Ronnie Killen is different from most chefs. Whereas most restaurant owners would be happy to have placed two establishments in the top 25 of Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook's top 100 Houston restaurants, Killen was so disappointed that his eponymous Pearland steakhouse slipped from number eight in 2013 to 22 he couldn't fully enjoy that his six month-old barbecue joint ranked as the third best restaurant in Houston.
To get the restaurant back on track, Killen has hired Brennan's of Houston sous chef Joe Cervantez to be the new executive chef of Killen's Steakhouse. Cervantez replaces chef de cuisine Teddy Lopez, who recently transitioned to a part-time role to spend more time with his family.
"I wanted to give him a title worthy of the money he's making," Killen tells CultureMap.
Asked about giving up the title of executive chef of the restaurant that made him a local star, Killen has a simple explanation. "I wanted to give him a title worthy of the money he's making," Killen tells CultureMap. Cervantez will also have the authority to make changes to the menu that Killen has never granted anyone else before.
"My dad asked me why the steakhouse slipped," Killen tells CultureMap. While that sounds like a tiger mom-style scolding from a parent who equates a 93 to a C-plus, the criticism hit home with Killen. As he's shifted his focus to the barbecue restaurant and contemplated opening a burger joint, Killen hasn't spent as much time at the steakhouse as he once did.
"(Cervantez) is definitely going to help us and get us back on track," Killen says. The new chef comes highly recommended by Killen's Barbecue chef Patrick Feges, who worked with Cervantez at Brennan's before he moved to Underbelly. "I interviewed him for two hours. I've never interviewed anybody for two hours before," he adds.
Deciding Cervantez was his man, they came to an agreement Saturday night. He'll take over in then next month or so once Brennan's can hire and train his replacement.
The incoming chef has a history with the restaurant; he worked there as a server before using his culinary school degree at the new closed Spencer's Steaks and Chops in the Hilton Americas hotel. He's also a Pearland resident who's looking forward to a shorter commute. "He's eager to do what we do," Killen adds.
Of course, Cervantez will enjoy one other benefit of his new position.
"No more Sunday brunches," Killen says with a laugh.