Sunday Q&A: Hilda Ysusi, owner and executive chef Broken Barrel The Woodlands
Chef Hilda Ysusi opened her ground-breaking restaurant Broken Barrel in the swanky Hughes Landing in The Woodlands almost three years ago and has been rocking local palates with stunning dishes, creative mix-ups of culinary classics and top-notch ingredients. The native of Mexico City who has a culinary background and resume that spans parts of three continents sat down with The Villager recently for our Sunday Conversation.
77彩票网appOriginally from Mexico City, Ysusi has traveled the world and the United States for her diverse culinary education and training. After studying in Switzerland and completing two advanced culinary degrees from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Ysusi worked at various restaurants across the Eastern United States before earning a degree in hospitality management from Florida International University.
How she landed in The Woodlands is a story unto itself: her parents owned a home in The Woodlands for decades where they would visit and vacation. Ysusi said as she visited the township in those early years, she felt that something special existed in the community and when an opportunity arose, she decided to open Broken Barrel in Hughes Landing. The swanky eatery with spacious open areas and stunning views of Lake Woodlands will celebrate three years in business in February.
QUESTION: You recently revamped your menu with classic dishes but recreated in new ways, such as decontructing traditional menu items and melding flavors together in new ways, some examples are the luau pork and the duck pastor. What makes these work for diners?
Ysusi: “(The luau pork), we cook it for two to three hours and it is super tender. It comes in cubes and people don’t expect it to be tender until they bite into it. There are a lot of ingredients that work together well. The idea behind the pastor duck is, you know, a pastor taco is a tortilla, the pork with adobo, then the pineapple and onion and cilantro. This is kind of a fancy desconstructed version of the taco. We have the tortilla in the hummus, then the duck is confit and we crisp it up on the flat-top (grill)…it is kind of Mexican and Mediterranean all at the same time.”
QUESTION: 77彩票网appYou are mixing cuisines together in untraditional styles together — Asian, Mediterranean and Central American and Mexican — why is that popular with diners?
Ysusi: “For me, it was very important before rolling out the menu that we did a tasting with all the staff and we had been talking to them about the menu for months. I changed about 85 percent of the menu, so it was a big change. The processes we are doing, it takes hours and days to make. I think it is also about communication to your guests when they come, and me or the staff explain what things are. In these almost three years (we’ve been open), we’ve taken the time to really know our customers and talk to them see what the like and what they don’t like. We’ve gained their trust. To me, one of the best thing now, is when we have people who come here and they are like, ‘I used to never eat octopus and I used to never eat duck,’ and then they came a few times and they like everything else and, they’re like, ‘OK, I’ll try it.’ Then they try it. Some of them like it, some of them They may like it or they may not, but at least for them having trust to try something out of their comfort zone is good.”
QUESTION: What are your overall goals for the new menu in general?
Ysusi:77彩票网app “I always try to find something common, which draws the attention of the customers. And then the other stuff that is a little more bizarre in a way…if you put everything crazy on the menu, no one is going to order it even though they may like it. I always do something, like empanadas, super traditional — everyone likes it, they know what it is. I want to do something they cannot findsomewhere else but with elements that are common and presented a different way. That is the idea of the menu, that when people try it and enjoy it, they think, ‘I never would have thought that went together.’
QUESTION: What are the top two or three things a home cook needs in their kitchen at home?
Ysusi: “I think to make excellent cooking, you need good product. It is not as much a tool, if you have good product, you can make anything taste good because there is not a lot you have to do. The rule No. 1 is start with things that you can find easily and have not been frozen for a year in a a grocery store. Another thing I think is good is a very small smoke gun. People might be intimidated by it, but you can find one very cheap for $20. You can smoke someone’s drink, or food, or smoke someone’s appetizer. You can buy a can of peanuts and then smoke them in a glass for guests to enjoy. You can blow someone’s mind with that simple trick (smoking food). It is very simple to use.”
QUESTION:77彩票网app What other ingredients should a home cook have?
Ysusi:77彩票网app “You will laugh, but I have nothing in my house. If you open my refrigerator, there is nothing in my refrigerator. When I have people over, I cannot even offer them chips there is literally nothing in my fridge. (But), I think eggs are a must. Eggs are very basic and you can create a lot of things with them. Cheese is good; everything is better with cheese. Chiles — jalapenos or serranos, anyting that gives spice. Lemon to me is basic, you need acid to make everything better. In the same way, bacon or lard makes everything better.
QUESTION:77彩票网app You are a native of Mexico City, considered one of the best culinary places in the world. Why do you think that is?
Ysusi: “I think that Mexico, if not the best cuisine in the world, which I guess I am partially biased, but also said by others — the UNESCO world heritage people — say it is one of the best. It is the truth. If you go to Mexico, it is not a huge country, but every area has a very different cuisine. I think the Mexican cuisine is very regional and when you go to the coast, everything is based on seafood. If you go to the center, where airports are, you can get more diverse (ingredients). When you go to the peninsula, you get more ingredients because that is where everybody lauded on the boats (throughout history). There is even Dutch food there…they say, ‘It is Mexican’ but it is Dutch, too. There are still a lot of recipes that are very Spanish… I think that (Mexico) is definitely one of the top places in the world to try food.”