One might worry that Kate McLean, as one of the few women in the kitchen at Tony's -- and a slight, bubbly one at that -- would have a difficult time demanding respect. But McLean, who's been with Tony's for nearly three years, is not only respected in the kitchen; she is highly admired. And it's easy to see why. Her energy is infectious, and she really knows how to cook.
While preparing for dinner service on a recent Saturday at Tony's, McLean is dashing around the kitchen, checklist in hand, patting her colleagues on the back and giving words of encouragement to everyone from the saucier to the fellas folding the napkins. McLean was the first female sous chef at Tony's, and now she's been tapped to be the first female chef de cuisine at the Houston eatery. Grant Gordon, who will remain in the executive chef position, will split his time between Tony's and the upcoming Vallone's Steakhouse.
"A chef de cuisine is the resident chef," owner Tony Vallone explains, "so she'll have more creative license in the kitchen."
Vallone emphasized that Gordon will now be executive chef for both Tony's and Vallone's Steakhouse, but that he's also "thrilled" to begin working more closely with McLean.
"The dogma of Tony's is following the season and cooking with passion," Vallone says. "It's always been about three things -- product, technique and delivery. And that's what Grant, Kate, Scott [Sulma, general manager at Tony's] and myself focus on."
Vallone also notes that while he's very fortunate to have people on his staff who have been with him for more than 30 years, he's also excited by the newer people, including Gordon and McLean.
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"The day you quit evolving is the day you have to give it up," Vallone says.
Though McLean came to Tony's already an accomplished cook, having worked at Dahlia Lounge in Seattle and the Le Carmes hotel in France, Vallone sent her to stage in kitchens in Italy and New York to help her continue her learning.
McLean is confident moving forward and seems ready to tackle anything.
"Mr. Vallone has been really grooming me to do this," she says, "so I feel like I'm ready now. And I'm excited!"