The level of respect the chefs have for each other at Bootsie’s Heritage Cafe is intense. With Widespread Panic playing in the background, owner-chef Randy Rucker sat down to elaborate on his fascinating philosophy…
“I am no more important than anyone at Bootsie’s, which in turn makes us unique. It’s all because of them, every day…. all day.” With strong conviction, Rucker spoke about the fact that he will always allow the chefs in his kitchen to practice their craft on a daily basis.
The kind of chefs they are is best described on Bootsie’s website… “It’s our belief that creativity and new applications or ideas come from having an intimate relationship with all your food sources. This philosophy has led us to not only farming our own vegetables, herbs & lettuces but raising our own pigs, guinea hens & chickens as well. The staff takes great pride and has an extreme enthusiasm for foraging for local wild edibles such as greens, flowers, fruits, berries and tubers.”
Rucker’s frustration as a young cook, just back from Chicago & California, began when there simply wasn’t any place for young cooks to practice with a substantial amount of creative freedom.
After being hired at, “supposedly,” the best place in Houston, he quit after only three days. Passionately, he said he has just always wanted old cooks, young cooks, whoever wants to cook, to have a place where they can go and blossom. Rucker feels the success of this restaurant and his career, stems from depending on his staff and always running the restaurant democratically.
All of their heads are better than one… His feeling is that everyone has strengths & weaknesses. When it comes down to it, those guys are the reason the daily operation is a success.
This past month, restaurant critics from Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin comprised a list of the ten best new restaurants in the state of Texas. Bootsie’s was one of the only two in Houston, with Latin Bites Cafe being the second.
Alison Cook, from the Houston Chronicle, hearts Randy Rucker, and has for quite some time. Receiving four stars from her is just the beginning, as she does not hesitate to speak of his restaurant’s superior greatness.
During my first visit to Bootsie’s during brunch, I soaked in the southern surroundings while studying the chalk board menu. The first dish responsible for complete brunch happiness is the fried oysters & creamy grits. This dish is topped with Creole bouillon, and arrived in a red glass bowl, atop a wood chopping block.
The level of excitement that occurred next could ultimately send a foodie into an exhaustive fit. While awaiting the arrival of the second dish, sous chef Ben Rabbani could be seen exiting the open kitchen, heading my way.
In his hand was a fluffy frittata with crabmeat. After placing this gift on the table, the realization hit that this is the talented sous chef many have been buzzing about. One can’t move on without describing the semi sorda almost sleeve tattoo endlessly flowing up his arm…
This tattoo can best be described as a flame of fire, eagerly making its way up to the sweaty bicep hidden beneath his… black chef shirt. Later, during a visit to the kitchen, sous chef Rabbani approved my request to scratch his fire burning arm tattoo for almost… four seconds.
Citrus Buttermilk Pie? Seriously, it is impossible not to heart Bootsie’s and every person responsible for its glory. Pastry chef Chris Leung is only 29 and has already made a name for himself, being at the top of his dessert game. His talent is showcased often at Bootsie’s, with private tastings, among other events.
My second visit to Bootsie’s was last weekend, when I met with sous chef Rabbani to have a tasting like no other. With breathtaking creativity, the presentation is solid from start to finish. Ingredients so pure & fresh, it’s a challenge to stop taking pictures long enough to actually eat. Every ingredient plays a part in the chef’s work of art.
Rabbani’s explanation of the communication existing within the kitchen causes one to… pause. Creative input is at the core of importance, stating “It is never one person. It is always everyone.” He continued to explain that chefs sometimes begin to feel like robots, having to make the same dish over & over again.
Chef Rucker’s views are much different than that of the restaurant norm. He doesn’t want to keep making the same dish continuously; therefore his kitchen isn’t expected to have structure. Using only ingredients with no set menu, their creativity & inspiration lead the way. With most of the ingredients being uncommon, the dishes created are that much more spectacular.
The green existing on this plate possesses a freshness which sends chills down the spine of average foodie humans. Changing with the seasons, this blessing is full of pleasantness… Pickled red onions & cilantro are blended with olive oil, pickled beets, cauliflower & garlic crumble. Other ingredients include heirloom carrots, fennel, watermelon radishes, dehydrated pickled radishes & dehydrated onion… weak… getting very… weak.
Crudo… Oh, how this dish is outstanding. It is challenging to explain the joy this wreckfish belly dish exudes. Lime, olive oil, carrot & apple powder, with nasturtium, all helped in preparing the absolute freshest raw anything to ever cross my lips.
One of Mark Clayton’s jobs as chef de cuisine is to make the pasta. Not just cook pasta… make… pasta. Mark’s tagliatelle crab fat pasta dish, with celery & 20 year old aged sherry, has an impressive process of preparation… Mark takes crab pieces & puts them through a meat grinder, which sends out meat and bone. It is then cooked in a pot, turning the crab red, as you would expect from crabmeat.
He then strains it, sending all of the juice to the bottom, while the fat begins to rise. The crab is placed in the cooler overnight, making the fat on top solidify. The end result can be used as butter or anything else that makes your heart happy.
Instant rookie status returned as Rabbani informed me he noticed I did not eat much of the celery served with the pasta dish. He explained the celery is light & crisp, while the crab is all fat with butter. It goes together to make the creation complete.
Ten thousand apologies, your sous chefness.
Wreckfish was served again, this time being cooked rather than the raw belly. Onions are cooked first, then covered in olive oil. Placed ever so gently to the side are pickled tomatoes & confit carrots. Um, confit carrots… which are heirloom carrots, are purple on the outside.
This champion sous chef soon revealed complete carrot enlightenment. He explained that carrots are usually purple. It’s the mutation that turns them orange. This dish is served with lightly sautéed mizuna, which is a slightly bitter Japanese green.
Sassy sorbets aren’t common, making this dessert that much more appealing. The combination in this dessert burst with flavors from bite to bite. Lemon sorbet & toasted coconut with coriander & cocoa meringue arrived on top of caramel. Pastry chef Chris Leung puts coriander & cocoa into the meringue & spreads it thin, causing… dehydration. The dessert has the feel of freeze dried ice cream. HEART.
Great anticipation awaits the opening of Restaurant Connate. Located in Tomball, Randy Rucker is transforming an old slaughterhouse into the site for his latest endeavor. While following his own dreams, Randy Rucker has provided a haven for young talent to find themselves, while mastering their gift of creating.
FIVE: High 5!
FOUR: Please & Thank You
TWO: Double Wow
ONE: Wow + Ouch = Wouch