Uchi’s Houston location has a new chef de cuisine thanks to the promotion of its former chef de cuisine to a high-level position within parent company Hai Hospitality. Kaz Edwards is now concept chef, and Lance Gillum is now in charge of the kitchen.
Gillum has learned the ins and outs of the operation as sous chef at the original Austin location of Uchi. However, his roots are much closer to Houston. Specifically, he was born in Conroe. His family moved to Katy when he was in second grade.
Like many who end up as “lifers” in the hospitality industry, Gillum stumbled into his true calling working in a restaurant while he was obtaining a college degree at Texas Tech University. He moved to Austin to attend the Texas Culinary Academy in 2010. Uchi’s chef and owner Tyson Cole, as well as Edwards, visited the school regularly to demonstrate techniques such as breaking down fish and preparing sushi. Gillum remembers the day he knew he was interested in working at Uchi. "They demonstrated the machi cure (a dish that features smoked yellowtail.
Soon after that visit, Gillum started staging at Uchi and was brought on full-time in 2011. From there, he worked up the ranks to sous chef. Last weekend, he relocated back to Houston for his new role. One of his big goals is to inspire younger cooks. "One of our goals is to develop really good cooks so that when they leave and become chefs, they can put their stamp on the industry also," said Gillum. He also wants to get Uchi more involved with community concerns. "There are a lot of local charities to get involved with. I haven't been involved with that because I've been cooking on the line, but I'm excited to get out there and work with the community."
Fans of Edwards have gotten used to seeing him at Uchi Houston over the past four years, so we talked about what his new job as concept chef is like. He’s now responsible for keeping the food programs lively at all four Hai Hospitality locations: the three Uchi locations in Austin, Houston and Dallas as well as Uchiko in Austin. “I spend a week at each restaurant and with four restaurants, that’s my month,” said Edwards.
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The original Uchi is now 12 years old, and the challenge with a beloved, mature restaurant concept is keeping the menu fresh. “It’s the evolution of Uchi,” said Edwards. “The challenge is to keep us relevant, keep us fresh, keep us new. We’re not looking at the next few years. We’re looking at the next ten years. I’m looking to drive the core menu and create things that sustain us for a much longer period of time. We’re not just accepting trends.”
We asked Gillum to recommend some dishes to Houston diners that aren't the familiar "Uchi classics." "We always have our seasonal list of specials. Right now, we have a really good cauliflower dish on the menu — a vegetable dish that is unexpected and really, really good. A classic that no one thinks about is the saba shio. It's grilled mackerel. I think it's a great dish."
It will be interesting to see how Uchi Houston's menu continues to evolve under the guidance of these two chefs.