start having the idea that you wanted to open up bigger and own your own land?

DD: It was year number six. We were very successful, lunch and dinner, the restaurant is booming. You'd be surprised. Even now, Thursday through Saturday night, we are filled with Inner Loopers. Anyway, everybody was telling us, "Guys, you should open inside the Loop," and "What the hell are you doing here?" We had a choice to make. We could move inside the Loop, but we could not own our land or our building, because it was way too expensive. At the time, we found out that this place would turn into the Energy Corridor. So we were like, "Let's invest in real estate." So that's what we did; we bought one acre of land on Eldridge Parkway, and we built 11,000 square feet on top of that.

EOW: Okay, so what is in this 11,000 square feet?

DD: We have the dining room, where we can seat around 80 people. We have the private dining room, the bar, the chef's table, a large kitchen, a large banquet hall upstairs and a bakery. Because if you just open a restaurant and you don't own anything else, when you're done, you're done.

EOW: So now you own this large, beautiful restaurant. For people who haven't been here before, what should they order?

DD: Our best-sellers are the pan-seared foie gras with the gingerbread and roasted pear; it's a good appetizer. We also sell a lot of scallops with creamy prosciutto leeks étouffée, and pan-seared scallops with saffron sauce. Our tenderloin is also a good seller.

EOW: No, no...not best-sellers. What are your favorite dishes? What would you send out if your friends were coming in?

DD: I would send out the lobster tail sweet vermouth spinach risotto -- so a lobster risotto. I would also send pan-seared center-cut tenderloin with pommes mousseline and béarnaise sauce and a fricassee of porcini mushrooms. I really love these dishes.

EOW: You know what I think is really cool? That you have French people in the kitchen.

DD: We're French. I'm sure you hear it. I do cook a lot. I enjoy cooking. I create all the menu. I make sauce. My sous is French. And my brother, Sylvain. And another manager, Francis. And Florence, our banquet and catering manager. And Sophia, and Patrick, who are waiters. Believe it or not, if you really want to eat French food in Houston, we are one of the main places. Everything that you're going to have here is French. We don't want to Americanize it, we're trying to stay French.

EOW: Would you call it traditional or contemporary French?

DD: It all depends. You can come here, and you can spend $20 for a business lunch -- sea bass brochette with saffron rice and lobster sauce, and that's very traditional, I would say. But then you can come to Le Mistral and you can come to the chef's table and have a seven-course meal, and we go completely crazy.

EOW: Tell me about the chef's table.

DD: There's no menu there. You come, you sit down, I sit with you, we talk, I go cook and then bring it to you.

EOW: There's no pre-planning.

DD: No. That's why it's fun. That's why I'm here all the time. Because I'm the one doing the cooking.

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