Restaurant Jezebel has accrued its fair share of media over the years. First came the devastating fire that shuttered the fine dining restaurant in 2010 until its reopening in 2012. Then came the restaurant’s controversial jackets-required dress code that left many casually clad Austinites aghast and appalled.
Nowadays, the restaurant is making national headlines once more with its latest venture: an appearance on Bravo’s new culinary reality show, Best New Restaurant. The Tom Colicchio-hosted special pits restaurants from four food-centric cities (New York City, Los Angeles, Austin and Miami) against each other in a series of culinary challenges until one is named the best new restaurant.
Last week we spoke with C.K. Chin of Swift’s Attic about his restaurant’s appearance on the new Bravo show. This week, we chat with Restaurant Jezebel’s executive chef, Parind Vora, who discusses the resurrection of Jezebel, Austin’s ongoing food craze and the makings of a great restaurant.
You can also catch a preview of Restaurant Jezebel’s appearance on the show via this clip.
CultureMap: Tell me about your reality television experience. What's it like having cameras in your restaurant following you around everywhere you go?
Parind Vora: Before we agreed to [be on the show] we watched the older shows in the United Kingdom that [Bravo's Best New Restaurant] is based on and realized that it wasn't going to be this "gotcha" kinda show. Me and my staff thought the whole experience was very professional and upscale. Nothing petty or anything like that.
CM: For people who aren't familiar with Best New Restaurant, would you give them a brief premise of the show?
PV: It's comparing different restaurants without sole regard to the chefs or cooking [styles]. The cooking is a big part of it obviously, but it's definitely not all of it. [The competition] is about the whole dining experience.
CM: With that said, what do you believe are the makings of a great restaurant?
PV: Attention to detail.
CM: What are those details?
PV: One of the biggest details for us is judging what everyone is here for. For example, if people are here for a business dinner we back off and give them their space. Typically, they don't want to be bothered or chitchat. If they're here for a first date, we try to be around as a crutch so there isn't this long silence. If they're here to celebrate something, we help them in their celebrations. If they're here to talk, we're there to listen. There are guests that come in for dinner who want to know everything about the restaurant; they want to know me and they want to know about our staff. We're always feeling for what people want or don't want when they come into Jezebel.
CM: Tell me about the evolution of Jezebel.
PV: Jezebel has opened three times. The first time was in New Mexico in 2001, and in 2006 we closed and reopened in Austin. The fire in 2010 closed us down until we reopened in our present location in 2012.
CM: How has the restaurant changed in that time period?
PV: In 2001 we had a basic a la carte menu with a few specials. 2006 was still a la carte, but more and more people were requesting special things and substitutions, so we started offering the prix fixe menu. After that, 50 percent of our clients started choosing the prix fixe menu. The year we had the fire we were actually contemplating doing a full prix fixe menu. That's why when we re-opened in 2012 in our space we decided to offer an all prix fixe menu.
CM: A lot of reality shows are focusing on the food scene in Austin right now. What is your insight into what's going on here and what keeps that attention driving forward?
PV: It's two things. It's the positive feedback to an already loved city. Austin has a great reputation worldwide. When I tell people in Europe and in other parts of the world that I'm from Texas they look at me and when I say Austin they smile. That's part of the attraction. The other part is the reality shows that are already paying attention to the city. Some of them are professional and some are gotchas. Like everything else, when something becomes popular they want to tag on to it and attract more viewers.
CM: How did you find out you were being considered for the show?
PV: I got an email from one of the producers saying, "Oh we're doing this show on Bravo. Blah, blah, blah," and I thought, “This is some bullshit." So I called him back and said, "Look, if this is for real and you're not going to sell me anything and I don't have to pay for anything call me back." And that really was the way he called me back.
CM: Are you familiar with any of the other restaurants that are on the show? And if so, were there any you admired?
PV: First of all, I admire anyone that opens a restaurant. We all have good and bad days as restaurant owners, but at least people are trying. A lot of us found out about the competition through intermediaries. Austin is a very small town. As much as we like to say Austin is big, it's actually pretty small. Everybody knows each other. For instance, I've known Zack [Northcutt] from Swift's Attic for a long time. I don't know the Barlata guys or the Porter Ale House guys, but that's the problem with owning a restaurant. You hardly have time to go visit each other's places.
CM: It's funny. I ask chefs all the time, "Where do you go eat when you aren't at your restaurant," and a lot of them say, "That just doesn't exist!"
PV: Honestly, there are a few places in town I go to. If I spend five bucks on something, I want five dollars worth of food. If I spend a hundred dollars on food I want a hundred dollar value. I appreciate everything. Restaurants are a personal preference though. Honestly, I eat at Madras because it's fresh, vegetarian, Indian, and it's lighter.
CM: Without giving away too much, what should viewers expect to see on the show?
PV: One of the big things you'll see is how technically skilled my staff and I are. I'm an older guy. I'll be 47 this year. For [my generation], there was a lot of training. It was 15-18 years of working under somebody else before we called ourselves chefs. I ran kitchens, but I never felt like a chef until I opened my first restaurant when I was 38. All of these experiences and skills will be brought to the table. I'm old school in a sense that I scream at people, but in the end we're as good as the plate to our customers.