Brennan’s of Houston Chef Departs; One Fifth Chef is Moving Up
After only nine months, Brennan’s of Houston executive chef Joey Chavez, who replaced Joe Cervantez (now at Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House in San Leon), is moving on. In a public Facebook post, Chavez says that he’s taking a less-stressful and time-consuming role as a private chef, which will enable him to spend more time with his wife and children. “With everything that has gone on this past year, it has opened my eyes to what’s really important to me. It’s not working 80 plus hours a week or trying to be the one that out works everyone. It’s making sure I see my kids before school, go to their events, tuck them in at night, and just be present,” he wrote. His replacement is a well-known name from a restaurant owned by Chris Shepherd, a Brennan’s of Houston alum: Matt Staph of One Fifth.
For Staph, taking the executive chef role at Brennan’s of Houston is an upward move. He was part of One Fifth’s opening crew in 2016 and was promoted to the chef de cuisine position in his second year. The job change is good timing, as One Fifth is nearly done with its “five restaurants in five years” concept and set to close later in 2021. “As that restaurant comes to a close, it’s our great fortune to have been introduced to [Staph] through Chris Shepherd,” said Brennan’s of Houston owner Alex Brennan-Martin. “During our visit, I felt as if I was looking back in time in Brennan’s of Houston history when Chris was an up-and-comer, and we look forward to an exciting future with Matt. It doesn’t get any better.”
Shepherd isn’t the only well-known chef for whom Staph has worked. Early in his career, he worked for John Tesar at The Commissary in Dallas and waited tables at Graham Dodds’ Central 214. It was there that he asked for a kitchen job, and Staph continued working for Dodds in that capacity for five years.
The experience Staph has accrued in working with whole animals, crafting charcuterie, using local produce and minimizing waste very much mirrors current practices and philosophy at Brennan’s of Houston. Back when Shepherd was co-sous chef there along with his friend Randy Evans (who’d later be promoted to executive chef, while Shepherd would expand his knowledge by hitting the dining room floor as sommelier), they’d hit the road in search of local produce farms. “There was a girl who worked at Brennan’s and lived in Alvin. She told us about Froberg’s Farms. On our day off, we checked it out and started buying from them. They introduced us to a honey producer, and then we meet another guy, and another guy. We drive the other directions and go East, North and West, trying to find farmers,” said Evans in a 2014 Houston Press interview.
“We’ve done some really amazing things at One Fifth and now it’s my time, in a way, to follow Chris’ lead at Brennan’s and make it better than it’s ever been. I tell Chris every day, ‘I’m going to be better than you, just wait.’ He loves that,” said Staph via press release. As he settles into his new executive chef role, like many of his predecessors, he’ll have sous chef Jose Arevalo’s decades of experience as a resource.
As for One Fifth: it will be in familiar hands as it concludes its five-year run. Nick Fine was the opening chef de cuisine at One Fifth before Staph moved into the role. Since then, Fine has been helping Shepherd with menu development and execution at all of the Underbelly Hospitality restaurants. While he’s waiting for his next executive chef gig at Wild Oats, opening later this year at The Houston Farmers Market, Fine will return to his old job at One Fifth.
Now that diners are venturing out again as the pandemic fades, Staph is raring to go. “We’ve gone through some insane times in the past year, and now it’s like we’re on the cusp of normalcy and Saturday nights feel like Saturday nights again. I’m ready to blow it up and make that place shine brighter than it ever has. That’s my goal.”
Brennan’s of Houston’s current hours, which are still slightly abbreviated, are Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. The restaurant is temporarily closed on Mondays.
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.