An up-and-coming chef with an extensive resume at some of Houston’s most popular kitchens has returned to the Bayou City, with plans to revamp the menu at EaDo restaurant Indianola.
Martha Wilcox, who most recently worked at celebrated Seattle Italian restaurant Cafe Juanita, has been named chef de cuisine at Indianola, where she will work with executive chef Paul Lewis and culinary director Vincent Huynh. Wilcox has previously worked at some of Houston’s most outstanding restaurants, including Cafe Annie, Pass and Provisions, Pax Americana, and Indianola’s sibling restaurant Revival Market. A Texas native, Wilcox’s focus in the kitchen is on modern Southern and Texas cuisine.
“I’ve always identified as a Houstonian,” Wilcox tells Eater, in explaining why she decided to return to Agricole Hospitality, the restaurant group behind Indianola, Revival Market, and other restaurants including Coltivare and Eight Row Flint. “I love the food scene in Houston.” The move will also allow her to be closer to family.
Wilcox was born in San Antonio and spent much of her childhood in Beaumont, where she developed a passion for cooking thanks to church potlucks and family gatherings. “Food has always been a focal point,” she says. “I have lots of memories of cooking — like we always made pizza from scratch.”
Still, Wilcox saw food as hobby, until she approached high school graduation, and people began to ask her what she wanted to do professionally. Her mother suggested she try to open her own restaurant since she loved to cook so much.
“That’s what I was always thinking about,” she says, “But it never occurred to me that it could be a career.”
After studying culinary management at the Art Institute of Houston, Wilcox landed her first job at cafe Annie in 2011, as a line cook. From there, she moved on to some of Houston's most acclaimed restaurants, and then, four years ago, moved to Seattle to work at Cafe Juanita.
Though she says the environment there was tough — fast-paced and demanding — she also learned the value of running a close-knit kitchen and using only the highest-quality products.
But she also wasn’t cooking the kind of food she wanted to cook. Wilcox recounts a tasting event she was invited to participate in with a handful of other female chefs, all of whom were providing dishes from their respective restaurants. “I was the only one who was doing my food.”
With her new role at Indianola, Wilcox says she hopes to help define modern Texas cuisine. That’ll start with an eventual revamp of the existing menu. Wilcox plans to feature a blend of traditional and modern dishes, with inspiration from her own childhood food memories, plus other areas, including history, culture, and even visual art (Wilcox’s bio lists visiting Houston’s museums as one of her hobbies outside the kitchen).
Eventually, she hopes to create a heavily rotating menu, while keeping some of the standards that have made Indianola a go-to for modern Southern fare, including the crowd-favored blue corn, satsuma, and poblano cornbread.
“We’ll probably never get rid of the cornbread,” she quips.
Indianola, at 1201 Saint Emmanuel Street, is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.