Robert Del Grande, Houston’s first-ever James Beard Award winner, set to retire

It is the conclusion of an era at The Annie — and in Houston — as trailblazing chef Robert Del Grande measures down from working day-to-day duties at the cafe and into semi-retirement.

Del Grande will stay on team (and on payroll) as Chef Emeritus with Berg Hospitality. Benjamin Berg’s ever-growing Houston restaurant group acquired RDG + Cafe Annie in 2019, building Del Grande a associate, and transformed it into The Annie Cafe & Bar. A year later, just as the pandemic lockdowns strike, they opened the clubby, tremendous-large-conclude Turner’s in a snug space on the ground flooring.

The 67-calendar year-previous Del Grande built his mark — locally and nationally — at what was at first termed Cafe Annie. In excess of the a long time, and through different iterations, the cafe was a staple on the city’s high-quality dining scene at its higher-close spot on Write-up Oak Boulevard, north of the Galleria.

Del Grande was an innovator in what was identified in the 1980s as the New Southwestern Delicacies, which laid the foundations for Houston’s melting-pot culinary lifestyle by introducing regional components and types to superior-stop American dining. It was a radical adjust to experience an enchilada on a fantastic-dining menu back then and Del Grande’s popular environmentally friendly mussel soup, livened with a brisk present-day of cilantro, tasted innovative.

Del Grande acquired that distinct thought from Mexican cooks doing the job on his kitchen area line, he when informed me. It marked a new, more democratic way of thinking about food in the metropolis, and not all people appreciated it. Tony Vallone, the king of wonderful French and Italian eating here for decades, the moment dismissed Del Grande’s menu as “just Mexican food stuff.”

Del Grande’s track record might have assisted him see things in a distinctive way. A biochemist by education, he taught himself to cook dinner when he arrived in Houston in 1981 and commenced functioning at the very little bistro operate by his wife-to-be’s sister and brother-in-regulation, Candice and Lonnie Schiller. Looking through avidly, he grounded himself in typical French approach and became enamored of Nouvelle Cuisine, which was lighter and far more dynamic.

Del Grande’s kitchen area at Cafe Annie grew to become a ought to-quit during its heyday for well known food items writers and cooks coming by means of town. Absolutely everyone from Mimi Sheraton to Jame Villas to Paul Bocuse stopped in. Del Grande earned a James Beard Greatest Chef Southwest Award in 1992 — a feat not repeated until eventually Chris Shepherd received the title in 2014.

Del Grande’s film-star appears to be and his wife Mimi’s effervescence at the front of the household built their restaurant even more of a put to be. Cafe Annie was lengthy a modern society hangout, whilst the restaurant had dropped some of its luster and daring by the time Berg stepped in with his offer you for the costly, two-tale room.

Now, it is on the brink of another big transform. Del Grande hopes to assist in the research for a new executive chef that’s underway. And he aims to fill a mentoring part at the cafe, though receiving to invest much more time with his family and his new grandson. He’ll nevertheless phase in for appearances and distinctive activities.

What ever roles he can take on, Del Grande’s put in Houston’s food historical past remains assured.

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