People come, people go

3 talented top chefs' big moves heat up Houston's restaurant scene

3 talented top chefs' big moves heat up Houston's restaurant scene

Brandi Key Aaron Lyons Dish Society
Brandi Key has teamed up with Dish Society founder Aaron Lyons. Photo by Kimberly Park
Kenneth Hamilton Acadian Coast
Find Kenneth Hamilton at Acadian Coast.  Acadian Coast/Facebook
Hidden Omakase Billy Kin Niki Vongthong
Niki Vongthong has taken over for Billy Kin at Hidden Omakase. Courtesy of Hidden Omakase
Brandi Key Aaron Lyons Dish Society
Kenneth Hamilton Acadian Coast
Hidden Omakase Billy Kin Niki Vongthong

Houston chefs are always on the move. Jobs may come and go, but the steady pace of openings and expansions means plenty of opportunities for those with proven track records.

Recently, three establishments announced they have new leaders in their kitchens. Let's take a quick spin through the latest hirings.

Chef Brandi Key has joined Dish Society's parent company, Five 12 Restaurant Concepts, as director of culinary operations. Best known for her time with Clark Cooper Concepts, Key opened a number of successful restaurants including Coppa Osteria, SaltAir Seafood Kitchen, Punk's Simple Southern Food, and The Kitchen at The Dunlavy. After a brief stint with Lasco Enterprises (The Tasting Room, Max's Wine Dive), Key became the executive chef for Alice Blue in The Heights, a position she left in late 2020.  

At Five 12, her responsibilities will include creating new menu items and implementing seasonal changes for Dish Society, the farm to table neighborhood restaurant that opened its sixth Houston-area location in December. In addition, she'll work with owner Aaron Lyons to develop new concepts that will open later this year.

“My passion is teaching and in helping the people around me become the best they can be, and now is the perfect time to do this," Key said in a statement. "COVID has shined a bright light on the industry, and has given me the viewpoint of never wanting to be stagnant or complacent. I want to keep growing, and as much as I loved what I was doing, this is an opportunity for a fresh start with goals I’m super excited about.”

Kenneth Hamilton has joined East End seafood restaurant Acadian Coast as executive chef and co-owner. The veteran chef has worked at a number of area establishments, including Helen Greek Food & Wine, Arthur Ave., and Blanco Tacos & Tequila.

Hamilton's affiliation with Acadian Coast allows the restaurant to participate in Houston's Black Restaurant Week, which takes through April 11. The restaurant's BRW menu includes shrimp and grits, panko fried boudin balls, and the jumbo lump crab cakes that made Texas Monthly's recent best new restaurants list.

On a sadder note, chef Billy Kin has parted ways with Hidden Omakase. Formerly of Blackbird Izakaya, Kin opened the Galleria-area restaurant in December to showcase a 12-course, Japanese-inspired tasting menu. Niki Vongthong (Aqui, Uchi), who was initially presented as Kin's co-chef, will now lead the kitchen in the intimate, 14-seat restaurant.

"The team at Hidden Omakase would like to extend a grand thank you to Chef Billy Kin. It is with our greatest appreciation that we are reluctantly wishing him the best on his newest endeavors as he opens the stage for Chef Niki to shine and lead our team," the restaurant wrote on Instagram. "We value your efforts and culinary expertise that assisted with launching Hidden Omakase and hope to have you back in our kitchen soon!"