The much-anticipated arrival of Emmaline, run by Sam Governale, former operating partner of Fleming’s Steakhouse in River Oaks, as reported by Mai Pham, has everyone talking. The atmosphere upon entering Emmaline is open and warm, yet sleek and sexy. It immediately registers as a place you want to be, and could easily be transplanted to say; Paris, New York, New Orleans.
Emmaline serves “American cuisine with European refinement.” The menu offers wood-fired items, raw dishes, pastas, pizzas and the pop of champagne corks can be heard all day long.
We sat down with Dimitri Voutsinas (“Voot-sin-as”), the executive chef of Emmaline. His accent is interesting, no doubt a blend from his Greek father and American-German mother. Voutsinas, who always dreamed of being a cook, grew up in New York City, the magical place where chefs are hatched or go to be hatched.
We sat in the beautiful dining room at Emmaline around mid-day to talk chef to chef.
EOW: With a name like Dimitri Voutsinas, Houston is dying to know where you’re from and how you got here?
DV: I am from New York. Grew up in New York. My father is from Greece and my mother is fifth generation American-German. I came here because my wife is originally from Houston, and we just wanted a change from New York. We were living up there, we got married up there, and I grew up there so we just wanted to change and see what was going on down here. I hooked up with Sam (Governale) and his crew last October.
EOW: What was it about the kitchen that made you realize you belonged there?
DV: I like the instant gratification. Knowing that people are enjoying your food when you peek out the service window and you see the plates coming back clean, it’s satisfying. It’s not a bunch of paperwork that I have to wait for. I know that when the day is done, when the job is done, all the food is out and the guest is happy. You get a small team together and you live with that team for however long, the camaraderie and things like that.
EOW: Did you ever dream of being anything else?
DV: (Pauses) For the longest time, I wanted to be a cook, I wanted to be a chef. As far back as I can remember. As soon as I was old enough to figure out what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a chef.
EOW: So, were you in the kitchen a lot as a kid?
DV: I was always helping my parents or family to cook. If I went to Greece, I would help them cook. My father was in the business as well. He was the food and beverage director for hotel in New York City, the Ramada at JFK airport. He ran that for about 40 years. I spent a lot of time visiting him in his office, hanging out in the kitchen. I was always around it. He had a couple food businesses growing up, a lot of my family did. Yeah, I was around it a lot.
EOW: Where did you work in New York City?
DV: The last place I worked I was running Motorino Pizza for Mathieu Palombino. I was his corporate chef for all the locations, there are locations in Asia and New York City. Before that, I was at Bar Boulud.
EOW: What’s your favorite part of your work day?
DV: Probably mid-service, when everything is going smoothly. Everybody is doing something different, but everybody is concentrated on the same goal. Where I go usually is, you know I expedite, so I’m just kind of controlling everything. That’s probably my favorite part it’s the most stressful, but the most satisfying part of the day. You just keep going until it stops.
EOW: If you had to peel carrots for any chef in Houston, who would it be?
DV: I already did, I was at Pass and Provisions for a little while before I met up with these guys. Hmm. (thinks) Probably Hugo, he does a lot of stuff that I have no idea about. It’s a completely different food world that he lives in. I do European, mostly French style, I’d probably learn a lot from him.
EOW: What made you choose the cuisine you cook?
DV: I’ve studied French most of my career. I’ve been a French chef in French restaurants or French style restaurants, not necessarily always French, some American, but they all had French influence. I started picking up more Italian when I was with Motorino, because it’s a pizzeria. So, I started getting into a little more Italian Mediterranean as oppose to French Mediterranean and then I met up with Sam and was able to expand on the Italian.
EOW: Every time you hit the couch at hopefully 11 p.m. to enjoy dinner, what satisfies you the most?
DV: (chuckles) Whatever leftovers we have… or cereal.
EOW: What kind of cereal do you like?
DV: Raisin Bran.
EOW: Raisin Bran?
DV: It’s really boring.
EOW: Do you put a lot of sugar on top?
EOW: Just straight up Raisin Bran.
DV: Oh, and Count Chocula.
EOW: Whole milk?
DV: She drinks [my wife] 2 percent so I have to drink 2 percent.
EOW: What milk would you choose if you could?
DV: Whole milk, obviously.
EOW: Would you rather get burnt or cut?
DV: It sucks either way. I guess burnt because it’s easier to cover.
EOW: What’s the worst burn you’ve ever had?
DV: Probably a steam burn. It sucks, yeah. I mean just oil in general, some of the worst burns I got from steam and oil obviously, but it was like splatters of oil so I would go home with like pocks on my face.
EOW: Like from cleaning a flat top?
DV: Yeah, things like that.
EOW: What’s your caffeine of choice?
DV: Red Bull Sugarfree, unfortunately, it’s disgusting, it’s so horrible.
EOW: What’s your favorite kitchen prank?
DV: I was talking with my Chef de cuisine AJ about this, he used to make mayonnaise crème brûlées for people. So, it would be mayonnaise torched to look like crème brûlée. Mine is sending someone who doesn’t know much to the higher up in the kitchen to find the lentil injector.
EOW: What’s a lentil injector?
DV: It doesn’t exist, you can’t inject lentils. But the Mayonnaise crème brûlée is fantastic.
EOW: What Houston restaurants do you want to try next?
DV: I want to try Chris Shepherd’s places, and probably check out Hugo’s, and Riel. Riel, Nobi’s and Shepherd’s places.
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EOW: What’s your favorite restaurant in Houston?
DV: Coltivare. I’ve eaten there two or three times and every time it’s the same meal. Oh, and Pax. Pax Americana is awesome, it’s probably the top of my list, they’re on point.
EOW: If there were a Houston chef calendar what month would you be?
DV: (Pauses) Probably September or October. I was born in September and I just like the fall more. Well, not that there is fall in October in Houston.