Johann Schuster, former head chef and owner of Charivari midtown restaurant, which closed for its Romanian cuisine in 2018 despite some fans, is back. At the time of Charivari’s closure, Schuster was also one of the few chefs advocating concepts such as the in-house whole animal slaughterhouse and reducing food waste by using every part of the animal.
After Charivari closed, Schuster thought his next step would be to open a new restaurant with a smaller and financially more manageable area. These plans failed. “I had the location and everything,” he said. “We started building and then the landlord put us under pressure. At first he said he would give us a year to open. Then he shortened it to eight months. I wasn’t prepared financially to move forward so quickly – and maybe mentally too. I do not know. It’s difficult to say. It was also difficult at the time to find a bank to support them [the restaurant build-out]. I didn’t want to go to investors and the rent would be high. That’s in addition to the overheads and staff. So I just let it go. “
Chefs closing their restaurants may turn to restaurant advice. Instead, Schuster took a break, drove to ridesharing and occasionally took on a catering appearance. “It wasn’t that stressful [as running a restaurant]. I had more time to spend with my family including my teenage daughter. It was good to be at home more. ”The reduced stress was a refreshing change – but he couldn’t stay out of a kitchen permanently, especially after his daughter started college. Schuster needed new outlets to do what he loved most: to make people happy with his food.
While running Charivari, Schuster found a friend in Pablo Valqui. Valqui, the offspring of Peruvian and German parents, was the gourmet buyer in the Spec flagship store across the street. With ingredients from around the world thanks to the stores’ extensive deli and wine sections, it was easy for Valqui to work with Schuster to showcase delicacies. White asparagus dinners, for example, have become annual events.
Like Schuster, Valqui would change jobs and move on to represent Peruvian pisco for a while. Then Valqui went back to his background as a world traveler and started a company called Gourmet tours worldwide. He began organizing food tours and leading groups to restaurants and wineries in Peru, Germany, Mexico and other countries. (He also works closely with Newsom Vineyards in Comfort, Texas.)
Pablo Valqui (fifth from left) from Gourmet Worldwide Tours with a group in Germany. Courtesy photo.
It wasn’t long before Schuster and Valqui got back together, and Valqui began marketing and coordinating pop-up dinners – an outlet for Schuster’s passion for cooking and an opportunity for his old Chariviari fans to relive his cuisine . (The next one takes place in mid-August in Empty glass, a wine bar in Tomball and another planned for Miss Louise, a French cafe on the Main 1725 in downtown Houston. Details on both are yet to be determined, so interested parties should email to request more information and put them on the reservation list.)
This collaboration led to the decision of the two friends that Schuster should help plan the culinary tours for countries in which he had contacts and acquaintances – and should cook at least one dinner on the tour himself. Unfortunately, Valqui temporarily stopped trips to Peru due to political unrest – but Schuster had a plan B. “I said: ‘Okay, that’s okay – then we’ll go to Romania!”
Schuster left Romania in 1985 when it was still a communist country. He recorded these experiences in his book “A Bone and H20: One Chef’s Journey With Food”. The name comes from the inventive techniques he used as a military cook. “One night before Christmas, the battalion general brought a whole cow. He said, “I need four packets of meat from this cow. Do what you want with the rest for the soldiers. ‘ I stretched what was left. Myself and three other chefs made meatloaf – which you can stretch further with potatoes, carrots, and parsnips. I blanched the bones and made soup, then cut the bones in half and extracted the marrow for bone marrow balls. So we had consomme with bone marrow balls, ”said Schuster. This imaginative dinner was rounded off with apple strudel made from the company’s stock of canned apples.
With the help of a lawyer who, among his best clients, was where he worked at the time (Park Restaurant in Frankfurt, Germany), Schuster made his way to the USA. “At first I thought I was going to Anaheim, California, where I had an uncle. After him [his uncle] died of a heart attack, this guy – my neighbor – said, ‘Hey, go to Houston! Go to texas You always talk about cowboys. Go be a cowboy! ‘ So here I am I loved Houston from the start. I love the culture and the people. It’s a very metropolitan city and you can find it all here. The weather is crazy, but it’s okay. We have air conditioning. “
He and Valqui have now planned not just one, but two culinary tours for his home country: one from September 22nd to October 3rd and another with the same itinerary from October 6th to 17th. Schuster is hoping to audition for the Romanian cooking competition show, Chefi la Cuțite. In English, the name means Chefs With Knives. “For three master chefs you have to prepare a meal in an hour,” he explained. “You don’t know who prepared which dish. Just like with Charivari, the food is served in a cloche. You just open it and enjoy the meal – or maybe not! ”Judges award their individual knives to the cook whose meal they prefer; a chef must win at least two to advance to the next round. If Schuster actually makes it onto the show during a tour, he plans to take the entire tour group with him so they can be part of the studio audience.
According to Valqui, the tour begins in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, with other planned stops including Dracula’s Castle, Brașov and Sibiu. The tour ends in Vienna. Schuster will cook two meals during the trip, including one in a restaurant where he was employed as a young man. “The area has very good wine, very good food and people from different cultures who all live in peace,” said Schuster.
After Romania, Schuster has his sights set on Japan. “I’m a big fan of Japanese culture and food – and how they treat food. It’s very respectful and a completely different approach. ”In 2008, Schuster traveled to Japan at the invitation of the cultural agency after creating a Wagyu Beef Ice Cream. (Sounds strange? Here is a description from a TripAdvisor review of one of his Charivari customers: Then for dessert, [which] was Wagyu beef crackling made into ice cream, perhaps the most intense and richest ice cream I’ve ever tasted, topped with a tiny piece of the raw, buttery A5 quality Wagyu.
He is also interested in accompanying a tour to Australia. He looks forward to cooking kangaroo. “It has lower cholesterol than chicken and no antibiotics. They grow there like rabbits. “
Anyone interested in the culinary tours of Valqui and Schuster can do the Gourmet tours worldwide Website or send an email.
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