For the past few years, chef Philippe Gaston has been on something of a culinary odyssey around Houston. He spent four years with the Azuma group, garnering attention for his time at Kata Robata when he blended French techniques with sushi chef Manabu Horiuchi's Japanese training to make Kata one of the city's best restaurants. From there, he was off to Reef when he worked alongside chef Bryan Caswell on the restaurant's signature seafood dishes. Now, Gaston seems to have found a home with chef Randy Evans at Haven. The restaurant recently revealed that it will introduce a raw bar this fall to feature Gaston's unique mix of skills. Gaston spoke to Eater about the plans for the raw bar and what it means for his role at Haven.
Gaston says that the raw bar concept will not just focus on raw fish preparations, as it did at the recently closed Pesce. If a culture has a raw preparation, Gaston intends to offer a version of it. "We're going to do raw in all its forms," he says. In addition to traditional fish preparations, Gaston will also prepare crudos, ceviches and even sushi. Even beyond seafood, the concept will also embrace tartares, charcuterie and cheeses.
When he prepares traditional raw seafood, Gaston will put his own twist on it. He's not interested in preparing shellfish towers. One idea he and Evans are considering is offering a dish three ways "yesterday, today and tomorrow" where one is traditional, one is modern and one futuristic: that being a dish that incorporates scientific or modern techniques.
In order to create these experiences, the bar at Haven will be transformed. They'll add refrigeration and prep areas similar to what one encounters at a sushi bar. Gaston sees the new space as "an intimate lounge" with "tapas style, relaxed service." Dishes will be served as they're ready instead of in traditional courses. While Gaston will still have his regular duties at Haven during the day, at night he'll be out front at the raw bar. Guests will be able to interact with him as he prepares their food, as they would at a sushi bar.
That doesn't mean that Haven's cocktail program is going away. "We want to have the best [cocktails in Houston]." Gaston says that he's benefitted from his relationships with Haven's bartenders and that "it's always fun to learn new flavor profiles." One benefit of the raw bar will be that "bartenders [are] getting more opportunity to interact with the kitchen and be more creative."
As for what this announcement means for Gaston's future at Haven, he makes it prefectly clear he has no intention of leaving. "I have everything I want from Randy. He's so well rounded and a great teacher." Gaston notes that working at Haven has gotten him to look beyond seafood; before this conversation, he had been butchering veal.
Although the construction won't begin until September, Gaston's excitement about the project is infectious. The bar will open in time for Houston's cooler weather and the beginning of oyster season. "It's gonna be pretty cool. No one's really doing it and I don't see why not." Knowing Houstonians appetite for raw seafood in all its forms, it does sound pretty cool.
· Haven to create its own haven: a restaurant within a restaurant [29-95]
· All Haven Coverage at Eater Houston [-EHOU-]
Philippe Gaston. [Guns and Tacos/Flickr]