Not long ago, I spoke with Houston chef David Guerrero shortly before Samba Grille – where Guerrero worked as head chef – unexpectedly closed. When I reached out to Guerrero after Samba Grille's closing, the chef assured me that he had no intentions of hanging up his apron anytime soon. And the chef stayed true to his word; just days later, Guerrero announced his intentions to open two new Houston restaurants in the coming months.
Alma, which opened a few weeks ago, is a Peruvian restaurant that draws upon global culinary influences from places like China, Africa, Italy, Japan, and Spain. Guerrero invited me in for a tasting, and I have to say that the menu of ceviches, wok dishes, beef hearts (my favorite), and numerous other Peruvian staples is something to behold.
Guerrero's second restaurant, EVO (short for revolution), will feature Latin American cuisine in four, six, and nine-course tasting menus when it opens in the Montrose area. According to the restaurant's press release, EVO's "tasting menus will be built around concepts of feeling and emotion as inspiration and be accompanied by changing sensory clues, ranging from audio and visual elements, that aim to reinforce the intended mood. Each tasting menu will have its own theme rich in history that will tell a story inspired by the staff’s own lives."
Guerrero talked with TEXAS MONTHLY about his two new restaurants, culinary inspirations, and the growth of Latin cuisine in Houston.
What made you decide to move forward with two restaurants?
It was an unexpected opportunity, and it seemed like a great challenge. I was at the point in my life of either sinking or swimming. I will never sink. The kitchen was calling my name. I couldn't even go sit in a restaurant and enjoy my food without being envious of the rattling of the pans or the chatter of the diners.
Tell me a bit about Alma and EVO individually. What are their styles?
Alma's focus is Peruvian cuisine, and the atmosphere is very casual, but we aren't sacrificing the quality and beauty of the food. EVO is an upscale restaurant that consists of tasting menus. The cuisine will have a mix of twenty-two Latin countries, including Spain and Portugal. Every two weeks, the menus will rotate and tell a new story. Along with the change in cuisine, the music and drink menus will change as well. Each menu is tailored to tell a story about a past experience, whether it be loss of loved ones, family and friends, pain and suffering, childhood memories, or a past love.
I always like to talk about the name of a restaurant. Tell me the meaning behind the two names and why you chose them for each of your restaurants.
Alma means soul in Spanish. The soul is the structure of the body, and I think that name is very fitting for me – being that it is my first restaurant. I am putting my entire soul into this place. EVO is short for evolution. I want the dining experience to embrace the emotions and beauty of Latin culinary arts, giving guests the opportunity to understand me while at the same time creating a memorable experience.
What are some of the inspirations behind each of your new restaurants?
I was inspired in a dream one night while I was sleeping. This coupled with the fact that that I was awesomely inspired by a particular young lady that crashed into my life, helping open my heart and my eyes – thus making me a better person. That relationship was very eye-opening and directly impacted the direction in which I wanted to channel my creative energy.
Are there any menu items you think will find a strong following with diners?
I think the diners will love the ceviches. Not only do we use the freshest ingredients, but they are also perfect for hot Houston days. A proven hit at Alma is our wok and rice selections. The most popular is the tallarin verde, a special blend of Italian and Cantonese cuisine made with stir-fry noodles, beef heart, green peas, red bell pepper, Peruvian pesto, peanuts, fried potatoes, and queso fresco.
How have you seen the Houston culinary scene evolve through the years?
In Houston, we're honored to have some many amazing, well-recognized chefs. Houston is a culinary destination. You can get Mexican food, Ethiopian cuisine – you name it, basically. Before Latin cuisine came around, all people were thinking about was Mexican food or Tex-Mex, but now there are so many talented chefs in Houston that like to promote some other types of cuisine like Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Argentinean, and authentic Mexican cuisine. I’m very happy for that because I believe Peruvian cuisine is one of the best in the world. I see a huge future for authentic Latin cuisine in Houston.
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