Chef Departs Hip Hotel

Popular chef leaves stylish hotel restaurant, but where will she land next?

Popular chef leaves hip hotel restaurant; where will she land next?

Chef Erin Smith JW Marriott Houston Downtown January 2014
Erin Smith's time at Main Kitchen has come to an end. Photo by Morris Malakoff
Jelle Vandenbroucke Main Kitchen JW Marriott
Jelle Vandenbroucke brings his Michelin-starred resume to Main Kitchen. Courtesy photo
Chef Erin Smith JW Marriott Houston Downtown January 2014
Jelle Vandenbroucke Main Kitchen JW Marriott

Since it opened last year, part of the appeal of Main Kitchen at the stylish JW Marriott Houston Downtown hotel has been the presence of executive chef Erin Smith, but that time has come to an end. The chef turned in her resignation on Friday. Rather than have her work two more weeks, the hotel decided to make it her last day.  

The Houston native came to the JW after well-regarded stints at Plonk! Bistro and the Clumsy Butcher group, where she created the opening menu for Blacksmith; her resume also includes stints working in New York for celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Thomas Keller. At Main Kitchen, she earned a CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Chef of the Year nomination for her use of local and seasonal ingredients 

"There isn't any juice or gossip," regarding her departure Smith writes in a text message. "I've been considering leaving for awhile but wanted things to be going more smoothly before I left . . . It was a great experience."

Although she hasn't decided on her next move yet, Smith thinks Main Kitchen did overcome the problem of attracting diners from outside the hotel, which has always been a challenge for high-profile local chefs working at hotels. Instead, she faced a slightly different challenge — balancing the needs of appealing to hotel guests who want familiar fare while traveling with more adventurous locals. 

"I feel like Houston supported Main Kitchen," Smith writes. "You want everyone (hotel guests and local patrons) to be happy, and that can be a challenge. Main Kitchen has a very loyal Houston crowd, and I've had the pleasure of getting to know many of them."

Executive sous chef Jelle Vandenbroucke has replaced Smith as the executive chef. The Belgian native brings experience at two-star Michelin restaurants as well as with a number of Four Seasons properties to the role. 

"Erin was instrumental in Main Kitchen's concept and part of the pre opening team," said Natalie Wiseman, vice president of sales and marketing for the hotel in a statement. "We wish her all the best on her future endeavors. We are repositioning the restaurant with new exciting menus in January."

While Smith ponders her next move, diners might find her assisting her fiance Patrick Feges at Southern Goods in the Heights. The restaurant led by former Underbelly sous chef Lyle Bento and business partner Charles Bishop has been busy since its well-publicized opening this summer.