In many ways, Grant Gordon leads a charmed life. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, he was named executive chef of Houston’s legendary Tony’s restaurant at age 24. At 25, he was a James Beard Award semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef category. Now 26, Gordon is opening his own spot.
He and partner Scott Sulma have announced plans to debut Vallone’s, billed as a “modern classic” steakhouse, in the Memorial City area of Houston later this fall. Gordon will serve as executive chef. In addition, he was selected as a featured chef in Houston’s national ad campaign, “Houston Is Tasty,” and was the only Texan inducted into the ranks of the 2013 Forbes 30 Under 30 in the Food & Wine category.
We caught up with this native Houstonian to hear more about his upcoming project, what he loves about Houston and what’s happening with his menu at Tony’s.
What does being a Forbes 30 Under 30 pick mean to you?
It’s a huge honor. I hope it speaks not only to my level of talent, but ambition and drive. I was always very driven. I never necessarily wanted to be the next Thomas Keller, even though he’s my idol, but I wanted to be a successful businessman. What brought me to culinary school is that I love to cook, I was passionate about it and I wanted to be a chef. Then I realized that I wanted to be the greatest chef in the world, and I wanted to get all this experience and do beautiful plates and delicious food. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I wanted to make money one day, and so I’m driven by both my passion for food and my desire for success.
What can you tell us about Vallone’s?
Vallone’s was a really popular restaurant in the early 2000s and 1990s on Kirby [Drive]. It had steaks, fish, chops and, from what I understand, a good bar scene. So we’re reviving it, and our tagline is, “A modern classic.” I’m going to be the executive chef and part owner, and I’m going to be overseeing both Tony’s and Vallone’s.
You grew up in Houston. What makes Houston special to you?
My family and friends are here. That’s personally what makes it special to me. But I’m very proud of where the city’s come. I try to take advantage of the culture and the great food we have. My day-off meals are so few and far between that I make sure I’m going to a restaurant that I like, where I’m going to have a great meal. I’ll never go eat somewhere because it’s quick and convenient.
What are some restaurants that impress you right now?
I’m really impressed with Justin Yu of Oxheart, not just because his food is awesome, but because he’s one of the good guys in the business. You won’t find a more humble person, and his food is unique. I really like what they’re doing at Provisions. The other day, I wanted a really good bowl of pasta. I eat pasta all the time here at Tony’s, but I wanted something different, and they do a great job there. So I just went and had a bowl of pasta at the bar — an orecchiette with white Bolognese, olives, bread crumbs.
And then of course, my favorite restaurant is Mala Sichuan Bistro. I’m there every week. I’m addicted. The water-boiled fish is a must. Lately, the crispy cuttlefish has been a must, and we’ve also been getting hot-and-sour soup a lot … there are massive chunks of egg, mushrooms, bamboo shoots. It’s not thick and gummy — it’s a little more brothy — but it’s 10 times more intense. It’s a great hot-and-sour soup.
What’s the focus of your Tony’s menu right now?
It’s spring, so we’re incorporating that. I’m trying to be as Italian as I can be. For example, the tasting menu has always been a lot of classic Italian. What we’ve really tried to do is make the tasting menu modern Italian. We have a dish right now that’s a beautiful baked dorade; it’s such a nice fatty fish that when you bake it, it just melts in your mouth. So we bake it, put crawfish ravioli on top and then we sauce it at the table with a crawfish jus, which is a super-intense crawfish reduction. It’s local ingredients with Italian technique.
Photos Courtesy of Tony’s