Meet Josh Mouzakes, New Executive Chef at the JW Marriott Houston Downtown
Greg Morago | Houston Chronicle | October 10, 2018 3:44pm
Oct. 09--Chef Josh Mouzakes said he's long had a fascination for old inns. Early in his career he cooked at Mirabelle Restaurant at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook, NY; at the Lord Jeffry Inn in Amherst, Mass.; and at the Eastover Estate in Lenox, Mass.
Those experiences led him to grander inns: The mega MGM Grand in Las Vegas where he worked under the exacting standards of superchef Joel Robuchon. That was followed by a five-year stint at the grand dame inn, the historic Hotel del Coronado in San Diego where he served as chef de cuisine for fine dining.
And now he's installed at yet another inn -- the posh JW Marriott Houston Downtown. As the hotel's new executive chef, Mouzakes said it was the elegant pile's bones that spoke to him when he visited for his interview. The JW Marriott's architecture (the hotel was the former Samuel F. Carter Building, called the city's first skyscraper) impressed: "The hotel is multi-faceted," he said. "There's so much going on."
And he found the kitchen staff an eager and dedicated group. "I remember their eyes. They were all so smart," he said. "There was a great intelligence."
Today he's leading that team, applying his own know-how to what he calls the hotel's already accomplished culinary stamp. With his first top-to-bottom re-write of the dinner menu, Mouzakes is creating a new chapter in the young life of the JW Marriott, which opened in 2014. He's doing it with a menu full of both razzle dazzle and breathtaking subtleties. It's clear that Main Kitchen is moving in yet another sophisticated new direction.
One of his starters might say much about Mouzakes' desire to wow. His Pearl Oysters are simple but extravagant: freshly shucked oysters dabbed with passion fruit curry and set under a dome that breathes dry ice smoke when presented at the table. Asian flavors show up in the roasted cauliflower bisque perfumed and colored with turmeric; mussels wade in Thai coconut broth with lemongrass and basil. And local flavors make themselves known too: Texas honey ricotta making nice with poached pear and coriander hazelnuts in the butter lettuce salad; Texas wildflower honey whipped into the butter served with cornbread; and satsuma oranges garnishing the ahi tuna sashimi studded with serrano peppers and local watermelon radish.
Several entrees will appease meat-loving Texans: bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin (which Mouzakes calls his nod to barbecue) is glazed with a bourbon plum sauce and served with anise-roasted carrots; rosemary-flavored ribeye served with oyster mushrooms and potato mille-feuille; 48-hour roasted veal breast with potatoes, broccolini and caramelized garlic puree; and roasted duck breast with smoked potato puree, poblano pepper and grilled corn succotash and espelette pepper-dusted popcorn. There's also day boat scallops with honey-poached sweet potatoes and swiss chard; roasted salmon with baby beets and parsley potato puree; and goat cheese agnolotti with heirloom cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cranberry puree.
Mouzakes replaces Jelle Vandenbroucke who was appointed executive chef in January 2016 after the restaurant's first executive chef, Erin Smith, resigned. So what has become of Vandenbroucke? He's now the hotel's general manager.
Mouzakes admits he's come a long way from his first job, washing dishes in a Long Island, NY, eatery where his school bus dropped him off after he was finished with classes. But within six months he was cooking, and by 18 he began his career at The French Laundry, the fabled farmhouse restaurant led by Thomas Keller in Yountville, Calif.
Today, the 34-year-old chef's standards are seen through an eye that recognizes the artistic and luxurious standards of a new realm of hospitality. He said his goal at his new post isn't just to create beautiful food. "My main goal is to elevate the entire operation," he said. "I don't want to be a one-dimensional chef."
He also, when he has time, intends to get to know the Houston dining scene better. "It's going to take forever to get through my list of places I want to eat."
Already, though, his attitude fits right into this can-do city: "If you work hard enough, you can be the best."
Main Kitchen, JW Marriott Houston Downtown, 806 Main, 713-360-3700; jwmarriotthotelhouston.com
Greg Morago writes about food for the Houston Chronicle. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Send him news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear him on our BBQ State of Mind podcast to learn about Houston and Texas barbecue culture.