At this sunlight-filled, glass-walled seafood restaurant, steamed mussels arrive swimming in a Shiner Bock beer and toasted ancho chile broth; local redfish is grilled and served with fried mac and cheese; and roasted grouper gets the southern works (pecan-shallot cracklin’s, collards, pot likker jus). We’re sold!
WHY HE WON Because he sources an outstanding array of seafood, then prepares it using techniques he mastered while cooking around the world.
BORN 1973 RAISED Houston
EDUCATION The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.
EXPERIENCE Via Veneto, Barcelona; Union Pacific and Jean Georges, New York City; Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong and Bangkok.
FANTASY SPLURGE Eating in Lima, Peru. “There are more kinds of fish per square inch there than anywhere in the world.”
FAVORITE CHILDHOOD DISH Collard greens made by his grandmother, Bertie Bea Caswell. “She’d get a pan ripping hot and braise them. They’re on our menu.”
ADVICE TO ASPIRING CHEFS Work in a Waffle House. “You’re cooking by yourself, so there’s no one to save you. My sous chef worked in a Waffle House, and she’s the fastest line cook I’ve ever seen.”
FAVORITE COOKBOOK Sex, Death & Oysters by Robb Walsh. “I’ve eaten oysters since I was six, so if I can learn something about them, that’s amazing.”
Reef is an intensely local restaurant that caters to our city’s culinary eccentricities. Chef-owner Bryan Caswell, who grew up in Houston, used to do a lot of fishing. Fishermen understand the treasures of the Gulf of Mexico
in a way that non-fishermen never quite get. At Reef, the menu changes every day to take advantage of what’s available. Sure, there’s shrimp, crab, oysters and red snapper. But there’s also wahoo with plantains, tripletail with artichokes, amberjack with asparagus and sheepshead with orange mustard. But Reef isn’t just giving Gulf seafood its much-deserved props, it is also paying homage to the whole spectrum of influences that makes food taste like it came from Houston. Vietnamese hot pot, Indian raita, Mexican carnitas and Southern corn pudding might sound like an odd combination of things to put on the same menu — except in Houston where we eat Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican and Gulf Southern cooking all the time. Reef also has the best wine deals in town. A bottle of Jermann pinot grigio that sells for $65 in an Italian restaurant across town goes for $39 at Reef. There’s not another restaurant or wine bar in Houston that keeps their wines in temperature-controlled storage and sells them at these prices.