My friend kept telling me Grant and I should meet. It finally happened in June 2011. My friend called me a few days before and said, hey, let's get together this Sunday, and I'll bring Grant. It's hard to remember the exact details of that first meeting years ago now -- I made Robuchon-inspired eggs en cocotte with mushroom cream but was disappointed because I couldn't find the smoked duck I wanted to use as the bed for the eggs and pissed because I had overcooked the eggs. Then we proceeded to march through bottles of California Pinot Noir and eat until dusk set in, and we wondered where the day had gone. The afternoon was seamless, full of talk about and passion for food and wine. Grant impressed me with his philosophy on food, which was classically driven, thoughtful, and devoid of autocracy that is so common. He spoke about wanting to learn more about wine, which he felt would enhance his ability to craft menus and create new dishes.
That day convinced my wife and I that we couldn't miss out on going to Tony's for even one more week; Grant made the reservation. On Friday night, my wife and I went in for nothing short of the best kid-glove treatment -- and if you've been to Tony's, you know when they lay it on that thick, it's impossible to resist. But I have two indelible memories from that meal. First, it was head-and-shoulders the best I have had in Houston. The command of technique and quality Grant showed made me rethink what the ceiling for the Houston food scene might be. Second, I learned what a kind, humble person Grant was. Before the meal, he came to the table to present an amuse bouche. It was his interpretation of the eggs en cocotte I had made so clumsily that past Sunday. What arrived was monumental: a sous vide egg in truffle cream over duck confit, topped with a mountain foie gras, shaved at the table in sumptuously theatrical fashion. I can close my eyes today and still see and taste it, the greatest dish I've ever eaten in Houston. The richness, undercut just slightly by piquant and pungent notes in the truffle cream. The pillow of foie. This wasn't luxury for the sake of luxury; this combination made sense, but it would have failed were it not for meticulous execution. My wife and I looked at one another and just started giggling. It was stunning:
Before Grant left Tony's, we returned a couple more times. I remained constantly impressed with his adherence to technique, precision, and consistency, something I've found lacking in many kitchens in Houston and too-often ignored by the food scene. Grant was the closest thing to a classical chef we had in the crop of up-and-coming talent here. I firmly believe he was the best chef working in this city, period.
It's numbing to think I'll never share a table with Grant again, but I also won't forget what a privilege it was to share a table with him at all.