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Erin Smith named as executive chef of Houston?s new JW Marriott

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January 17, 2014

Erin Smith named as executive chef of Houston?s new JW Marriott

Erin Smith, the former culinary director for the?Clumsy Butcher?restaurant group, has been hired as the new executive chef for the JW Marriott Houston Downtown Hotel, set to open this summer.

Smith, a Houston native and graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, will be in charge of all of the hotel?s culinary operations including the new 120-seat restaurant called Main Kitchen that will be located in the hotel at the corner of Main and Rusk. The 328-room hotel at 806 Main, in the former Samuel F. Carter Building, is an $80.8 million project being developed by?Pearl Hospitality. It is the Fort Worth company?s first Houston project.

Germain Gallardo, managing director of Pearl Hospitality, said the company spent several months in a national search for the position. ?The first idea was to get the best chef possible,? he said. ?Absolutely, we were praying to find someone locally, and our prayers were answered. We?re thrilled about that.?

The 30-year-old Smith, who local foodies will know from her two-year stint at?Plonk! Beer & Wine Bistro, said she?s excited about the new project. ?This project is so perfect for what I?m looking for. It?s exactly what I wanted to be doing.?

Before she took the job with JW Marriott, Smith spent nine months as culinary director for Clumsy Butcher restaurant group which oversees operations including?Anvil Bar & Refuge,?Underbelly,?The Hay Merchant, Julep,?Blacksmith,?The Pastry War, and?OKRA Charity Saloon. She worked as an independent consultant for Blacksmith after leaving Plonk! Before moving to Houston, Smith worked at Thomas Keller?s Per Se in New York, and Italian Wine Merchants and Babbo, both also in New York.

Gallardo said he wants the hotel?s restaurant to cater not just to hotel guests but to the community and neighborhood. He said that Smith impressed investors because she ?doesn?t complicate food? with things like touches of molecular gastronomy.

?For our restaurant we wanted recognizable food that tastes amazing,? he said. ?Erin brings that to the table. A lot of soul and a lot of cooking style goes into her food.?

Smith said she enjoyed her work with the Clumsy Butcher group. ?It?s always hard to leave something you enjoy and people you enjoy,? she said. ?I still have great relationships with all the people I knew over there. I definitely will miss it.?

But the post at the JW Marriott is something she couldn?t pass up. ?I really enjoyed the people I was meeting with. I also enjoyed the magnitude of the project. It?s going to be really exciting and really big,? she said. ?I?m excited about it. Nervous, but excited. It?s a great opportunity to work with a great company.?

She said she?s also looking forward to putting her own stamp on Main Kitchen?s menus. While she said it?s too early to detail specific menu items (Gallardo said the menu will emphasize local and seasonal ingredients), Smith said her food will reflect her culinary experiences. ?There will be a big imprint of who I am as a chef,? she said. ?You?ll be able to see that.?

When asked to describe the style of food she?ll be creating at JW Marriott, Smith answered simply: ?My only rule when it comes to food and menus is that it really needs to be good,? she said. ?Great food that people will feel comfortable eating and enjoy themselves.?

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