A passion for food drives Justin Strang’s freshly made, original recipes philosophy
The former Executive Chef for Houston’s House of Blues and Foundation Room is cooking up a new culinary vision for the Wyndham Houston West Energy Corridor with a fresh philosophy he hopes will change public perception of hotel fare.
Just two months after being hired as the Wyndham’s Executive Chef, hospitality veteran Justin Strang has completely revamped the hotel’s menu with a commitment to creating meals from freshly made original recipes and diverse global gourmet influences.
And he’s setting the bar high.
“We want everybody (in the kitchen) to be a culinarian, not a machine,” says Strang. “It’s a matter of showing our staff they can make anything they want. Showing them we can do something new. We can create great food that looks beautiful. It’s making our kitchen staff enthusiastic about food. That’s what gets me going.
“A lot of things are going into our cooking, with a lot of prep and detail,” he explains. “We’re using all original recipes. Nothing is bought. We make everything fresh each day. Because we can make it better.”
Strang’s eclectic menu for Wyndham’s Park Restaurant & Grille is giving lunch diners new taste experiences every day. There’s Americana Monday, Tuesday’s Tour of Asia, a Wednesday that rotates between Central America cuisine (Cuban, Central Mexican, Puerto Rican) and Gulf Coast seafood specialties ranging from the Florida Panhandle to Texas. Thursday offers a taste of Italy, where recently an artichoke gelato tantalized diners.
On Friday, Strang and his crew loosen their toques a bit to take on a tailgating theme at lunch. They’ve featured two-day chili with slow-roasted meat, jumbo homemade pretzels, sausage rolls “old school Jersey-style,” says Strang, spare ribs slowly smoked until the meat falls off the bone, beer-boiled German bratwurst, baked chicken and, of course, wings.
“Let’s make it fun for diners, like going to a tailgate party; it’s really about having a good time,” explains Strang.
Eclecticism is also now the main ingredient at the hotel’s Ten Bar & Lounge, where each day the menu changes. Bar patrons have been gobbling up dishes like celery salad with house-made blue cheese; white cheddar cheese from Ireland marinated in Guinness; chicken and biscuit sliders with coleslaw and freshly made kettle chips; house-smoked brisket; an open-faced BLT on rye with house-cut slab bacon, marinade and topped with a sunny-side up quail egg; plus, a Louisiana hot crab dip with no less than four cheeses just begging for the hotel’s rustic bread to take a dip. Strang will bend genres with delectable ideas like his Philly cheese steak eggrolls.
If that all seems different than your typical hotel lineup, it’s by design. The Wyndham wants people talking about the hotel’s food in the same way they have applauded its recent multi-million interior redesign.
“With Justin on board, we’re excited to align the quality and creativity of our culinary offerings with our engaging interiors and outlets,” says Chris Miller, general manager, Wyndham Houston West Energy Corridor. “We’re not only eager to ignite an entirely new food and beverage direction, but in the months ahead, also generate destination appeal for Park Restaurant & Grille and Ten Bar and Lounge”
Strang wants the Wyndham to re-emerge as a growing restaurant that can bring in people from off the street. “Because they’ve heard ‘You’ve got to try this menu, it’s really great and it’s not like your typical hotel menu,’” he says.
“Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, anything I can touch base on and generate great dishes that get people talking,” says Strang. “We’re not just sticking to normal Italian dishes. We’re doing some unusual things, like an artichoke gelato.”
Or that red velvet ice cream for Valentines Day.
Strang began his career in one of America’s culinary meccas, Charleston, S.C., mastering both front- and back-of-house abilities with the renowned Homegrown Hospitality Group. He refined his craft at the award-winning TBonz Gill & Grill before earning the executive chef position for two locations of Pearlz Oyster Bar, a local favorite.
But that was just a career appetizer for Strang, who joined the opening team of Central Restaurant and then grabbed second helpings to guide the kitchen as executive chef for The King Street Grill. Moving to Houston in 2009 to be closer to family, Strang steered the cuisine as executive chef for Bistro Catron, Fuel Catering and the Houston House of Blues & Foundation Room – a $12 million food and beverage operation with 65 employees. He also helped open Westin Memorial City, serving as executive sous chef of 024 Grille and executive chef of Banquets.
“I’m very passionate about what I do as far as food goes, it’s part of my life, it’s how I take care of baby and my wife, and I love it,” remarks Strang. “I love making people happy with with it. I work 14 hours in the kitchen, then go home and cook for my wife.
Now through March 31, 2016 you can sample the eclectic lunch menu at Wyndham’s Park Restaurant & Grille and save 25% off with this member deal found here.
The Wyndham Houston West Energy Corridor is located at 14703 Park Row. For information, call 281-558-5580, or visit wyndhamhoustonwest.com.