Martin Weaver is having a pretty good week. In addition to coming within an overcooked cake of winning $10,000 on Chopped, he has started a new job.
Weaver, who earned a CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Rising Star Chef of the Year nomination for his work as chef de cuisine at upscale Japanese restaurant Kuu, has taken on a new role as executive sous chef at iconic Creole restaurant Brennan's of Houston. Weaver began his new job on Wednesday, one day after the popular Food Network show aired.
The new position gives Weaver the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of a kitchen that's served as a training ground for any number of prominent Houston chefs including Underbelly chef/owner Chris Shepherd, Holley's chef/owner Mark Holley, and State of Grace executive chef Bobby Matos. The time had come to move on to the next stage in his career.
"I’d been with Kuu for about two years. I felt like I’d learned as much as I needed to learn there. Adison (Lee, Kuu's executive chef) taught me a lot," Weaver tells CultureMap. "I had heard about the position opening here from one of my purveyors. I saw it as a good opportunity for me to grow and learn for my eventual goal to own my own restaurant someday."
The Chopped Experience
On Tuesday night, Weaver competed against three other chefs on a episode of Chopped that centered around a series of challenges designed around the Chinese New Year. The contestants included another Houston connection with Vanarin Kuch, who worked at Tiny Boxwood before moving to New York. California chef Kathy Fang took home the $10,000.
Weaver says Kuu's publicist first alerted him to the Chopped casting call. After a couple of Skype interviews, he earned a trip to New York. Although he only watched a couple episodes of the show, Weaver says his previous experience with mystery basket-style competitions had him feeling well-prepared.
"As a chef, you get customers who want something off the menu," Weaver says. "Coming up with something on the fly is something we do on a day to day basis. On the show, you’re doing it in on a national competition level."
Weaver regularly shops at the Urban Harvest farmers market on Saturday mornings. He compares creating specials using fresh produce to the challenge of the show, although a chef at the market gets longer than 30 minutes to develop a dish.
Mixing things up
Brennan's executive chef Danny Trace tells CultureMap he hired Weaver because "I wanted to mix things up a little bit. I knew about Martin through some other chefs. Word of mouth is always the best way to hire. I knew Adison through different events and know he got good training under Adison. Speaking with Martin, I figured it was a good fit."
Trace says he hopes Weaver will bring his experiences from Kuu to the restaurant's recently introduced cold seafood platters in the form of crudos and other dishes. Even Brennan's realizes that diners want to eat lighter, and the cold station has enabled the restaurant to offer its customers more options.
While Weaver's new role will keep him busy, the chef hasn't given up his dreams of reality TV stardom. He'd like another shot at Chopped but has his eyes on an even more prestigious prize.
"One of the shows I most want to do is Top Chef. If I got the opportunity, I would take it," he says.