Dynamic restaurant duo reveal plans for new Thai tapas restaurant in Kemah
In the world of Houston restaurants, collaborative dinners have become a way for chefs to express their admiration for the work of others and entice diners to spend a little more than usual for a unique meal. Whether it’s Leonard Botello IV, owner of the pitmaster of Truth Barbecue, serving a smoked prime rib at Bludorn or Austin Simmons inviting BCN’s Luis Roger to Tris in The Woodlands, a collaboration is sure to fill a dining room.
Eculent chef-owner David Skinner and From the street to the kitchen chef-owner Benchawan Painter (known to friends and fans as Chef G) has something a little more permanent in mind. Instead of a one-night collaboration dinner, they’re opening a collaboration restaurant they call The Reserve at Eculent.
Scheduled to open in December in another part of the same Kemah property that Eculent occupies, The Preserve will be a tapas-style concept that blends Painter‘s Thai cuisine with Skinner’s dishes, some of which will be inspired by Choctaw heritage. of his great-grandmother. As the name suggests, many dishes will use preservation techniques that both chefs use, such as fermentation and dry aging. Some Thai dishes use chili peppers and other ingredients native to America, which will allow chefs to explore the intersection between Thai and Native American cuisine.
“It will basically be a Thai tapas restaurant,” Skinner told CultureMap. “It will be small bites, but all really unique and curated with an experience. It will be a combination of G’s stuff and mine, but with an interesting twist. And crazy drinks, out of this world, because it has to go with it.
Painter and her husband Graham opened Street to Kitchen in the summer of 2020 in a small space that shares a property with a gas station and amenities. Despite the unlikely location, she has earned accolades for her self-proclaimed “unabashedly Thai” cuisine, including winning both Restaurant of the Year and Rising Star Chef of the Year at the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
Eculent has won similar praise. Known for serving up to 30 dishes over a three-hour tasting, Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema ranked the restaurant on par with Michelin-starred establishments such as Alinea and Chicago’s Minibar in Washington, D.C.
The chefs met at the Truffle Masters event in 2020; from there, the duo developed a professional friendship based on mutual admiration. Painter has celebrated his past two birthdays with meals at Eculent, and Skinner can often be found dining at Street to Kitchen.
“I love the techniques he uses. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s amazing,” Chef Painter says of Skinner. “I feel like he’s so nice. I’m still young and I can learn a lot from him about food and techniques. I feel really comfortable when I’m here [at Eculent].”
While Street to Kitchen is doing well – it recently suspended lunch service and started offering wine and beer to go with its cooking – the couple have begun to consider opening a second concept. Working with Skinner allows them to grow without assuming all the risk themselves.
“We don’t want to lose Street to Kitchen. We don’t want to jump too far too fast,” says Graham Painter.
“It’s starting to go well. There are things we can do better, business-wise, but if it can be more self-sufficient, it frees her up to team up with Chef David and start a new adventure.
Skinner says he gets requests every week from customers who want him to open somewhere a bit closer to downtown Houston, but he likes where it is. He had developed the space that will be The Preserve for another project, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to collaborate with Painter.
“I thought it would make things a lot more fun,” Skinner says. “You can tell we love each other. If you don’t have a good partnership, it doesn’t end well.