After a nationwide, year-long search, the Hotel Granduca has finally named a new executive chef: JohnMichael Lynch. Since taking the reins approximately five weeks ago, the classically trained 31-year-old -- who is responsible for all aspects of hotel dining, from banquets, to pool and bar, in-room dining and the flagship restaurant, Ristorante Cavour --has been working seven days a week (which coincided in part with Houston Restaurant Weeks) just to get situated.
Lynch started cooking while in high school. When he realized he wanted to become a chef, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York. He spent his early years in New Jersey and the Washington, D.C. area, where he worked under Jeffrey Buben (a James Beard Foundation Best Chef Winner in 1999) at Bistro Bis, before joining the Cherokee Town Club in Atlanta for seven years. In 2013, Lynch was named American Culinary Federation (ACF) Southeast Region Chef of the year while a chef de cuisine at Cherokee. He later did a short stint Chevy Chase Club in Maryland before joining the Hotel Granduca.
Lynch plans to start revamping the menu at Ristorante Cavour later this month. Classic dishes such as the Vitello Tonnato and Osso Bucco will always stay on the menu, but many aspects of the menu will be getting a facelift.
In the meantime, patrons can get a taste of his food via the restaurant's four-course tasting menu, which he'll be changing weekly. The first of his tasting menus debuted the first week of September. Houston Press was given the opportunity to preview one of these menus.
We started with classic asparagus cream soup, the flavors and textures refined, a dish befitting the elegant fine dining setting of the Ristorante Cavour's main dining area. For a starter, Lynch showed a lighter touch with a salad course of hand-pulled mozzarella nestled next to thin, folded slices of prosciutto and freshly grilled peaches. Served over a smear of aged balsamic vinegar, the simple dish had a California-style elegance reminiscent of what you'd find in Northern California wine country.
A course of crispy pan-seared branzino fish, served with asparagus puree, basil lemon sauce, peeled and marinated cherry tomatoes and saffron pickled fennel, was masterfully executed. Served with the skin on, the filet was juicy and tender while the skin perfectly crisp. It was an absolute delight to savor, especially when tasted with the contrasting textures of soft cherry tomatoes (they sort of gushed when you bit into them), and the light crispness of the thin strands of tangy fennel.
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Beef two ways was presented in grand style in a large, rimmed white porcelain plate that resembled an exquisitely detailed flower. In the center of the plate, slices of grilled, sliced tenderloin sat atop a ravioli filled with braised short rib ragout and a bed of ultra-smooth, naturally sweet carrot puree. The dish was finished with precisely placed celery leaves to give it an extra pop of color and a beef au jus. Talk about a meat lover's special. It was beef stew and pasta and steak all rolled into one, with a helping of nutritionally rich carrots to boot. Loved it.
Dessert was a house classic and not a Lynch creation, though he says he's going to start working with his pastry chef to create desserts that are more his style. This one was an unequivocal beauty, a small work of brown and cream colored edible art in the form of tiramisu -- sponge cake steeped in a hazelnut liqueur, and topped with vanilla bean and hazelnut mousse.
Going forward, Lynch says that his menu will strive to maintain old school Italian traditions while making use of the best ingredients available and more modern, visually compelling plating styles. "The tasting menu is how we stay fresh. It's always a challenge to create something new," he says.
That something new is definitely worth a try. As fine dining menus go, the four-course chef's tasting, at $79, is a worthwhile splurge for Lynch's caliber of fine dining, and a welcome addition to Houston's ever-burgeoning food scene.