Oui Chef… Richard Knight


CHEF RICHARD KNIGHT
EXECUTIVE CHEF | HUNKY DORY


Richard Knight is, without a doubt, one of the most genuine, charming and witty people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. He’s also one of our chefs for our upcoming Salty Supper Nº2 this Sunday supporting us as we raise awareness and encourage holistic conservation for the Gulf Coast via our non-profit, the Southern Salt Foundation.

Fun fact, when I first met Bryan, Richard was someone he spoke of often but I didn’t get to really meet him until our wedding day. That said, I had already heard of Richard Knight’s legacy long before I met Bryan.

By the way, I’ve never told either of them that. Fun!

I have a childhood friend who adored Feast, Richard’s critically acclaimed restaurant in Montrose, very close to where I now live actually. She and her husband, were and still are, huge fans of his culinary skills and would rave after every experience at Feast – always leaving me with foodie envy. I, unfortunately, was never able to dine at Feast, but have many times at Hunky Dory and Richard’s creations never disappoint.

My favorite Richard story shows off his quick British wit… though it is a little long for an intro and he doesn’t make his appearance until the end, so hang in there, it’s worth it.

Bryan decided to go on an off-shore trip with friends, including Richard, when I was about eight months pregnant. Which of course made me nervous because I knew when he was 60 miles off shore, his phone would not have service and I couldn’t reach him if I went into labor. But, he promised me he would be back early. Knowing that his fishing trips would be cut back as soon as our baby was born I, reluctantly, stayed back with my two children as they had to leave to spend the weekend with their father.

If you read about the great Rooster debacle, you know we have a chicken coop even though we do live in the heart of Houston, we can still have chickens. It was my wedding present… romantic right? Not at all… buuuuut having fresh eggs was something I always wanted to have. So, Bryan built me a coop and we found three Brahmas in San Leon. When we first started on our road to raising backyard chickens, we thought it was clever to name our girls after famous country singers. So when it was time to name these three birds, clearly the only option was to call them the Dixie Chicks, but we couldn’t really tell them apart yet so they were just collectively “the Dixie Chicks”.

We also have a hunting dog, a pudelpointer, named The Dude. Yes some people, no names necessary, have deemed it necessary to use the “The” in front. The Dude truly enjoys a good hunt. It doesn’t matter the prey, it could be a squirrel he’s been stalking for three hours or a random frog jumping through the grass. However he is now a senior but has always been Bryan’s pride and joy. When he tells stories of Dude’s youth, his eyes still light up as he recants their many hunting adventures.

When the time came for them to leave, just like every other time, we went out the front door and started the dreaded walk down the porch steps to the front gate where their father was waiting. As the three of us walked hand in hand… I, massively pregnant, my babies flanking my sides, stepped off the last step. As I did, I saw something out of the corner of my eye and I looked to my right.

The look of horror on my face led my children and their father, on the other side of our gate, to follow my petrified gaze to see Dude, perfectly still as a statue, in full blown killer mode. Directly in front of him was one of the Dixie Chicks, completely unaware of the danger lurking behind her, had become his is target.

I was frozen.

Finally, I snapped out it. Barefoot and fully in the waddling phase of my pregnancy, I moved forward, resembling what could only be described as a creature part octopus, part Donald duck and part cow and screamed “Nooooo Dude!!! NOOOOOOO!!!!”

This was the wrong thing to do, as it set the attack in motion and instantaneously, Dude lunged forward, teeth bared, at the Dixie Chick. Feathers went flying in a swirling cloud around them and the Dixie Chick screeched as she met her unfortunate  ending.

My children were traumatized and now frozen themselves still standing on the last step. Then the hysterics started. My daughter was wailing and my son sobbed uncontrollably and I screaming and swearing at Dude, who had now shaken the bird, snapping her neck stood proud as a peacock fully expecting me to praise him. When he didn’t get his, “atta boy! Good dog…” he looked at us like we were the crazy ones.

Everything happened so quickly, I couldn’t fathom what this scene looked like to my ex-husband. I looked toward the gate to see if he saw the incident unfold in its entirety praying he had stayed in his car as he did sometimes… and there he stood looking back towards us like he had just witnessed a chaotic and horrific event.

After I collected myself and my children and was able to get them out the gate and to their father who was probably wondering if he should try to gain full custody since I let my children witness one of their pets murder the other. As they drove off to what was a much more normal reality…. I, still living mine, called and texted Bryan.

Like a full blown psycho.

When he was back within cell range, Bryan was greeted by incoherent string of texts about death, chickens, his asshole dog, and how I didn’t know how to get the chicken from said the asshole dog’s clenched jaw. His friends, being the oh-so-funny guys that they are, ribbed him the entire drive back forewarning him of the trouble and terribly angry, pregnant and hormonal wife, that was awaiting his return.

When they pulled up, I met them in the front yard. Still a hot mess, but no longer angry I begged the question, “what the hell is wrong with your asshole dog.”

Bryan, realizing that I wasn’t going to actually kill him in the same manner his dog did my chicken (like his friends teased) glowing like a proud new dad, answered, “he’s a killer… it’s what he does…” as he tried to hide his grin while inching closer to The Dude and his fresh kill… lying limp on the ground, at his chicken murdering, feet.

