There are only 300 Maîtres Cuisiniers de France in the world, and now one of them calls Houston home.
Philippe Schmit, chef/owner of Philippe Restaurant + Lounge, is one of 10 French chefs in the United States to be awarded the distinguished honor in 2012, and the only chef in Texas to merit the distinction.
"It is a great honor to be recognized, as this is the most coveted award in France,” said Schmit in a press release. “Maîtres are looked to as ambassadors of the French cuisine all around the world and this is exactly how I present my cooking. For many, a French restaurant means hard-to-read menus and overly complex, heavy dishes. I wanted to change that perception and bring Houstonians those same classic French techniques, but presented in a more accessible and casual way."
Of the honor, Schmit says, "I'm so busy I don't always have time to reflect, but the people around me are very excited so it reminds me that's it's a big deal, so it's nice."
Association des Maîtres Cuisiniers de France has been recognizing elite French culinary talent for the past 60 years and "Maîtres," or master chefs, are "regarded as the most highly skilled in techniques and traditions of the French culinary art."
"They know that I truly respect the foundation of French cooking," said Schmit. "All chefs who are ambassadors of French food, in San Diego, Philadelphia, Quebec, somehow have to embrace the food and the culture of where they live. There's no chef who is succeeding in America who has not embraced the culture of their town or region."
Originally from Roanne, France, Schmit has worked with some of the world's best chefs at restaurants including Restaurant Jacques Cagna in Paris and New York's Le Bernardin before moving to Houston in 2004. He will officially receive the title in March at an induction ceremony in Perignan, France, with a second reception in Chicago in June.
"We have an expression — I'm going to try to shave the walls," says Schmit, meaning he will be a bit of a wallflower among the distinguished chefs in the room. "It's a humbling experience."
Schmit also tells CultureMap he's hoping he can make some connections with other Maîtres and hopefully have them come visit Houston to prepare some special dinners at his restaurant.
To celebrate his new title as well as the upcoming French Culture Festival in Houston, Philippe Restaurant will be offering a selection of French classics on every Wednesday in March, including beef pot-au-feu, cassoulet and charcuterie.
Says Schmit, "I'm so busy I don't always have time to reflect, but the people around me are very excited so it reminds me that's it's a big deal, so it's nice."