Susie Jimenez might be famous for having been a contestant on the show Food Network Star, for having hosted TV show Sabores De Family or even for her 12-year-old Aspen-based catering business, but this fall she'll also be known as the owner of Upper Kirby's Trenza. This forthcoming restaurant will combine Latin, Indian and other international influences that should culminate in bold, flavorful, sometimes spicy dishes. Set in the West Ave. complex, Jimenez has her work cut out for her as she competes with neighbor and fellow Indian fusion restaurant Pondicheri. But in this interview with Eater, the Mexican-American chef, TV personality and restaurateur describes fusion dishes that are likely to set her apart.
Eater Houston: Can you tell us why you decided on Houston and this neighborhood in particular?
Susie Jimenez: Well, my business partner [Sonny Sachdeva] has been living in Houston for 18 to 20 years and has invited me out to Houston a lot, and I fell in love with the city. I think that people just open their arms to the cuisine I'm bringing. I want to put an elegant touch on Latin food. People describe it as homey, but I want to add an elegant, clean touch to rustic and whole-bodied food.
EH: I read that you chose the name Trenza because it means braid, representing the Latin, Indian and international influences in your food.
SJ: Yes. It's a Latin fusion with a touch of Indian flair.
EH: How did you choose the Indian influence for your fusion concept?
SJ: There are a lot of similarities [in the cuisines]. My business partner is Indian, and I like how their curry is my mole, their naan is my flour tortilla, their samosas are my empanadas. It's also very similar in the techniques and the spices that we use. I made him the sopes with lamb vindaloo and the fennel slaw, and he just loved it. A lot of my clients loved the combinations I put together.
EH: How did you choose your partner for this project?
SJ: My business partner was one of my clients?and the [television] shows I did give you fame but not all the money in the world, so he offered the opportunity to be my investor. I catered for him and taught him and his wife how to cook, and he's now my business partner. So we kind of chose each other. It's been a treat to have someone I care about and who cares about my cuisine come together.
EH: So this is the first restaurant you open, what's been the most surprising hurdle in the process so far?
SJ: Construction and everything really. The construction, and also that I decided to be my own interior designer. I really just wanted to cook, but now I'm in every aspect of this restaurant, but it's not a bad thing. I'm learning a lot, but it's also very stressful.
EH: What are some of the menu highlights and and what's your favorite dish?
SJ: The lamb vindaloo sopes, sizzling shrimp [carpaccio-like, with hot lemon saffron oil and served with crostini], the signature dish is ceviche with jalapeño mousse. I've sampled every single thing, and the shrimp dumplings are my favorite. They have soy, lime, cilantro, garlic, shallots and curry.
EH: Are you going to be cooking these dishes just in the initial weeks or throughout the time you're open?
SJ: Yes. It's an open kitchen and [I'll be] the executive chef behind the line, I'll be there. But I like talking to people. I have a great manager who will handle the front of the house. Sometimes I'll be behind the line with my cooks, and other times I'll put on a hot little [dress] and talk with people. It won't just be for cocktails and wine and food but, it'll also have a great atmosphere.
EH: Is it going to be primarily tapas-centric?
SJ: No, but there will be no entrees, it's all small plates. Whether the guests want to share or not, it's up to them. It'll be good for after work or for you and your girlfriends to have an appetizer before going dancing without feeling stuffed.
EH: Who's running the beverage program and what cocktails can we expect?
SJ: Ricardo Guzman [formerly of] Prohibition. We're still working on them, but we have a twist on the traditional ones. The old fashioned is now the Epoca. We'll [also] have great, inventive non-alcoholic drinks that you can have with or without alcohol for those designated drivers and non-drinkers that always have to order the boring stuff.
EH: Is there anything else you want to mention?
SJ: I think for the most part, I'm just excited to come to Houston and share a great food experience, break the rules and make people feel intrigued. We're hoping everyone will have a really good time with it.
Susie in front of Trenza [Photo Credit/Facebook]