Creole cooking in Third Ward
New modern Creole restaurant in Third Ward channels prodigal chef's Italian culinary quest
Augustine’s takes its inspiration from an African American family that emigrated from France to New Orleans and then made its way to Texas. Its menu will pay homage to Creole cuisine that adapted Italian and French dishes to Gulf Coast ingredients in an luxurious environment and refined service.
Lee first made a splash as the executive sous chef at Kiran’s, the Indian fine dining restaurant in Upper Kirby. From there, he served as executive chef of Poitín Bar & Kitchen, which earned best new recognition from Texas Monthly. After the restaurant closed in 2020, the chef spent two years in Italy before going to New York to open Alligator Pear, an upscale Creole restaurant. Now, he’s returned to Houston to bring Augustine’s to life.
“I went to Italy and Europe in general to study the ideas about Creole cuisine in a soul-searching-type way. I wanted to understand what was it that people were trying to duplicate when they came to the Gulf Coast,” Lee tells CultureMap.
“Houston is my second home. Houston gave me all the opportunity and blessings I needed to be successful,” he adds. “What better way to tell that story then to the people who were part of my career change? Where I found the inspiration to go to Italy and understand Creole food better.”
While the menu is still under development, Lee cites the connection between ragu Genovese — a sauce made with onions, bones, and beef scraps — and the roast beef debris po’ boys served by Italian immigrants in New Orleans. At Augustine's, he’ll explore the intersection of the two with a pasta made in the style of the ragu with the flavors of the sandwich.
“That’s the evolution of taking the past and mixing it with the present to create something new,” he says.
The chef also finds meaning in the restaurant’s location at the King David Hotel, a boutique property in the heart of Third Ward. It reminds him of the sort of small, neighborhood restaurants he experienced while growing up in New Orleans.
“Part of the allure in having that type of Creole cottage is because you’re in a neighborhood, in a home,” he says. “You’re not pulling up to some gaudy building or some strip mall. You are in that type of environment. I think that is what’s really important.”