Then, Bryan made some bad joke about how the dead chicken should now only be referred to as Natalie, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks. The one, that nobody likes.

Just as my blood started to boil, Richard, sensing Bryan’s clear and imminent danger, quickly lightened the mood as he picked up, Natalie and gently placed her into a yeti cooler, saying something about how she would now be dinner. As he closed the lid, he then lamented, with a straight face, of the wonders that are… the circle of life. The best part was that he did so with a slightly posh attitude seasoned with the perfect amount of sarcasm, laced with proper British aire.

Hakuna Matata.

This was only the second time I had met Richard and now, I knew without a doubt, that I liked him. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t eat chicken very often and the only time I’ve tried it and then craved it, was due to one of Richard’s dishes… roasted chicken with pan drippings.

The irony.

With that elaborate, slightly dark and comedic introduction, I now leave you with Chef Richard Knight’s mini Oui Chef session from our trip to Atlanta for the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. You know… WAAAAYYY back in June of last year… Don’t judge.

OUI CHEF Q&A


Jenn: Soooo… Y’all recently opened Hunky Dory and that’s been, what? About a year now right?
No… it’s been about seven months. Feels like a year though…

Jenn: Well, then… how’s it been… how was it opening a restaurant again?
It’s been great. Even the soft openings were easy. Everything kinda flowed and clicked – I couldn’t have asked for a better opening.

That’s great because you never really know with an opening what might or might not happen. Since you had a relatively non stressful opening, what has been the biggest challenge since then?
Going from the world of Feast, where there was only 2 or 3 of us in a kitchen to a line of 6 or 7 and also having an expo, an A.M. crew and a P.M. crew. So yeah, going from a very small kitchen of a max of three cooks on a weekend, to an army has been a difficult challenge to get my head around, especially the way I work. At Feast, we were THE chef… the main and sometimes only, chef.

We were doing everything ourselves. Everything. To actually hand that off to other people and let them do it and also to keeping a bank of recipes cost out recipes and then teaching those recipes and new techniques. When in the old days… you came in, had an idea and off you went and went on the menu. Now there are more obstacles to getting something on the menu, which is cool, it’s the other nuances.

It’s not just about cooking food. It’s the small things that make a difference in a dish being ok… and a dish being great. And to not do it all on my own, that’s a big challenge for me. I like to cook… I love to cook. I probably still do more of it than I should, but I’m a chef. I don’t want to push paper all day.

Jenn: With feast, you had how many seats?
Legally or illegally? (lots of laughing)

No, seriously though we had around 50…

Jenn: Ok, so Hunky Dory has how many?
Around 200.

Jenn: That’s a huge difference, do you prefer one over the other?
Well, they are both very different. I’m blessed and I’m doing what I love. This project and this restaurant, allow me to do what I love to do. The biggest thing is, I don’t get all the stresses of Feast. I’m not the one paying the bills. So, I look at from a very different angle but I do try to watch the bottom line. I try to look at everything as though I was the owner. I’ve been through the mill before. I know what the guys behind Treadsack are probably going through to get to the opening. I know about the financial stresses they might be under. I know the hardships they will likely face to get the fucking restaurants open.

I’ve opened one, but these guys have opened three in a very short amount of time. It’s stressful.

Jenn: What then, do you do, to de-stress?
I love my girl.  <—- who he recently married just last month!!! 
I love the people I work with.
My bosses are like my friends.
It’s a beautiful life.

It’s a lot of hard work and some days it’s crazy. It will always be crazy… It’s the restaurant industry.

It’s a love.

You know… it’s a relationship. You deal with the ups and downs.

Jenn: Best piece of advice you would offer someone?
Don’t go to college for chef school. (more jovial laughter with that awesome British accent)

A lot of kids go to school and they think it’s a glamours chef life, so they take out these ridiculous loans and debt for the next, god knows how many years.

You don’t have to do that.

Go work in a kitchen. Go get experience… I’d rather have that guy, that I don’t know, who has no experience but wants to learn more than the guy who is straight out of grad school. It’s more about an attitude thing. Sometimes, the people who come out of college think they are going to walk into a sous chef job and that they’re going to be set and never clean a table in their life.

It’s not like that.

It’s not like that at all, mate.

You’re going to be working for minimum wage, for many, many, years and as a sous chef you will probably work for bare minimum. So, you have to love it. You have to be passionate about it.

So yeah, find something you are passionate about.

Of course, I agree with that last answer. I see our friends, ourselves and the industry as a whole and I witness the bad mixed with the good. The extreme highs immediately buried by the extreme lows. It’s definitely not something for the weak, nor the faint of heart. Shoot, even our support staff, i.e. the person that I refer to as my “right hand” who was hired to help with our babies when we couldn’t be there and to help manage our crazy and chaotic house,  feels the stressors that we endure daily.

At the end of the day, you have to really love it, or this industry will swallow you whole and spit out a bitter, sad and angry, shell of the person you once were. Which… leads me to this, my next project. I will be working with and documenting an exemplary chef poised to take on the world as he opens his first restaurant. Recording the ups and the downs as they now navigate as a restaurateur during their first year also considering the desire to be innovative while wearing 10 different hats.

Stay tuned to find out who…

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