"Do you know what's going on with Philippe Schmit?"
It's a question I get all the time both from members of the general public and restaurant industry insiders. The chef made a sudden, unexpected departure from the Galleria area restaurant named after him in September. After he left, Philippe restaurant first tried to reconcept itself by moving away from French cuisine before shuttering completely to renovate and rename itself.
While the newly renamed Table on Post Oak shows some signs of life on Facebook, Schmit has remained quiet.
Schmit prowled through the restaurant's kitchen urging the students to work harder, faster and more efficiently.
Until Thursday night, that is, when he served a five-course, foie gras dinner to approximately 100 diners at Kris Bistro, the restaurant at the Culinary Institute LeNotre. Schmit will present two more dinners at the restaurant with menus that he's still contemplating.
Working alongside head chef Kristofer Jakob and former Philippe pastry chef Jose Hernandez (on loan for the night from his usual post at Etoile), Schmit prowled through the restaurant's kitchen urging the students to work harder, faster and more efficiently. The results were pretty spectacular, particularly a tuna "rossini," in which seared tuna was topped with foie gras and served slider style on a toasted brioche bun.
Overall, the meal felt like a return to form for Schmit after trying for too long to balance his cuisine with the need to serve "Johnny Cowboy from Katy" at Philippe.
After dinner, another reporter and I had a chance to discuss Schmit's plans for the future. He admitted that his work preparing for this month's Master Chefs of France conference in Las Vegas had taken him away from looking for a new restaurant, but that he intended to step up his efforts.
Schmit spoke in general terms about his criteria. Generally, he's looking for a location that's already been a restaurant that he can remodel to suit his taste. Proximity to River Oaks and a place that's close enough to a neighborhood to maintain strong business at both lunch and dinner are important to him, too. I noted that Chinese restaurant Hin's Garden closed this week on Richmond, but Schmit said he wants to be farther away from the Loop.
Asked about the success of French restaurants in West Houston like Le Mistral and Bistro Le Cep and whether that affected his thinking, Schmit declined to cite a common factor. He noted that Le Mistral's long history in the area has made it a go-to for catering and event business.
Some fans have encouraged him to consider opening in The Woodlands thanks to the area's real estate boom, but he's not yet convinced there's a market for his cuisine in that area.
Will Schmit open something this year? It's too soon to tell. Are there people eager for his return? Absolutely.