Food for Thought

A wild chef shuffle sets him free: Vegan master ditches drama to excel at a top Houston restaurant

A wild chef shuffle sets him free: Vegan master ditches drama to excel at a top Houston restaurant

Chef German Mosquera, Roots Bistro, Roots Juice
 German Mosquera, the CIA-trained vegan chef, is now ensconced at Restaurant Cinq in the elegant La Colombe d’Or Hotel. Courtesy of Studio Communications
Cinq Restaurant, shrimp, eggplant, hazelnuts
While German Mosquera's modern dishes may come with a few things you don’t expect — a tiny clay-crusted potato, a little citrus foam on the perfectly seared scallop, hazelnuts with the consistency of chickpeas (shown with shrimp on eggplant) — they still look like food. Only lighter and healthier. Photo by Marene Gustin
La Colombe dOr Hotel, lump crab tower
The classic French dishes remain on one side of the Cinq menu, such as the lobster bisque, escargot and lump crab towers. La Colombe d’Or Hotel and Restaurant/Facebook
Chef German Mosquera, Roots Bistro, Roots Juice
Cinq Restaurant, shrimp, eggplant, hazelnuts
La Colombe dOr Hotel, lump crab tower
La Colombe d'Or Hotel and Restaurant, Restaurant Cinq, people dining, January 2013

Chef s​huffles can be a source of wild speculation on foodie blogs and in whispered conversations amongst the foodie set.

An executive chef leaves a restaurant before we can even get a profile on him up to take a sous chef job at another eatery and then shortly after a two-star review comes out at the new place, the executive chef there is out and the sous takes over.

Sure, I hear the rumors and the back-and-forth, but I frankly don’t care what happened at Roots Bistro.

 “And the Modern Ideas side of the menu is all Mosquera. With a modern Spanish flare, with a hint of molecular gastronomy." 

That’s because German Mosquera, the CIA-trained vegan chef who departed Roots is now ensconced at Restaura​nt Cinq in the elegant La Colombe d’Or Hotel.

The restaurant at the renowned boutique hotel in the 1923 W. W. Fondren mansion on Montrose Boulevard got a makeover and a widely applauded menu redo when Jeramie Robison took over top chef duties there. But within two years he bolted to Austin’s Uchi. Cinq made do for eight months with a fill-in chef and the kitchen staff that Robison had trained.

But owner Steve Zimmerman knew what he wanted: A young, dynamite chef with modern international training and a sense of the local food resources.

So when Mosquera came back on the market he snapped him up.

“I’d had his food at Roots,” says Zimmerman, “and was amazed at what he could do with local vegetables. Then I saw his resume. He trained at AB​aC, a two-star Michelin restaurant in Barcelona in a small boutique hotel. It was the perfect fit for us.”

Son David Zimmerman explains that the classic French dishes remain on one side of the Cinq menu, the lobster bisque, escargot and lump crab towers. And you can still get the rack of lamb, only now it comes with local, seasonal vegetables. But you can’t get the sea bass any more, as they’ve gone to sustainable Gulf Coast fish completely.

“And the Modern Ideas side of the menu is all Mosquera,” David Zimmerman says. “With a modern Spanish flare, with a hint of molecular gastronomy. And frankly, we’re selling more from that side of the menu now.”

“And, of course,” the 27-year-old chef adds, “I’ve put some vegan and vegetarian dishes on the menu. Not just fruit plates and salads, but fully thought out meals.”

And while Mosquera's modern dishes may come with a few things you don’t expect — a tiny clay-crusted potato, a little citrus foam on the perfectly seared scallop, hazelnuts with the consistency of chickpeas — they still look like food. Only lighter and healthier.

 And, even though the chef is vegan and he won’t be eating them, there are some divine meat dishes on the menu. 

Take his warm kale salad. If you think kale is passé, think again. The warmed greens have two kinds of paper-thin slices of radishes from Animal Farm and golden raisins drizzled with a housemade cashew yogurt dressing. Mosquera also makes a mayo for lunch sandwiches out of cashew nuts and it’s delicious and way less fattening.

The spinach salad is more of a lighter take on creamed spinach: slightly grilled greens dressed with Idziabal cream. Mosquera also uses that Spanish cheese as a meal ender. The Basque Plate has a wedge of the cheese smoking over wood chips plated with a honeycomb and fresh herbs. It’s smokin’! Literally smoking when it arrives tableside.

And, even though the chef is vegan and he won’t be eating them, there are some divine meat dishes on the menu.

Take the Peking-style Texas candied duck breast with crispy brioche and plum mayo or the Texas Akaushi strip steak with wild mushrooms.

But by far the best is the slow braised Texas goat shoulder. If you only know goat from Mexican menus, you will find this goat to be worlds away in both flavor and texture.

Mosquera has gotten Black Hill Ranch to raise goats for him and he butchers them whole in the kitchen a couple of times a week. He slow braises a shoulder for hours until it falls off the bone, with a glaze of Leprechaun Cider (also a Texas company) and tops the goat with garlic butter froth. And if that isn’t enough, he adds a trio of thinly slice goat meat done three ways.

This is the chef’s signature dish and it is delicious and lower in calories than beef. And I could just drink a cup full of that garlic butter froth.

“We’re not that big,” Zimmerman says. “Maybe 25 people in the dining room, so German is on the line for every single dish. And he spends every morning at the farmers market selecting fresh greens and vegetables.”

That sort of attention to detail shows in the dishes he presents. So if you haven’t been to the beautiful old dinning room in a while, go check it out. The food is the best it’s been in ages. Don’t be afraid of the froth and save room for the cheese plates.