After 42 Years, a James Beard Award-Winning Houston Chef Gets Some R&R
The year was 1992, and a Houston chef dubbed the “Father of Southwestern Cuisine” was honored with the James Beard: Best Chef Southwest award for his innovations. That chef was Robert Del Grande of Cafe Annie, and he’d be the last Houston chef to win that award until chef Chris Shepherd broke the losing streak in 2014. After a 42-year career, he’s finally stepping back to enjoy the finer things in life — namely, his family and new grandson.
In 2019, Del Grande entered into a partnership with ubiquitous Houston restaurateur Benjamin Berg of Berg Hospitality Group, which resulted in rebranding the newer iteration of Café Annie (formerly RDG + Bar Annie) into The Annie Café & Bar. Later, Turner’s, a more exclusive fine-dining venue, would take up residence in the secluded first floor of The Annie. With his new life priorities, Del Grande’s new title is Chef Emeritus, rather than executive chef.
“I have really enjoyed working with the Berg Hospitality Group team to combine our strengths and create two concepts with which I am proud to end my career,” said Del Grande via a press release. “It’s been a wild ride since I arrived in Houston in 1981 chasing after my now wife, Mimi. I am so thankful for everyone I met along the way and to those who supported me throughout our various ventures. At 67 years old, I am excited for this next chapter of my life and to spend more time with my family, especially now that I am a grandfather. While I am taking a step down from my day-to-day operations, I will still be around in my new role and continue to mentor my staff and ensure the success of The Annie Café & Bar and Turner’s.”
Other honors bestowed on Del Grande over his career include the Food Arts “Silver Spoon Award,” My Table magazine’s “Chef of the Year” Houston Culinary Award, Food & Wine’s “Honor Roll of American Chefs” and the “Distinguished Alumni Award” from University of California at Riverside. (Del Grande was originally from California before making Houston his home.) Most recently, Del Grande appeared on Top Chef: Houston as a guest judge after The Annie was the first competition dinner venue. He was joined by the hosts and other top chefs from around the city.
Discussions are underway with Del Grande’s yet-to-be-named successor, and Jose Valencia is continuing on as chef de cuisine.
“It has truly been an honor to work with Robert Del Grande over the past three years. He is one of the most knowledgeable chefs I know, and I have learned more from him in the past three years than I could have ever imagined,” said Berg. “I will always consider him a friend and mentor, and we are grateful that he will still serve as Chef Emeritus and continue to be a sounding board for new menus, off-site events and more.”
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.
Wishing you all the best, Robert. Thanks for the memories.