Philippe Schmit, the well-regarded Houston chef whose abrupt departure from his eponymous Galleria-area restaurant led to its being remodeled and renamed, has returned to the kitchen at Drexel House in Highland Village. While the position isn't permanent (he's only consulting), or connected to the bistro he plans to open, it does give diners the chance to renew their relationship with the popular "French Cowboy."
Schmit tells CultureMap that his first experience with Drexel House came several months ago as a customer. "I went a couple of times just because I like the location. I like the interior," Schmit says. A mutual friend connected Schmit with Drexel House owner Aaron Webster, who was looking to make some changes to the menu.
"We’re going to do specials from Monday through Friday, which could bring a crowd at night . . . . I’m also going to do spontaneous specials every day with whatever’s fresh at the market," Schmit adds.
While Drexel House does a thriving lunch trade, it can be slow in the evening. "I was looking for a chef. I wanted to shake up our dinner business a little bit," Webster tells CultureMap.
"I wasn't necessarily looking for someone with his kind of firepower, (but) hopefully, it will bring some recognition to our dinner offerings," Webster adds. "It's very open-ended. Let's try this and see how it goes."
The chef says his initial goals are to learn the menu and do some staff training. Eventually, he'll roll out new menu items that will be weekly specials. "We’re going to do specials from Monday through Friday, which could bring a crowd at night . . . . I’m also going to do spontaneous specials every day with whatever’s fresh at the market," Schmit adds.
After a week in the kitchen, Schmit reports that his first impressions of Drexel House are very positive. "They have a great staff . . . . I’m teaching them a lot," Schmit says. "I think the guests will respond very well. There’s an amazing potential there."
One thing Schmit says he's learning is how to make pizza using Drexel's dough that utilizes Italian yeast in the starter. "Let me tell you, I made a great pizza with Asian pears, walnuts and pulled chicken," he says. "I’m practicing. I’m going to try to do different toppings."
For now, diners will see Schmit in the kitchen during weekday dinner service. Not being present for lunch or or on weekends allows the chef to continue his private catering, working towards opening a new restaurant and preparing for the Master Chefs of France conference that will be held in Houston in June 2015.
"We’re a non-profit organization, but I want to make the best experience. I need sponsors for transportation and all that stuff," Schmit says about his preparations for the conference. "I got the Chamber of Commerce involved. Mr. LeNotre is very involved."
Look for more information about that as it approaches. For now, head to Highland Village to see what chef Philippe is cooking.