Walk past the Palm Springs-inspired landscape and through the doors of Bravery Chef Hall, and a symphony of sound and scent assault the senses. There’s Ben McPherson, behind the glass of BOH Pizza and Pasta, kneading dough for fresh pasta, traces of flour dotting the counters, accompanied by the metallic swish of pizza pans sliding in and out of the oven. In the back, Jess DeSham Timmons and Felix Florez at Cherry Block Butchers greet diners to the thunk and clang of their custom, hand-made smoker that cooks their daily meat selections. Further back, the sizzle of an egg hitting the griddle and the outsize voice of Richard Knight is the landmark for Atlas Diner. Through the back door is a tranquil garden, beckoning despite Houston’s end-of-summer heat and where the whoosh of steam from a cappuccino maker is the soundtrack for another Downtown morning.
Bravery Chef Hall has firmly anchored itself on a corner in the historic Market Square neighborhood, and the newcomer is set to change the Houston food scene. It pulls the chef-driven restaurant philosophy that’s been the heart of Houston dining for a decade into the fast-casual setting of a food hall. Each of the seven restaurants is headed by a chef who, along with his or her team, both cooks and serves food to diners. It’s like an ongoing show kitchen for those who sit at the counters, where they watch their food being created and chat with the chefs about the individual dishes. The only way the place could be more immersive is if diners jumped in front of the stoves and grills and woks for a little DIY dinner. And for those who want to grab and go, Bravery is set up to allow diners to take gourmet selections and continue on their way or eat in the common areas.
Reflecting Houston’s own diversity, the restaurants in Bravery span global cuisine. From Italian to Vietnamese to Japanese to an American diner laced with some British influences – not to mention a full bar and wine bar with selections from around the world – the hall is a United Nations of flavor.
“We consider ourselves a chef incubator,” says Shepard Ross, a partner in the venture, along with Ahn Mai and Lian Nguyen.
The chefs who’ve set up shop in Bravery each own some stake in their restaurants, and the team behind the hall serves as a financial partner. None of the concepts are necessarily there for forever; the idea, Ross stresses, is that they’ll one day move on and open their own brick-and-mortar spots. Some already have and are in the hall because the concept sounded like great fun. At the end of their three-year leases, each chef can opt to stick around or “fly the nest,” as Ross puts it.
For those who’ve not headed their own concepts, Bravery Chef Hall gives them structure and mentoring on how to operate a restaurant business. All of the chefs have worked in restaurants around the city and the country, but they might not have waded into the world of ordering supplies, dealing with infrastructure or the other million tiny details of running a business. The backbone of Bravery handles those day-to-day issues, while working with the chefs to help them understand the full scope of running a restaurant.
By having the chefs serve their food directly to customers, they gain an appreciation for what’s usually a front-of-house job. It also means they make more money – any tips they receive are theirs. In a traditional restaurant setting, servers are often paid one hourly rate, relying on tips to make up the rest, while kitchen staff are paid another, without access to tips.
“When we dreamed up this concept, we felt this could be the evolution of the food hall,” says Mai. “But we were also looking at the idea of how to tackle the issue of fairer wages for those who work the front of house versus the back of house.”
While that wage structure is an integral part of Bravery, the focus is definitely on the food and those who create it. From midday to evening – and beyond, in some cases – the energy and excitement of Bravery’s cuisine makes this a must-visit for Downtown dwellers and visitors.
With its prime spot on the ground floor of Aris Market Square, the hall has the potential to be the regular dining destination for those living in the luxury high-rise. No matter where the diners come to Bravery from, however, every visit should prove different, given the selections of cuisine and specials offered by all of the chefs.
From day to night, from global cuisine to American comfort food, from coffee to cocktails, Bravery Chef Hall has it all.
Gaggenau appliances are more than just ovens and cooktops and coffee machines. They’re part of a 300-year-old legacy of craftsmanship that began with a smelting plant on the edge of Germany’s Black Forest in 1683. Today, the appliances are known as much for their high-end performance as their artistry. They’re found in some of the world’s most luxurious residences, including Houston’s own Giorgetti, the high-rise condo complex on Allen Parkway.
There’s also a Gaggenau test kitchen in Bravery Chef Hall. That’s a big deal because it means that Houston, already a top destination for culinary talent, has one more thing to recommend it. And, with Bravery’s Downtown location, it means more chefs will not only bring their talents to the city core, but see for themselves what Houstonians already know: Downtown is where the action is.
“Any chef can come in and be trained on the equipment,” says Bravery Chef Hall partner Shepard Ross. “And we can train our chefs to be certified Gaggenau users.”
Once the training is complete, any chef with a certificate can work in the kitchen, doing pop-ups or cooking classes for a small group of diners. The Gaggenau counter in the hall seats 12, meaning any event held in the space will be an intimate affair.
The custom-designed space should prove a magnet for chefs from around the country to show off their skills. Bravery’s website will list details about classes and appearances, allowing guests to register for the special events.
It’s one more element that makes Bravery unique among food halls.