The craftsman behind the new MFAH café, plus fine dining in Montrose

In this week’s episode of “What’s Eric Eating”, chef Jonathan Benno joined Eric Sandler, Editor-in-Chief of CultureMap, to discuss Cafe Leonelli, the casual Italian restaurant that just opened in the Museum of Fine Arts, in Houston’s Kinder building. The conversation begins with Benno retracing the arc of his career, which includes his six-year work as a chef at Per Se, Chef Thomas Keller’s famous three-star Michelin restaurant in New York City.

Café Leonelli is a decidedly relaxed affair. It serves focaccia, pastries, and Italian-American staples like meatballs and chicken cacciatore along a cafeteria-style serving line. Sandler asks the chef to explain how his dining experience shapes food into a relaxed concept.

“There were a number of things that really stood out to me when I started French Laundry 25 years ago. And those principles are still with me today, says Benno. It’s cleanliness, organization, discipline, a sense of urgency. We do focaccia and meatballs here, but we’re trying to impress those fundamentals on a young team here. Commitment to quality ingredients. . . Working with local suppliers, trying to source ingredients locally, I think that’s really important. “

The conversation touches on a number of other topics, including what diners can expect from Café Leonelli; a brief mention of Le Jardinier, a gourmet vegetable restaurant by chef Alain Verzeroli which will also open at the Museum; and the welcome Chef Benno received from his colleagues in the Houston restaurant industry. Sandler also quizzes the chef about the possibility of other concepts in Houston and where he ate in town.

Ahead of the interview, Sandler and co-host Mary Clarkson discuss the news of the week. Their subjects include Tres Amigos Cafe y Cantina replacing Shepherd Park Draft House; Underground Hall Owner Daut Elshani Partners with Chef Geoff Hundt to Open New Restaurant in Garden Oaks; and chef Ben McPherson is developing BOH Slice, a quick and casual pizza concept based on his stand at Bravery Chef Hall.

In the restaurant of the week segment, Sandler and Clarkson delve into a recent meal they shared in March, the gourmet restaurant with tasting menu run by Chef Felipe Riccio and Master Sommelier June Rodil, partners of Goodnight Hospitality. The restaurant is pricey – a nine-course dinner for two with food and wine pairing costs around $ 700 after tax and tip – but the duo rave about the creativity of the menu and the quality of service they experienced.

“I admit it’s beyond the means for a lot of people,” says Sandler, “but just like I’m never going to pay the money to go to a Rockets game or for the best theater tickets, folks. who can afford and appreciate this style of dining – there is no such thing in Houston right now. “

Subscribe to “What’s Eric Eating” on Apple podcasts, Google Play or Spotify. Listen Saturday at 1 p.m. on ESPN 97.5.

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