A GOOD SIGN After preparing for an academic career, Houston native Scott Tycer decided instead to do what he loved: cook. He set his sights on owning his own restaurant by age thirty, a feat he accomplished by thirty and a half. Three years later, Aries is thriving in Houston, and Tycer is garnering acclaim: Food & Wine recently named him one of this year's ten best new American chefs. (David Bull, of Austin's Driskill Grill, was also honored. See Texas Monthly, August 2003 )
What drew you to haute cuisine?
The craftsmanship in it. In literature there are layers and layers of meaning that you pull from the words. It's the same with a dish or a menu. The ingredients and seasonings are like words; they're the building blocks. But you've got to really think about how the dishes relate to each other and the season of the year. That's how you compose your menu.
You once worked with Wolfgang Puck at Spago in Palo Alto, California—what did you learn from him?
That the real cooking is done in the chef's head. I hadn't worked in such a disciplined kitchen before, and in that environment, you can't do things randomly. You have to plan. That's 98 percent of what cooking is about. The appearance of the dish when it goes to the table—the colors and rim garnishing—that's maybe 2 percent.
Why did you name your restaurant Aries?
My wife, Annika, and I had a list of about three hundred potential names, and every time we'd agree on one, five minutes later we would hate it. But it turns out we are both Aries, and we've always liked those kitschy little horoscope descriptions of what an Aries is—energetic and focused and a little bit stubborn, in the sense of insisting that things be done a certain way. And I think that describes the restaurant perfectly.