Fewer than 70 Certified Master Chefs (CMCs) exist in the United States, and in Houston, one of the most renowned is Master Chef Fritz Gitschner. The Austrian-born chef worked around the world before settling in Houston as the executive chef of the Houston Country Club, where his distinguished guests such as President George H.W. Bush have enjoyed his cuisine.
Gitschner’s illustrious career has reached heights that other chefs only dream about. In 2005, he represented the U.S. in the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon, France, widely considered the Olympics of the culinary world. His kitchen has served as a training ground for hundreds of chefs over the years, many of who have gone on to run successful restaurants, including Gavin Kaysen of Café Boulud in New York City.
After a 17-year tenure, Gitschner left his plum job at Houston Country Club to strike out on his own, opening 60 Degrees Mastercrafted in November 2013. We caught up with Gitschner to learn more about his exciting new restaurant.
What does it mean to be a Master Chef?
There’s a difference between a Master Chef and Certified Master Chef (CMC). Anybody could be a Master Chef — working long enough in the industry and saying, “I’m a Master Chef.” If you want to be Certified Master Chef, you have to take a test. The pass rate is just 20 percent, and though it’s an American designation, it’s recognized worldwide.
What made you decide to leave your post at Houston Country Club to open your own restaurant?
It was January of 2009, and there were members at the club who would say, “Fritz, let’s do a restaurant.” And I was just ready for a restaurant. The club was great, I loved the membership, it was wonderful; I had no problems. Everything was just perfect. And people would say to me, “Are you crazy? You’d leave a job like that?” But there was something inside me that said, “I need to do this. And the longer I wait, the more difficult it becomes.”
Regarding your restaurant, 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, is this the dream that you always had, or was it an evolution in terms of the idea?
It was an evolution. I’m actually happy that I didn’t open a restaurant in 2009, because I was so set at the time on having the most incredible fine dining restaurant in town. But 60 Degrees Mastercrafted is more upscale casual. I think people still enjoy the food, and you can be as refined as you want, but they want a more casual setting. They don’t want to have five waiters running around and white tablecloths, and then it adds to the bill and makes you a destination restaurant.
The idea of “ranch-to-table” — which is our tagline — was developed by me. I think I was one of the first people who used Akaushi beef in Houston as it became available. What I really enjoy about Akaushi beef besides the great flavor and texture are the health benefits of it. Because it’s low in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat and high in oleic acid, the fatty composition of the meat is like no other. Combine that with a great tasting steak, and you can’t go wrong.
Are you only doing Akaushi beef?
On beef, only Akaushi. We also have pork belly. We’re doing our own sausages. For fish, it’s not on the menu because I don’t know what we’re going to get on a daily basis. The fishermen come out, they show me what they have, and we decide what we want to put on the menu. And all along, that was what I wanted to do.
For people who know Fritz Gitschner and know the style of food you did at the Houston Country Club, what are some surprises about 60 Degrees Mastercrafted?
I think the very first surprise is that they thought I would do fine dining. It’s not. However, you can have fine dining if you want. You can have a chef’s table right here in the wine room, up to 12 people. We cook a nine- to 12-course meal for $280, and if you’re a foodie, I can do anything from molecular cuisine to whatever. The neat part about the chef’s table is that you don’t know what you’re going to get. So when you book it, you tell me your allergies, likes and dislikes, and then we create the menu. We select the wine. You can upgrade the wine if you want to, but it’s going to be a surprise to you. That’s the Fritz Gitschner experience.
What is the 60 Degrees Mastercrafted experience?
The 60 Degrees Mastercrafted experience is the Fritz Gitschner experience when I sit down at home with my family and I would have a meal. That’s why you have schnitzel on there, that’s why you have burgers on there, that’s why pork belly is on there, and steaks. I’ve traveled all over the world so I have different tastes almost every different day. Sometimes I fancy Asian cooking, the next day maybe I want some Middle Eastern, the next day maybe I want some Caribbean. What we did here on the menu — well, I like hamburgers. I think a good hamburger is a great, great meal. So when we said, “OK, let’s have hamburgers,” rather than just put cheese and onions, we wanted to be unique. That’s how we created the Korean burger, the Surf & Turf burger, and that’s also how we created the Bistro Burger, the $200 burger.
Photos Courtesy of Vladimir Ambia and Fritz Gitschner