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Houston Chef of the Month for July: Ernesto Villarreal

Ernesto Villarreal
Ernesto Villarreal

HOUSTON – As a native Houstonian and proud Mexican-American, Chef Ernesto Villarreal has always been surrounded by diverse culture, people, and food. 

This is what he grew up around and this is what you will see him get inspired by when translating those upbringings to his food. Completing culinary school in Austin, TX at Le Cordon Bleu and moving back to Houston to work at "17" restaurant, Chef Ernesto was able to work alongside and to be mentored by some of the best chefs such as Executive Chef and Owner of Agricole Hospitality (Coltivare, Revival Market, Eight Row Flint and more), Ryan Pera, Pastry Chef and Owner of Fluff Bake Bar, Rebecca Mason and Chef and Owner of Theodore Rex, Justin Yu.

After almost 3 years of working with such an A-list team, Chef Ernesto took all the knowledge and skills implemented to continue to follow his mentor, Ryan Pera who had taken the Executive Chef role at The Grove in downtown Houston where Ernesto worked under him as well as Chef and Owner of The Grove, Robert Del Grande. This is where he spent the next 9.5 years to later become the Executive Sous Chef. 

After his departure in October of 2017, it was time to take everything he had learned, refined and polished throughout those years to build his own team and become Executive Chef at Thistle Draftshop located in Spring, TX. This is where you find him cooking Houston-inspired food such as Vietnamese wings dosed in fish sauce and topped with scallions, fried oyster po-bao and, Cured pork belly tacos with citrus salsa. Working at Thistle has given Chef Ernesto the reigns to take ownership of a menu that allows him to be creative with what he feels foodies of the Spring/Tomball and other areas would appreciate and enjoy. 

Click here for a recipe of Octopus Campechana.