Robert Del Grande, Cafe Annie, Houston.

In the past few years I have tried to simplify what we do and not trump it up too much. I’ve never strained the sauces—I leave bits of chile in there to give a more rustic look.

Food seems magical to me. The idea that you can take flour, eggs, milk, and baking powder and turn them into pancakes, or that you can cook a raw chicken over charcoal and it tastes incredible, is almost mystical.

I was born in San Francisco, and our whole family was focused on food. My mother was a good cook, and I learned to be one too. I knew the basic techniques and I had studied those French guys, but I never thought of it as a career. I got a doctorate in biochemistry at the University of California at Riverside, and I was taking a breather in 1981 when I decided to come to Texas. My girlfriend, Mimi, had moved to Houston, and I followed her. Her sister and brother-in-law owned Cafe Annie, so I started working there for fun and to make a little money.

I thought I might land a post-doc position somewhere, and I was still in that driven, overachieving, maniac graduate-student mode. I would go read up on something and come back to Cafe Annie and say, “Why don’t we do this? Let’s learn that.” After

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