Chef Chat, Part 2: Terrence Gallivan of Pilot Light Restaurant Group

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Yesterday, we chatted with Pilot Light Restaurant Groups Chef Terrence Gallivan about his experience as a chef in some of New York's finest restaurants. Today he shares what brought him to Houston, and a bit about what to expect from Pilot Light.

EOW: So this is an adventure for you, coming to Houston.

TG: I don't think I can say we ever planned on Houston. Seth had called me when he and his wife were still in London. I had visited them with my wife a few months before that, and after that visit, we had talked about the idea of maybe doing a restaurant together. We were trying to figure out over long emails and phone calls how to do this and talked about various cities -- New York, Chicago, Charleston, things like that. Then I came down last summer, and Seth's friend Andrew, who owned Just Dinner, allowed us to take over his space for a month. We got to cook what we wanted to cook, we had a lot of fun, and it was a great experience. It was my first time in Houston, so August was interesting because it was, like, 1,000 degrees.

EOW: The heat didn't turn you off?

TG: No, it was fine. It was not the "coolest" summer experience. But we were pretty blown away by the response we had gotten from the customers, and also from the food community itself. A lot of help from the guys at Anvil, Greenway Coffee, Chris Shepherd, Morgan Weber -- this was before Revival Market, he was still selling the pigs at farmers' markets. We got to know them pretty good. After that, Seth and I talked about maybe this was something we could do permanently.

EOW: But you still went back to New York.

TG: We were going back and forth on the logistics and how this would work. My wife had only been to Houston for one day prior to us moving down here, so it took a little bit of convincing on our part. But she knows what we want to do, we're pretty focused and determined, so she's supportive of that.

EOW: So what do you want to do? What is Pilot Light going to do?

TG: Well right now we're currently looking for our first space. Real estate can be a challenge in any market, but here, obviously it's our first go at it, so we're rookies in the real estate business. So we hope to find a space as soon as possible.

EOW: So you're still looking, okay. And in the meantime you're doing these private dinners?

TG: We've done stuff at people's houses. We did a series of three dinners back in the summer at Revival Market. But we never planned just doing one-off dinners. The idea with those three dinners was that we could announce the launch, the formation of the company, and let people know that we are serious about what we're doing. After that we re-grouped and tried to figure out what's the next thing for us, because obviously we don't have jobs. So this is our full-time job, finding this restaurant. The real estate is the challenge for us right now.

EOW: The dinners you're doing this month, are they representative of what you plan to have in the restaurant later?

TG: I would say for the most part, yes. We're doing tasting menus, but since we're only doing eight people an evening, it allows us to have a lot of control. It's also a way for us to workshop ideas, to get a good repertoire of ideas down whether or not they make it to the restaurant's eventual menu. It was a way for us to harness some of the stuff that we've talked about. The fact that we're not in a kitchen makes it difficult to really focus on ideas, so we'll write ideas down [points to the eraserboard behind him]. I think our eventual concept, we'll try to bridge the gap between a fine-dining, special occasion-type restaurant, with a place that you can come to once or twice a week and have a glass of wine and good beer, grab a quick bite to eat. We want to do serious food, food that we're proud of, but not take ourselves too seriously.

EOW: I'm familiar with Seth's food, how would you describe yours, technique-wise, style-wise -- how do you complement each other?

TG: It's always an awkward question, how to describe your food. At least for myself, you're constantly adapting, you're pulling from all the influences that you've garnered from all the places you've worked, the people you've worked with, things that appeal to you.

EOW: What would you say is your biggest influence, then?

TG: It's hard to say. I think I drew a lot from my time at The Modern, just as far as the unique flavors and classic technique. I think we're both very technique-driven -- we take to heart the techniques that we've learned at different places, and like to give our own spin on things. So yeah, I think it's just a matter of always trying to move forward and trying to become, I don't know, I'm trying to think of a good word to describe it without using a corny word [smiles].

EOW: So I always like to ask a bit about people's personality. You had this beard, I remember this beard. What happened to it?

TG: [rubs his chin, laughs ruefully] I did have a beard. But I lost a fantasy football bet. I had a mustache very, very briefly, 'cause it looked very creepy, and my wife did not approve of that. So I had it for just two days when it was supposed to be two weeks.

EOW: How are you adjusting to Houston life? What are things that you like about it?

TG: Obviously it's been an adjustment because there's a lot more driving than I was used to. But Houston's been great because it's really diverse. And food-wise, really good ethnic food here. We go to Huynh at least once a week. That place is delicious.

EOW: Do you live around here?

TG: We live in Montrose area, and there's a lot of appeal. There's a lot of culture, the art scene is pretty awesome. The first week I was here, I was lucky enough to go to Summer Fest. We're pretty big music fans, so I'm looking forward to some concerts coming up.

EOW: So what kind of music do you like?

TG: We've been playing the Black Keys album pretty much on a loop since it came out on Tuesday. More recently I've been listening to a band called Heartless Bastards from Austin.

Check back with us tomorrow as we taste some of Gallivan's creative cuisine.

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