Are the days of coastal culinary dominance numbered? They are if you believe chef Philippe Verpiand, who's throwing in the towel on his San Diego eatery and heading to Texas.
Verpiand, a native of the Provence region of France, came to California to cook under Jean-Michel Diot at La Jolla's famed Tapenade restaurant. After seven years as chef de cuisine at Tapenade, Verpiand left to open his own restaurant, Cavaillon, in the San Diego exurb of Santaluz, where he earned a name as one of the city's best chefs.
But now Verpiand has his sights set on the Lone Star State.
"Here I was pretty much dying, working every day, and everywhere I went in Houston, luckily I made reservations," Verpiand tells the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Reef restaurant. A small French bistro. Everywhere I went was packed. The wine lists were really, really big. And at Cavaillon they want to come with a coupon. Everybody wants to bring his own wine and they complain about I’m charging corkage. A month ago on a Saturday night, a 12-top showed up with a case of wine. It’s a sad joke.”
And the chef seems taken not only by Texans notorious penchant for dining out but by our relatively laissez-faire regulatory system.
"California is way too complicated,” Verpiand said. “Little laws. Too much taxes. Not enough customers. I can do the same thing with a better lifestyle.”
Verpiand isn't the first California chef to catch Lone Star fever. In a December cooking class at Houston's Central Market, Catalan native Daniel Olivella of San Francisco's B-44 and Barlata admitted he was looking for a place to set up in Austin.
Of course, many California commentators claim that Verpiand's issues in California stem not from laws or cheap consumers, but are due to a snakebit location (it's apparently far enough outside the city that the San Diego paper has to describe the location of the town), a menu that was solid but not exceptional and a price range beyond what the area would support.
Regardless, the public defection of a popular San Diego chef to Texas (and Houston, we hope) is another win for the Lone Star State in the Texas-California rivalry.