The Eating Our Words 100

The Eating...Our Words 100: Philippe Verpiand, Owner and Chef at Etoile Cuisine et Bar

What he does:

When I ask him what he does, Chef Philippe Verpiand answers with a single word: "Cook."

It's what he's been doing since he was 16 (he is now 43). Philippe was born in France, where he was introduced to the culinary world by his parents, who, like their parents, were butchers. He remembers helping his parents in the butcher shop from the young age of eight.

"My daddy saw that I liked cooking and making pastries," says Verpiand, "so he oriented me more towards the restaurant industry rather than stay[ing] in the butcher industry. He could smell the right thing for me."

He then attended culinary school in Avignon, where he received formal training in both cooking and front-of-the-house management. Upon graduating, Verpiand started working at restaurants all over France, "a different restaurant each year," so that he could work under many chefs, each teaching Verpiand different styles of cooking and training him in his own way, creating a unique learning experience each time.

"Back then, that's how you could learn the best," he says. "Resources were more limited. Now you can just 'Google' something and learn how to do it." Verpiand got to learn straight from chefs and from books. "It was fun," he shares.

But in 1998, he decided to leave France and come to the States. He was tired of working so hard and not seeing enough in return, since so much of his money was going towards paying his taxes. He ended up in La Jolla, where he was the opening Executive Chef at Tapenade, which is still open today. At Tapenade, he learned the American way of doing business, such as opening a restaurant at 5 p.m. rather than 7:30 p.m., as in France.

After seven and a half years at Tapenade, in 2005 he and his wife opened Cavaillon, a highly successful French "destination" restaurant in San Diego named after Verpiand's hometown. In 2011, the couple sold the restaurant and came to Houston.

Five months ago, the Verpiands opened up Etoile in Uptown Park, where Verpiand has been doing what he does best -- cooking. And Etoile has been quite well received.

Why he likes it:

"I always like waking up early, going to work early," Verpiand says. "And when you work at a restaurant, you go to work early and there is always something different -- good or bad -- going on; that's what I like about it."

What inspires him:

"My wife," says Verpiand. "She is a really hard worker. She is so smart. She does not come from the restaurant industry. She is a chemist and used to work at a pharmaceutical company. But when we married, she started learning all about the restaurant industry -- marketing, advertising and public relations -- a bunch of complicated stuff. And now, here [at Etoile], she runs the dining room. She has everything handled. Plus our two kids -- ages two and five. Luckily her mom lives with us, so that is a big help."

If not here, then where:

Verpiand hasn't been here for long -- he recently moved here because he and his family -- his wife and Etoile co-owner, Monica, and their two kids -- were looking for a life change. Verpiand also wanted to open up another French restaurant and he thought that Houston would be a great spot, as people are well-educated and well-traveled and enjoy French food. Additionally, his wife has family in Houston and "the economy is great here." With all of these factors combined, moving to Houston just made sense.

He loves that there are a lot of "fresh" people (read: new faces) in the city of Houston. He also loves the people's energy -- "warm, inviting, and friendly."

But if he had to move away tomorrow, he would go somewhere up north -- he likes the cold weather. Vancouver, Montreal, Oregon and Maine are spots that pop into his head.

What's next:

He's not going anywhere soon, though. His plans for the future? "Improving as much as we can." He wants to make sure everything is the best that it can be at Etoile. After a year or two, he will ask himself, "What else do you want to do? Or do you not want to do anything else?"

The Eating...Our Words 100:

- Philippe Verpiand, Owner and Chef at Etoile Cuisine et Bar - Tyler Horne, Market Manager at Urban Harvest Farmers Market - Stephanie Earthman Baird, Bringing Wine to Cowboys - Yilmaz "Jim" and Deanna Dokuyucu, Husband-and-Wife Owners of Turquoise Grill - Dan Tidwell of Treebeards on Downtown Houston's Past, Present and Future - Kiran Verma, Executive Chef and Owner of Kiran's Restaurant & Bar - Catherine Rodriguez, Pastry Chef at The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa - Jody Stevens, Owner and Cake Designer of jodycakes - Bobby Heugel, Owner of Anvil, Blacksmith, The Hay Merchant and OKRA's Charity Saloon - Renatta Lindsey, The Taste Contestant and Houston Home Cook - Enrique Bravo of Pollo Bravo on How Selling Chicken Helped Him Realize His American Dream - Sean Beck, Sommelier Extraordinaire - Brooksy Smith, Owner of JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers - Minh Nguyen, Owner of Cafe TH and One of Houston's Best Front-of-House Personalities - Tiffany Tyler and Aimee Turney of Central City Co-Op - Ellen Schwartz, Culinary Instructor & Private Chef - James DeLeon, Certified Sommelier and Craft Beer Nut at Kroger - Alex Padilla, Executive Chef at Ninfa's on Navigation - Kevin Strickland, Herder of Cats at gratifi, a.k.a. Ziggy's - Ron Chen, Owner and "Head Coach" at Rattan Pan-Asian Bistro - Brock Wagner, Godfather of Craft Beer in Houston and Founder of Saint Arnold Brewery, the Oldest Microbrewery in Texas - Blanche Kinze, Murray's Cheese Master at Kroger - Bear Dalton, Wine Buyer & Educator, Spec's - Sam Ray of Republic National, Houston's Largest Wine Distributor - Thai Van, Server Extraordinaire at Kata Robata - Dale Robertson, a Populist Among Wine Writers - Denman Moody, Author of The Advanced Oenophile - Benjy Mason, Executive Chef at Down House

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Carla Soriano