Ever since Ford Fry, the Houston native who's the chef/owner of eight critically acclaimed restaurants in Atlanta, announced his intention to open State of Grace in the Lamar River Oaks shopping center, the one question has been: Who will be the chef? After all, Fry still has an empire to oversee in Atlanta.
Finding the right person to represent him in Houston is critical — just ask Bradley Ogden, who came to the realization that he needed a local only after Houstonians stayed away from Bradley's Fine Diner.
On Tuesday, a cryptic tweet suggested that Fry has found his man for the restaurant that's slated to open this fall, and, needless to say, the hire is a name CultureMap readers will likely recognize.
The Ciao Bello family wishes Bobby Matos the best. We're looking forward to sharing what's new and exciting with all of our fans.— Tony & Jeff Vallone (@CiaoBelloHou) June 23, 2015
While the Ciao Bello tweet doesn't say anything about Matos's plans, Fry confirmed that he has hired the Tastemaker Awards chef of the year nominee to be State of Grace's executive chef. After interviewing a number of candidates, Fry tells CultureMap that the decision to hire Matos was a pretty simple one.
"Quite honestly, I hired him because I felt like he really fit who we are," Fry explains. "I don’t do well with egos. I want someone in Houston where there’s a face in the community that people could relate to. I’m not there, and that’s the reality. I’ll be there in the beginning, but this needs to be his spot. We just really liked him."
"The inspiration is Houston. There’s going to be a lot of things that have some nostalgia to me, what I grew up having. There could be ‘nods’ to some old-school Houston things done in our own way," Fry says.
In addition to his own evaluation, Fry says he heard from some of Matos' peers that he would be the right person for the job. "Their words were ‘this is the guy you need to partner with in this restaurant.’ We’re pretty fortunate to land him."
With State of Grace still under construction and Matos just coming on board, Fry isn't ready to talk about specifics in terms of the menu, but he did offer some clues.
"The inspiration is Houston. There’s going to be a lot of things that have some nostalgia to me, what I grew up having. There could be ‘nods’ to some old-school Houston things done in our own way." Fry cites the long-departed steakhouse Hofbrau as a restaurant that could provide some inspiration.
Whatever retro touches show up, Fry and Matos will maintain a commitment to sourcing from Texas and the Gulf. "I wouldn’t say it’s a seafood restaurant, but that’s the direction we’re going," Fry says. "It’s going to be a great quality neighborhood joint. Obviously, being in River Oaks, it’s going to be a very nice neighborhood joint."
For now, Matos will travel to Atlanta to begin working with Fry and his team and learn about the ethos of his Rocket Farm restaurant group. "We’ll travel to New York and maybe New Orleans," Fry says. "Then we’ll put it together as a team and let it rip."