In Part 1 of our Chef Chat yesterday, we discussed what first attracted chef Luis Roger to Houston. We pick up Part 2 of our Chef Chat with Roger just as he’s taken his first look at the house that is now where BCN is located. He also learns the owners dream of it becoming a Greek restaurant.
Fortunately, Roger’s experience in traditional Spanish food swayed them in his direction and thus BCN Taste & Tradition came to fruition. It’s the end result of Roger’s work as a chef over two decades in establishments that include Spain’s famed El Bulli and his partnership with businessman Ignacio Torras.
"I saw it. Ignatio wasn’t in town. I hated that sign — that Shell sign (at the gas station next door). But despite that, it had a large patio out front and I thought it would work out. At the end, we explained our intentions [to open a Spanish restaurant instead] and they told us, “We think your idea is incredible, so go for it! I’d rather have business. You will do much better than we will.”
"And they were really generous. They gave us the chance to try because we needed a lease agreement, I needed a visa, everything. At the end of the day, we said, 'Let's make the project at this house, and then we’ll present to the immigration officer all of it. Then, let's see if we get it.'
"It took almost six months getting all the recommendations, the business plan and everything. In February 2014, it came back and I went to the interview. After the interview, the officers didn’t look at it. 'Who is that guy?'
"It was more than a year. My wife was pregnant. I got an interview [with immigration] one week before my daughter was born. If the visa hadn’t have gone through — another one! I knew I was going to do something for sure. That's why I kept working with things to make the process work."
Houston Press: While you were waiting on immigration to process things, were you stuck in Spain?
HP: Okay. So you were waiting and you couldn't leave until —
LR: I kept my life, my work, everything, and I didn't say anything to my boss.
HP: Otherwise, he'd probably fire you. (Laughs.)
LR: Well, you know. (Shrugs and laughs.)
HP: When did you get to come to Houston for good?
LR: February. One year and one week [after my visit here].
HP: So that was last year?
LR: Yes. That was February 19, 2014.
HP: So then, it was very busy getting everything ready to go.
LR: [BCN] was under construction. We had already started on the remodeling even though we didn't have the visa. There was a lot of pressure because if they didn't finally give us the visa, [the opportunity] was gone. If it had not gone through, I would have had to look for something else.
HP: How long has BCN been open now? You all opened when?
LR: September 20 — Saturday.
HP: So, May 20 will be eight months. What was it like opening up to the public?
LR: A lot of excitement but a lot of fear. We were ready because we were supposed to open in May. I was ready in June, but then we waited until after the summer and opened in September. I took the bull by the horns.
There is always something missing, but it’s like, “Are you going to open some year? Let's turn on the lights. Let’s start.”
HP: One of your big challenges for this restaurant, because you are trying to do traditional, authentic Spanish cuisine, is getting ingredients.
LR: That's more complex. It has a lot of complexity because every single day I'm tracking all those shipments. Every week. Every single day. We're getting it all fresh from suppliers. "Is this coming? Why isn't this coming?"
So I’m calculating everything. It has a very high cost. I have to [figure costs] very well. But I'm so happy and I'm having a lot of fun doing that. Basically the most challenging thing of this project is the logistics. We want ingredients as fresh as a restaurant in Madrid can have.
HP: If someone has never been to BCN before, what do you think he or she should order on the first visit?
LR: The jamón ibérico is important. A couple of croquettes are very typical Spanish [food]. Then, have the potato foam with quail eggs and truffles or the eggs estrellados with potatoes and cured Spanish ibérico ham. They are fries and the sunny-side up eggs and jamón.
Then we’ve got the seared foie gras. People love it. It's from Cataluña. The fisherman soup is incredible. And then maybe the Xato salad, something that has salty cod — the very high-quality cod that we are getting. And then, caldereta [lobster bouillabaisse with rice]. It’s a very significant one — very Spanish. And then maybe the pork cheeks and the rabbit.
HP: So, everything. (laughs)
LR: And the Bomba rice! (laughs)
HP: That sounds like a good progression — to kind of step of through some of the smaller courses, then a middle course, then entrée and then dessert.
LR: Yeah. Obviously, our crème brûlée is very good. I learned in the culinary school restaurant [at Hofmann in Barcelona] how to make crème brûlée. By the way, that culinary school restuarnt has one Michelin star, and during the three years that we take culinary school, we are the chefs. We are the cooks in that restaurant. One week we’d cook, and another week we’d take classes.
HP: Oh wow, I didn't know that.
LR: It’s a lot of pressure because from the beginning, "Hey, guys, we cannot fail now. There is a business behind this." We are not playing to be a chef.
HP: “This is for real.”
LR: This is for real! Yes. By the way, when I was studying, they didn't have any Michelin star yet. I think they got it maybe six or seven years ago.
HP: You think maybe someday BCN could be Houston's first Michelin star restaurant?
LR: I don't know. So far until I come to Houston, I always said, “I will never like half a Michelin star,” because honestly, I never thought of having my own restaurant. Since 2011, I had a very strong desire to start pushing myself. In 2011, I started some consulting and helping others to make a profitable business and help with their techniques. I was doing great, and that's why I started thinking, "Why don't you do this for yourself rather than for others?" Everything started in 2011 with a little hotel restaurant.
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HP: My last question for you: Is there anything else, whether it be about yourself or about BCN, that you want Houston Press readers to know?
LR: We are very traditional people with good values. We believe in what we are doing here. We try to be clear and honest with this food. As a gentleman, a client, told me: “Your food is sincere." There is nothing to hide. For a long time, I have done things the same way. Everything is separate so you can taste things by themselves and then you can mix them up.
HP: So people can appreciate the individual ingredients one at a time.
LR: We are having a lot of fun. It’s incredible. We like what we are doing. We're very enthusiastic about what we are doing. We are not doing something extraordinary. We are just doing what Spain, our country, deserves. We represent it in another country. That's it.