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Chefs Table - Texas Coast

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Texas chefs and restaurateurs invite you to step up to the plate and help yourself to the best that Texas dining has to offer. Texas cuisine is as varied as its land and reflective of the diverse cultures that settled in the Lone Star State. The chefs featured here invite you into their world to experience what GO TEXAN means to them, and the difference that Texas tastes can make when you dine out with GO TEXAN.


Chef Cheryl Cuzco Bangert, Cheryl's by the Bay, Rockport

Cheryl Cuzco Bangert, owner and executive chef of Cheryl's by the Bay in Rockport, combines Chery's by the Bay  restaurantlocal ingredients with her signature presentation to give diners a true taste of Texas in this month's Table Talk.


Since many of your dishes are seafood-based, how would you rate Texas shrimp? Texas beef? 
I feel badly for those who have never tasted shrimp fresh out of Texas waters. I rate Texas shrimp right up there with lobster from Maine. And, I think the cattlemen of Texas take an artisan's pride when raising their beef cattle. It definitely shows in the quality and taste, which is why I serve only Texas-raised beef.

What are your favorite Texas ingredients and why?
Besides shrimp and beef, I enjoy oysters from Aransas Bay when in season, fresh-gigged flounder, Texas 1015 sweet onions, Valley lemons, Ruby Red grapefruit, pecans, goat cheese, Texas Star potatoes, Tivoli tomatoes and TAM jalapenos. I like anything that comes from a backyard garden, including the spineless okra I grew this summer. Yum!


As a promoter of Texas wine, what would be a nice entrée/wine pairing from your menu?
 I would pair a spicy Gewürztraminer from Becker Vineyards in Stonewall with any dish I serve. It is hands down a perfect pairing, as they mutually complement each other.


What or who inspired you to pursue a career in cooking?
I don't think what I do would be considered having a "career" in cooking.  Since my business and creative interests are so varied, they seem to take many shapes, and as a result, I have several enterprises. For me, to cook is to play and for that I would have to give credit to my mother. She never gave the worn-out admonishment "don't play with your food" most mothers give their children. She encouraged it and was an offender herself. The act of dining at her table was all about fun and taste. My business acumen comes directly from my paternal great-grandmother, Cora L. McKinney. She owned and operated several restaurants in mining towns and cities in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas during the Wild West days and was quite astute at seizing business opportunities. Her restaurants served the upscale clientele that came along with the money made in a boom. 


Are Texas wines a preferred choice from your customers? 
Texas wines are becoming more and more popular. A Malbec from Becker Vineyards is outstanding in price and quality, and I would put it head to head with a Malbec from Argentina.


What is your signature dish or standout menu item?
The signature is in the presentation. I try to incorporate the six tastes of food: salty, sweet, pungent, bitter, astringent and sour onto every plate. By doing so, one gets a completely balanced meal. Many of my regular clientele tell me they come in again and again because they begin to have an intense craving for my food. I have jokingly been accused of spiking it with addictive substances. 


What is the most rewarding compliment you've received for your cooking or your restaurant? 
It's the unspoken compliment that I take to heart the most-- plate that comes back to the kitchen devoid of a crumb or line of sauce, or the diner that gives you a near bull's-eye stab to the hand for presumption when removing their seemingly finished plate are both examples of great compliments.


Have you ever been so impressed with another chef's cooking that you asked for the recipe or secretly tried to recreate it?
The women behind the Pyrex or Tupperware dish of a heirloom family recipe brought to a local pot-luck meal are the ones I will saddle up to and try to get recipes from. That's how I got my cornbread salad recipe I serve. If you haven't had cornbread salad when the Tivoli tomatoes are in season, you are missing a huge slice of Americana at its best.


How would you describe the Cheryl's by the Bay dining experience?
It all depends on one's comfort zone in art, music and food. I seem to especially delight the jaded diner who thinks they have seen and eaten it all. In the words of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, "I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know."

 Scottish Jane's Minty Peas 

Carmelo Mauro, Carmelo’s, Houston and Austin

Carmelo Mauro, chef and owner of the Carmelo's restaurants in Houston and Austin, celebrates his passion and love for local products in this month's Chef Carmelo Maurotable Talk.  



Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in cooking?
I have to say my mother has been my greatest inspiration. Watching her cook, mixing and adding ingredients for three starving boys and a husband who came home ravenous from the fields, always fascinated me. I had so much fun wiping the delicious flavors from the pots with a piece of bread!
How does your heritage and family contribute to the dishes you create?
Growing up in Sicily, every family cooked. All of my female relatives were, and to this day are, passionate and great cooks. Each family, though they did not own land, grew herbs such as basil, parsley, rosemary, sage and fennel in pots. So, from an early age, the aroma of simmering fresh foods surrounded me.


What on your menu is Texas-grown or produced?
We serve wines from Pheasant Ridge and McPherson wineries. We also serve Texas tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, fennel and onions. We are considering introducing locally-raised chicken.


What would you consider to be your signature dish?
Fettuccine Luisa, named after our eldest daughter, is a dish with crabmeat, clams, shrimp, garlic and a hint of Orvietto Secco.

Describe the dining experience at Carmelo's. How do the downtown city atmospheres of Houston and Austin contribute to that?

To dine in either location is an Italian experience, without the airport lines! It is fun, casual, eclectic, and for those looking for romance, we have it! In Houston, we are out west in the Energy Corridor, and with our menu covering everything from spaghetti to fish, meat and vegetarian, we have families enjoying the restaurant, as well as oil company employees and executives. Our menu attracts local businesses, University of Texas faculty and students, and tourists. Due to our proximity to the convention center and hotels, our private rooms provide privacy for our elected officials as well.


For more information about Carmelo's, go here.


Chef Mark Holley, Pesce Restaurant, Houston

Chef Mark Holley of Pesce in Houston mixes a full cup of passion for great food with a smidge of classical training, then adds a kick of Texas ingredients to spice up in this month's Table Talk.

 Chef Mark Holley

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in cooking?
I was working as a busboy in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. One day I picked up a restaurant business magazine and read an article that featured top African American chefs. From that day forward, I looked at the industry in a different way - I fell in love with the business and its energy. Shortly thereafter, I started working in the kitchen. The rest is history.


What are your favorite Texas ingredients and why? 
Spunky Amelia Sweethardt Pure Luck Goat's Feta Cheese: its flavor is light and subtle, it has a salty finish and the goat's milk gives it an unusual kick.

  • Van Weldon's Wood Duck Farms Cilantro and Arugula Micro Greens: they are uniquely interesting, crisp, and finish off a dish well.
  • Gulf Seafood: I like getting day-boat quality fish. There are some great unusual catches like Onaga, Long Tail Bass and even African Pompano. I also like Arnold oysters from Matagorda Bay. They are the best oysters in the world in prime season.  
  • Farm-Raised Redfish from Palacios: fry some with Texas cornmeal. Wow! Life doesn't get any better! 

In your bio, you speak of learning from your mother. What important lessons did you learn from helping your mom in the kitchen?
As a boy watching my mom in the kitchen, I marveled at her love of cooking for our family. She took her craft seriously and cooked with such passion. I suppose I could not resist following her example. Specifically, I learned to season everything to perfection, to clean as I go, to wash my hands (a lot), how to use leftovers and how everything in the kitchen has its place. My favorite dishes that she taught me to cook are spoon bread and sweet potato soufflé.


Since many of your dishes are seafood-based, how would you rate Texas shrimp?
It is the only shrimp I use because it has the best flavor and texture, and it is plump and tender. I also like to support local Gulf Coast fishermen.


What on your menu is Texas-grown or produced?

  • Fish and seafood: blue crab, tuna, snapper, shrimp, redfish, oysters
  • Produce: microgreens, tomatoes and, when in season, peaches, figs, blueberries, grapefruit, blackberries
  • Array of cheeses and wines
  • Mesquite wood

What are your signature dishes or standout menu items?

  • Seafood martini: shrimp, lobster, gulf crabmeat and avocado atop Napa cabbage, hearts of palm and kimchee slaw served in a martini glass
  • Southern shrimp and grits: grilled Texas honey-glazed shrimp with stone-ground golden grits and tasso saffron butter sauce
  • Potato-crusted farm-raised Redfish: pan-seared and served with jicama, cilantro microgreen salad and finished with a Jack Daniels sweet corn salsa  

How would you describe the Pesce dining experience?
Our cuisine is upscale, new American seafood with a melting pot of flavors, including Asian, Creole, Southern and Mediterranean. We provide exemplary personalized service with a touch of Southern hospitality in a contemporary setting. 


What makes a great chef?
A great chef should have classical (French) training, excellent leadership, teaching, communication and mentoring skills, an eye for detail and a passion for creating great tasting food!



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