Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 2: Junnajet "Jett" Hurapan of Blu

Yesterday, we chatted with Blu's Executive Chef Jett Hurapan about his love of racing cars, and his background as a corporate chef opening restaurants in New York City. Today, he tells us what it's like working with his pastry chef wife, what to expect from his food at Blu, and the foods that bring him comfort.

EOW: And your wife is a pastry chef as well, right?

JH: Right. We've been married for ten years. She completed me.

EOW: Awww.

JH: It's true. Because as a chef, dessert is not my strength, not because I can't do it, but because I refuse to. I'm more like free-style. Dessert is all about precise measurements. My wife wanted to go to culinary school, but I said, "Why do you want to go to culinary school? It's not going to make sense, because no matter what, I'm gonna be at the top." [laughs] I always tell her that, and she gets mad, so I said "Okay, why don't you go into dessert? Go into pastry, so that way you are completing me." So she did that, and she completed me.

EOW: So you're not competing.

JH: No. We're together. I'm with her every day. She is the pastry chef at Blu now. And I love it, because in the kitchen I'm the boss. But at home she's the boss. In our marriage, she's the boss.

EOW: Okay, so tell me about Blu.

JH: Amy [Karnani, one of Blu's owners] came to me and said, "Chef, we like your food, we want you to consult at this place, and I want you to find me a chef." So when I came here, I looked at it, and the concept that Amy and Jiten [Karnani, Amy's husband] wanted was a club, lounge and restaurant. The first thing in my mind was that it was tough, tough, tough, you know? That pulled me in, it's like a challenge to me. We also talked about food trucks. Blu will have a food truck in maybe six months.

EOW: So tell me about the food here. What are you trying to do?

JH: The first time we started this concept, it was supposed to be global street food. We talked about food truck and everything else...

EOW: Give me examples of global street food.

JH: Global street food: food truck, meat on a stick. Just like Thai market, when you go to floating market, all that stuff. Dumplings. I'm talking about samosas, like in India on the street. Paella, like in Spain.

EOW: I love it! It's like Asian or global tapas.

JH: Yeah, Blu turns into a club at night, and outside on the patio, we're doing a street-side grill every Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

EOW: How much does this cost?

JH: Five dollars or less. It's a quick bite. Because street food is not expensive. When we do yakitori or satay, we sell it for only $2. So Thursday we have Latin night, and we do tamales and crispy tacos. Friday we do smokehouse, smoked rib, brisket. Saturday it's smokehouse, chicken satay, beef satay.

EOW: That's so awesome! It's like beef on a stick. But I want noodles. Please do noodles!

JH: [Laughs] That's the next thing we're going to do. We're expanding. To do that, we have to create stations. So right now as we speak, our stations are getting made. So you see at night, it's going to be like going to Thailand at night, flames, hot food you can eat while standing up, after a drink. We're doing it from about 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.

EOW: So when someone comes in here, what's the one dish they have to order?

JH: The kaya beef is a must-have. In Thailand it's called heavenly beef. It's just a jerky. We marinate it one day, air-dry or sun-dry one day, cook it another day, chill them, and when you order it we cook it again. It's a three-day process. It's served with a spicy red sauce.

EOW: So how do you describe your food? What's your cooking style?

JH: My food is comfort food. I want people to be able to come in every day. I don't want to do one-hit wonders. I use ingredients that people can eat two to three times a day. I'm not into all that wow and craziness, presentation, etc. It ends up you spend all this time making the food look good, instead of taste good.

EOW: Okay, so your focus is on the taste.

JH: Flavor, authentic flavor.

EOW: Is it seamless for someone to cook different Asian disciplines? Because the flavors are different...

JH: I look at it like this: Chinese food, they highlight the product. They love steamed fish, bok choy, they don't like to mix a lot of stuff. You're not talking about American Chinese, beef with broccoli. If you go back to the real Chinese food, you basically taste their product. They're more into soy and steam, and freshness, like live fish, everything is live. Thai food, we go into more spices, roasted chiles, galanga, all the crazy high-end, intense flavor. And Thai food doesn't have breakfast food. We can eat beef with basil all day through the night.

EOW: What says "comfort" to you?

JH: Comfort to me is noodle. All kinds, wide noodle, egg noodles, pan-fried, soup noodles, pho.

EOW: Do you go out and eat?

JH: Yes. I go out to mom-and-pop restaurants. I go to Bellaire Blvd, or all the way on Highway 6 the other side, almost near Humble. I don't know any of the names, it's like Nguyen this, Ha this.

EOW: Do you think there are good Thai restaurants in Houston?

JH: No. One of the best, one that I can say is one of the good ones is Asia Market. They're Thai-Cambodian. They have three tables where you can sit down and eat. I prefer those types of restaurants. Me and my wife, we don't like fancy. We're almost like hippies. But I do like Pappadeux.

EOW: So if you had a last meal before you die, what would it be?

JH: Rotisserie chicken.

EOW: But you just said you love noodles!

JH: Yes, noodles for every day, but for my last meal, I want Thai rotisserie chicken.

Check back with us tomorrow as we sample some of Chef Jett's global street foods at Blu.

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham