On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," chef Nick Fine joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss Wild Oats. Newly opened in the Houston Farmers Market, Wild Oats is Underbelly Hospitality's ode to Texas's diverse culinary traditions.
Fine discusses his unlikely entry into the world of professional cooking, and the path that ultimately led him to opening One Fifth with Underbelly Hospitality founder Chris Shepherd. The conversation touches on a number of Wild Oats' signature elements, including Fine's meticulous research into chicken fried steak, the restaurant's all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, and its wood-burning grill designed by star pitmaster Aaron Franklin.
The chef says that he's had to expand his responsibilities from just running the restaurant — creating dishes, interacting with the staff, ordering supplies, etc — to looking at things from a broader business perspective. Sandler asks him to elaborate on what that entails.
"What really matters, especially now, is how many people are working? How much are you paying those people? Do you need everybody there, and is everybody working as hard as they need to be? Part of the things is, if we can get less people and pay them more money, they're going to be better off," Fine says.
After noting that the company has recently started providing health insurance to all of its employees, he adds, "The way we want to start running these businesses into just to line everybody's pockets. It's to take care of our employees."
Listen to the full episode to hear Fine's thoughts on the plans to relocate Georgia James to its new home in the Regent Square mixed-use episode and why he's confident that Pastore, the company's new Italian-American restaurant, will be one to watch.
Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Linda Salinas discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Gr8 Plate Hospitality owners Doris and Paul Miller opening Passerella, a new Italian seafood restaurant in Cypress; Jackson Street BBQ closing after eight years; and Liuyishou Hotpot opening in Chinatown.
In the restaurants of the week segment, they discuss their recent meals at Loro, the Asian smokehouse concept from Uchi owners Hai Hospitality. They conclude with some thoughts on their brunch at Tatemó, chef Emmanuel Chavez's corn-focused Mexican restaurant.