Major Chef Change

Highland Village restaurant hires a new chef with big credentials, but it refuses to get trendy

Highland Village restaurant hires new chef, but resists cheap wows

Chef David Coffman plating the Truffle Mushroom Raviolini
Chef David Coffman started working at Up Restaurant two weeks ago after stints at Katsuya and Goro & Gun. Photo by © Debora Smail/DeboraSmail.com
David Coffman new chef at Up Restaurant October 2013 Daivd Coffman new chef at Up Restaurant October 2013 Beet Salad- Champagne Cured Red and Yellow Beets, Raw Candy Striped Beets, Yuzu Goat Cheese Mousse and Caramelized Hazelnuts
Coffman's beet salad with Champagne-cured red and yellow neets, raw candy-striped Beets, Yuzu goat cheese mousse and caramelized hazelnuts demonstates his skill with plating and presentation that made him a good candidate to head Up's kitchen.  Photo by © Debora Smail/DeboraSmail.com
Daivd Coffman new chef at Up Restaurant October 2013 Mushroom salad
Coffman's mushroom salad with arugula, frisee, tamari glazed chanterelle, wild mushrooms, hydro butter lettuce, Valrhona chocolate balsamic reduction, roasted cocoa nibs and porcini oil typifies the classic flavor combinations with a subtle twist that define Up Restaurant's menu.  Photo by © Debora Smail/DeboraSmail.com
Chef David Coffman plating the Truffle Mushroom Raviolini
David Coffman new chef at Up Restaurant October 2013 Daivd Coffman new chef at Up Restaurant October 2013 Beet Salad- Champagne Cured Red and Yellow Beets, Raw Candy Striped Beets, Yuzu Goat Cheese Mousse and Caramelized Hazelnuts
Daivd Coffman new chef at Up Restaurant October 2013 Mushroom salad

Up Restaurant has hired former Katsuya/Goro & Gun chef David Coffman to run its kitchen, but owner Haidar Barbouti doesn't see big changes ahead for the stylish Highland Village spot. At a time when the most well-regarded restaurants in Houston typically reflect the intensely personal vision of a chef or owner, Up marches to its own drummer. 

"Maybe it doesn’t make sense. Maybe I’ll sort of capitulate on it," Barbouti tells CultureMap. "I’m going to hold out as long as I can, and I think it’s working.

"I’ve never wanted this restaurant to be theme-based. Meaning, we are a certain cuisine and we are this kind of experience."

Barbouti wants his customers to be able to choose what to eat, whether that's a snack from the $9 bar menu or a Prime steak.

 "I’ve never wanted this restaurant to be theme-based. Meaning, we are a certain cuisine and we are this kind of experience." 

"I did not want to impose a concept on the customer," he explains. "I wanted to be open to everybody. I didn’t want to be, oh, this is fine dining and therefore it should go after that demographic of customer. Or, alternatively, it’s fun dining, and it should go after a different kind of customer.

"I still want to be a place where people can drop by multiple times per week. If you go into one of those very finite type of cuisines, I think you lose a lot of customers, and I think it becomes more faddy."  

As for why he decided to hire Coffman, Barbouti says, "I think for sure David’s phenomenal as far as plating, presentation, composition. I see a lot of David’s influence (on the dishes). I’m looking forward to that."

Those skills show up in a few recent additions to the menu, including a tomato-foam-accented caprese salad that uses house-made mozzarella and stacked, Osaka-style sushi rolls. Coffman says he's using the same suppliers the shuttered Katsuya did for fish, and that reflects Barbouti's philosophy when it comes to ingredients. He explains: "If there was a concept, I’d say we always want to serve the best that we can, using the best ingredients . . .  So, I’ve never wanted — and we don’t do that — is a cheap wow.

"You have a dish, and we’ll throw something that has nothing to do with the dish to get a write-up or a cheap wow from a customer.

"That will be, to me, the ultimate selling out. We’re not doing that."