Proprietor, Gr8 Plate Restaurant Group
With more than 20 years experience in the hospitality business, Paul Miller founded the Gr8 Plate Hospitality Group in 2010 with the opening of The Union Kitchen in Bellaire. Just five years later, with a simple philosophy to serve real food, prepared well, in a warm and comfortable atmosphere, Miller’s company has grown to six restaurants and a food truck, all in Houston; the group includes three The Union Kitchen concepts [with a fourth opening first quarter 2016], the casually upscale Paul’s Kitchen, two Jax locations, and The Rollin Kitchen food truck, featuring a Cajun inspired menu.
The Oklahoma native and his wife Doris are WSET level two certified sommeliers and both are active in the community as well as the restaurants. Paul’s interest in sports – he was the number two-rated wrestler in the US and played college football at Purdue – has him sponsoring a myriad of sports activities for kids [including his three children aged 6 months to 11 years]. Additionally, the husband and wife team participate in and donate to several non-profits for children – Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Country and Casa Esperanza.
Executive Chef -The Union Kitchen – Memorial & The Merrill House, Gr8 Plate Hospitality
With nearly 30 years of experience, Chef Henry Hopkes IV is the Executive Chef at The Union Kitchen – Memorial and The Merrill House, both part of Gr8 Plate Hospitality. Henry is continuing his career as a chef in the Houston culinary field at one of Houston’s best-known neighborhood gems and one of Houston’s newest event venues in the heart of Upper Kirby.
At an early age, Henry found his love for cooking through seeing the passion his father put into family meals. Growing up in Grosse Point, Michigan, he would look forward to spending his Saturdays shopping at local farmer’s markets and Detroit’s finest butcher shops with his father. Together, they would often travel to New York and Chicago to enjoy delicious meals and experience fine cuisine. Months away from high school graduation, Henry’s father was relocated to Houston, and the family began a new adventure in Texas. Henry’s father encouraged him to pursue a career that he would be passionate about.
Henry accepted an entry level position at the Houston Country Club, working under Certified Master Chef Fritz Gitchner in 1990 and then a position at Atchafalaya River Café in the early 90’s” where he spent 3 years gaining valuable knowledge. With his father’s blessing, Henry enrolled in The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
After graduating with a degree in Culinary Arts, he then joined the McCormick & Schmick’s group opening their first Houston restaurant at Uptown Park, where he worked his way up to the position of Executive Chef. Henry has also held Executive Chef positions with local Houston hotels, Downtown Aquarium and Chef Consultant for an upscale Arizona resort.
In 2013, Henry joined the Gr8 Plate Hospitality team and has created several popular entrees for The Union Kitchen concept. Chef Henry stays up-to-date on the latest culinary trends and often revisits classic dishes to try new twists on traditional cuisine. With his father’s words to live by, “pursue excellence” forever in his heart, Henry continues to experiment and express his passion for culinary arts through his positions with Gr8 Plate Hospitality.
Henry enjoys creating all types of cuisines, including favorites like the Coq au Vin, Prime Rib with Yorkshire Pudding, Baked Chicken with Pan Gravy and all types of barbeque. Outside of the restaurants, Henry enjoys spending time learning different home improvement techniques, recreational shooting, fishing and spending time with his son.
Executive Chef, BLVD. Seafood
Executive Chef Chris Lopez has worked in the restaurant business for over 15 years chasing his culinary dreams all around the United States. Now, a permanent “Island By Choice”, Lopez has taken Galveston’s food scene by storm. As Executive Chef of Yaga’s Café and BLVD. Seafood, Lopez showcases his exquisite skills and cooking knowledge on every plate he sends out of his kitchen.
Lopez graduated from the Culinary Institute of Atlanta and upon graduation, he moved to Seattle, Washington to expand his knowledge of Pacific Seafood and Shellfish. There, he served as Executive Chef of Piatti, an upscale Italian restaurant, for two years while in Seattle before moving to Portland, Oregon to open El Gaucho, a fine dining steakhouse.
After many years in the Pacific Northwest, Lopez relocated to Galveston, Texas. While in Galveston, Lopez served as the Executive Chef of SaltWater Grill, one of the islands top seafood restaurants. He then went on to open his own fine dining restaurant, M & M, from October 19, 2005 to October 19, 2008. Following the devastation of Hurricane Ike, Chris joined the family at Yaga’s Café.
As Executive chef at Yaga’s Café, Lopez has transformed the Café’s dining experience and cuisine into something special. He introduced pairing menus at Yaga’s Cafe that have been very successful. Over the years, he has paired four Tequila dinners, three Rum dinners, two Bourbon and one Vodka dinner. He has built up the Yaga’s Café catering business to be able to accommodate groups of all sizes from business lunches to large-scale events.
Lopez is a member of the Chaine des Rotisseurs and recently designed the menu for the Inaugural Chaine de Rotisseurs dinner at the American National Insurance Co. in Galveston. For the past three years, he has designed specialty menus for the Chaine des Rotisseurs’ Halloween Parties hosted by Yaga’s Café.
As for the future, Lopez is taking on the roll of Executive Chef at BLVD. Seafood, a new Seafood restaurant in Galveston, Texas specializing in fresh Gulf Seafood. He is excited to showcase a different variety of fresh Gulf seafood and to give Galveston more of an option as in restaurants.
Chef Lopez has planted his roots here in Galveston with his Wife and four children, who support his chef endeavors. To put it simply, Lopez is happy to be here.
As a surfer who travels the world, in his words, “to immerse myself in food rich in culture with big waves and blue water,” Executive Chef Lance Fegen is an adventurer on many levels. Surfing is considered part swimming, part skiing, part sky-diving and part Russian roulette. And Executive Chef Fegen’s approach to the food offered at the establishments he co-owns, BRC Gastropub, Liberty Kitchen and Petite Sweets, is just as exhilarating as riding the wild surf.
