Historic first: Iconic Houston restaurant puts female chef in charge of the kitchen
With Tony's executive chef Grant Gordon set to open Vallone's steakhouse in the Gateway Memorial City complex next month, owner Tony Vallone needed to find a new chef de cuisine to run the kitchen in Gordon's absence. For the first time in the history of the iconic restaurant, that chef is a woman. High rollers of Houston, meet 29-year old Kate McLean.
Even as new restaurants have captured the city's attention, Gordon brought new energy to Tony's that kept the institution relevant even as other long-standing restaurants have faded in acclaim. With McLean at the helm, the restaurant looks poised to maintain its lofty status.
"(Tony is) the ultimate mentor. He doesn't necessarily tell you what to do in the kitchen. He gives you an idea and he lets you be creative."
McLean came to Tony's in 2011 as a sous chef. Prior to that, she had worked at the Dahila Lounge in Seattle and developed experience with seafood at a resort in Kauai. From there, she learned to work in a pressure-packed environment at the Les Carmes hotel in Provence, France; it was the perfect preparation for Tony's demanding clientele.
Vallone tells CultureMap that McLean's experience in both Italy and France was one of the reasons he hired her. "We've been together for three years," Vallone says. "She's just terrific. Her energy, creativity and work ethic are wonderful."
Asked about whether McLean will be making any changes to the menu, Vallone notes two things. First, Gordon will "continue to be involved" at the restaurant via his role as executive chef. More importantly, he says, Tony will always "follow the season and cook with passion," so McLean will add dishes as appropriate.
"I am really excited to have the opportunity to lead the amazing team in the kitchen at Tony's," McLean said in a statement. "We have so many amazing, talented people here."
There's lots of mutual esteem between chef and restaurateur. "I love working with Tony," says McLean. "He's the ultimate mentor. He doesn't necessarily tell you what to do in the kitchen. He gives you an idea and he lets you be creative."