chefs on the move
Underbelly Hospitality's pivotal chef announces imminent departure from company
A key player in Underbelly Hospitality’s operations will soon step down from his day-to-day role, but his influence will continue to shape the restaurant he helped create. Chef Nick Fine’s last day as culinary director will be November 14.
The chef will step down to spend more time with his family, according to a release. He will remain a partner in Wild Oats, the company’s restaurant devoted to Texas cuisine that opened earlier this year at the Houston Farmers Market.
"My time with Underbelly Hospitality has been one of the most transformative and influential experiences, and one that I will truly miss,” Fine said in a statement. “As anybody in the food and beverage industry knows, time passes in the blink of an eye, and with three young children at home, I look forward to devoting more time to them. Wild Oats will remain a top priority and I will be heavily involved as partner, continuing to oversee the menu and direction of the restaurant.”
Fine, who initially joined the company as One Fifth’s chef de cuisine when it opened in early 2017, has served as culinary director since December 2017. During that time, he worked alongside Underbelly Hospitality founder Chris Shepherd to lead menu development for the company’s restaurants, which include luxurious steakhouse Georgia James, downtown’s GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Wild Oats.
As a partner in Wild Oats, Fine took the lead in writing a menu he called a “love letter to Texas.” The chef researched many of the state’s diverse culinary traditions — diving into the history of chicken fried steak, for example — to put a fresh spin on dishes such as campechana, Medina County steak tartare (also known as parisa), and even Texas chili. Like all Underbelly concepts, Wild Oats’ dishes use primarily locally-sourced ingredients.
“My idea [for] the menu is for everybody to get it,” Fine told CultureMap in February. “I don’t want everyone to be like ‘whoa, he’s doing all this crazy stuff.’ I just want everything to be really good food but also technically really sound.”
Fine’s departure comes at a time of transition for Underbelly Hospitality. The company relocated Georgia James from its original home on Westheimer to an expansive new building in the Regent Square mixed-use development this summer. At the same time, Shepherd left the company to focus on the Southern Smoke Foundation, the non-profit he co-founded that provides emergency assistance to hospitality workers. Underbelly Hospitality will open Pastore, a new Italian restaurant, in 2023.
“Our team is the core of Underbelly Hospitality, and Nick has been instrumental in developing and nurturing the talent we have today,” Underbelly Hospitality director of operations Nina Quincy said. “We value and respect Nick’s commitment to his family and are incredibly supportive of his desire to spend more time with his children.”