He takes no prisoners. It’s full-throttle. He’s out to thrill restaurant patrons. And he has garnered numerous culinary awards to substantiate his place as a renegade chef extraordinaire whose menus reference his passion as a surfer and are inspired by the natural life styles of the coastal regions he loves. It’s all about fresh, it’s about local ingredients, but always with his own particular creative spin.
Executive Chef Fegen, is a graduate of the renowned Culinary Institute of America, who served as the Executive Sous-Chef of The Houstonian Hotel, opened and owned the very hip Zula restaurant in downtown Houston and went on to open and own the wildly successful Glass Wall restaurant located in the historic Heights section of Houston.
As co-owner of BRC Gastropub, Liberty Kitchen and Petite Sweets, Executive Chef Fegen brings accolades, experience and his famous energy to the table – literally. In addition, he is the devoted husband and father of two children whom he says, “amaze me with their intelligence, good nature and fun spirit every day.
What’s not to like? Well, perhaps the fact that there is only one of him – but take heart in the fact that this singular culinary guru is right here in Houston.
Francisco “Paco” Vargas
Owner, Rudy & Paco
My restaurant story begins in 1978, when I left Managua for Houston at the urging of a friend. I arrived to find out that the job he promised me did not exist. I found myself in a strange place with no job and no home.
After a year working in construction, I saved enough money to bring my fiancé over from Nicaragua. We married in 1979. And it was that year that I took a leap of faith in the hopes of a better life, and entered the restaurant industry.
At each position, I took care to work hard and learn about what it takes to operate a successful restaurant. That’s unique about restaurants – if you’re passionate and curious, doors will open. The goal of one day owning my own place never left my mind.
This dream became a reality in 1996, when I opened Rudy & Paco Restaurant, serving seafood and steak with a Central American twist. I am proud to say my restaurant is considered an institution on this island.
As a restaurant owner, I am able to help my local economy and community. We regularly donate food to local charities. I have also proudly been involved with the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the Galveston County Restaurant Association and many other community organizations for decades. I remember not having a penny to my name and so it is very important for me to give back.
Most people would say that the American Dream is achieved when someone goes from having nothing to being wealthy and successful. As we celebrate the contributions of the Hispanic community to America during Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s also take time to acknowledge that the American Dream is much more than this.
Executive Chef/Proprietor Riondo’s Ristorante
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Chef Rico Caminos has been recreating family recipes for over 40 years. Edguardo Caminos, “aka Chef Rico”, first came to New Jersey from Argentina to visit family and friends in 1981. After two weeks in New Jersey, Chef Rico got a call from Texas that they were looking for some talented soccer players to play in Houston’s Division 1 league. The next day, Chef Rico got on the first flight to IAH and teamed up with long time friend and former pro soccer player Carmelo Cassarino. The locals here know Carmelo well as his family runs the successful Galveston Shrimp Company. Rico and Carmelo played 4 years in Houston’s Division 1 league and soon were recognized as a dual threat on the soccer field.
Chef Rico’s passion, besides being an elite athlete, was always in the kitchen. His mother was born in Tuscany, Italy and his father was born in Castilla, Spain. To say food was a huge part of their families everyday life would be an understatement. Chef Rico left for North Carolina after his soccer career here in Houston to open pizzerias in Raliegh, NC. While enjoying success in Raliegh and Greensboro areas, Chef Rico was a prominent figure on the bi-weekly cooking segments on Channel 48.
Chef Rico and his wife Susanna Caminos relocated to Galveston, Texas and fell in love with the island vibe and the local friendly atmosphere. Chef Rico was the Executive Chef at Mario’s Seawall in the mid to late 80’s and enjoyed preparing Italian classics for the Galveston community as well as Houstonians that would come visit the island. The Houston Rockets also fell in love with Chef Rico’s cuisine and would routinely visit the island to have cater their teams dinners.
It was just 4 years ago when Al Fichera, a local contractor, introduced Chef Rico to Don McClaugherty and presented an idea to take over 24th & Strand St, formally known as Luigi’s. Don’s nickname is “Dondo”, a name given to him while working for the Association of Volleyball Professionals in Redondo Beach, CA. So, with Rico and Dondo…”Riondo’s Ristorante” was born. Chef Rico’s talents have blossomed into an eclectic array of true Tuscany style cuisines. From “Farm to Fork” and “Sea to Table” values, Chef Rico creates some amazing menu items using produce from local farmers markets & local docks from the Gulf of Mexico.
Every morning you can find Chef Rico hard at work preparing fresh ciabatta and foccaccia bread. The mozzarella cheese, or “Riondo Mozz” is also made in house and is an island favorite with the “Strand Caprese” menu item. The “Gnocchi di Spinachi a la Panna”, also a fan favorite, consists of fresh Spinach Gnocchi, Prosciutto di Parma and Peas. From the coast of Spain, Chef Rico flies in fresh Octopus weekly to highlight his “Grilled Wine Cork Octopus on Arugula” dish. Using 10-20 wine corks, Rico boils the Octopus then grills it over an open flame to give it than nice little crunch before laying it across a bed of Arugula and Citrus Vinaigrette. Whether Rico brings in Texas Wagyu Beef , Rabbit, Prime steaks, Osso Buco or New Zealand lamb, you are sure to have your tasted buds arroused and your stomachs pleased with the freshness and passion that goes into all his creations.
Riondo’s Ristorante is proud to be a part of the Galveston Food & Wine Festival. We hope to see you all in the restaurant soon, Bon Appetito!