Chef Chat, Part 2: Robert Del Grande of RDG + Bar Annie

Yesterday, EOW sat down with Houston Chef extraordinaire Robert Del Grande at his beautiful Galleria-area restaurant, RDG + Bar Annie. After having fun exploring his musical aspirations and scientific background, we tried to get him to share some culinary wisdom.

Eating Our Words: Previously, we spoke about cookbooks and how it is important to move beyond just following instructions in the kitchen. Considering that, what would a Robert Del Grande cookbook look like?

Robert Del Grande: The cover would be offensive. And it would probably have some quote, like, "You thought he was such a nice guy." And then Chapter 1 would be "The Dark Side."

EOW: I think you might be onto something there. Part narrative, part amazing recipes, all tongue in cheek. I know I would buy a copy.

RDG: It wouldn't just be a coffee table book. It would have stuff that was actually doable at home. They would go into the category of recipes you could make at home and not come out exhausted after doing them. I never used to think this way, but in Chapter 1, "The Darkside," I would say I think this way now: "How good can I make this and work as little as possible?" For Thanksgiving and Christmas, I used to get up early and struggle just to get it all done. And what's enlightening, and also disappointing, is that you don't need to do all that. It's actually better if you don't.

EOW: In what way?

RDG: For starters, you're not exhausted. You enjoy the party more. You feel less like an employee at your own party. Bu I think also that you are forced to really focus on what makes a dish great. You have to think, "I don't want to work that hard," so I can only do a couple things that require that amount of energy. Good buying is important.

EOW: When you say "good buying," what makes an ingredient "good" to you?

RDG: It's one of those philosophical quandaries. You're a cook, you watch all the cooking shows, you read all the books, you have the knives, you're trying to figure out which bandana to wear, so you go to the market and you look for the best ingredients and then you realize, the better the ingredients you buy, the less work you have to do to make something great. And then you're left, going "What? No bandana? No expanded Japanese knife kit? Can I at least do a few Kung Fu moves on it? Slice it into a little serpentine statue?" You're only ruining the potato.

EOW: (laughing) That is so true!

RDG: I was recently in San Francisco and we went down to where you can buy directly off the boats, so I got a piece of wild salmon. And it was Dungeness crab season, so we got some of those, too. We took it home, cleaned the crab, put in on a broiler pan, broiled it, poured some garlic butter over it. Oh, it was so good. That was gone, so then I took some olive oil, crushed pepper, salt, put in the broiler and it just killed. Amazing. So the lesson is the more you do food, the worse it gets. I promise if you caught the fish, you would cook it differently than if you didn't catch the fish. People who didn't catch the fish tend to do more elaborate stuff. The people who caught the fish do less to the fish. I grow my own lettuce now, and I make my salads differently. I'm so invested in that arugula that I want to taste it. And it takes a lot of confidence to leave the food alone, I think. It takes more confidence to leave it alone, then to spend all your energy preparing it.

Check back tomorrow when we sample some of Robert's favorite dishes from the kitchen.

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