Chef Ben McPherson has a pretty simple explanation for his decision to end his tenure as culinary director for the Silent Theatre Group.
While his own restaurant isn't in the works quite yet, he's found a new partner who can help move him towards that goal in John Avila, whose barbecue-oriented El Burro & the Bull is one of Conservatory's four tenants. Although it officially opened only last week, demand at the downtown food hall has already been strong.
"I really enjoy working with John a lot," McPherson says. "It’s going to be a good challenge to get with him and work on this. It also gives me a chance to learn barbecue the way he does it. It’s kind of a win-win."
McPherson's role with El Burro has yet to be fully defined, but the chef will certainly be busy. Initially, he'll help Avila scale up production to meet the demand at Conservatory and help launch the budding restaurant group's catering business.
"We love the guy," Avila says. "We want him to be onboard with us and help us push our upcoming projects."
The first of those projects will be Hot Bird, which is Avila's smoked chicken concept that's set to open later this year in a re-purposed shipping container on the Navigation Boulevard Esplanade. Avila says he's also been approached about an East End property that could become a Southern-themed restaurant. That's still very much in the planning stages, but Avila has some ideas about how to utilize the space.
"We’re looking for something that’s more authentically Houston," he explains. "It’s accessible food by all. It will be up to Ben to decide what he wants to do."
Having served as Batanga's opening chef, facilitated Prohibition's move downtown, and launched the city's first food hall, McPherson could point to his track record of success and take a break with a cushy consulting gig. Thankfully for diners, that's not how he's wired.
"I’m crazy. I know. I get it," he says of his new role. "For me, it’s the challenge, and I’m able to take the risk."