Chef Profile: Hubbell & Hudson’s Austin Simmons
It’s the final days of Chef Austin Simmons’ first home in The Woodlands.
At the end of August and under Simmons’ leadership and general manager Chris Perry’s guidance in the front of the house, Woodlands mainstay Hubbell & Hudson will transform into TRIS, a new concept named after Simmons’ 18-month-old daughter to reflect the kind of service guests can expect at their fine dining experience.
“This is the people business,” Simmons said. “Food is merely the vehicle.”
For starters, Simmons created a slate adorned with crispy baguette, creamy chicken liver mousse, house-made ricotta sprinkled with sea salt, truffle honey, smoked Gouda and a selection of salumi - which is Italian for cured meats, like salami.
At Hubbell & Hudson, just like it will be at TRIS, trendiness takes a backseat to authenticity. Simmons said the octopus will always be cooked with Spanish flavors, and the veal shank will always be Italian.
In another dish, a mound of crisp and lightly fried calamari lie in a puddle of sweet sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, which are a sweet Italian varietal often used in bruschetta or certain tomato-based pasta sauces.
Perry said it is the little details in each dish are what set them apart.
The shrimp, Perry added, are brought every morning from Galveston by a man named Jimmy. Simmons’ inaugural chef’s knife at TRIS was forged by a Houston-based artisan knife maker.
“We have people like Chef Austin, that are bringing culinary experiences (to The Woodlands) and staying true to the dish itself,” Perry said.
A self-described “high-school train wreck,” Simmons was born and raised in Arlington, Texas. Among the roaring interstates and railroad tracks, Simmons said he fell in with the wrong crowd and sought a way out of town after graduating from Martin High School.
“I needed to get away from it,” Simmons said. “I knew where to find all the bad stuff, so I left.”
An adolescence spent mowing sports fields and delivering milk had left the fidgety Simmons with a need to keep his hands busy, and culinary school offered all the makings of a successful career.
Fifteen months later, he finished his associate’s degree in applied science and culinary arts from Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, packed up everything he owned to move back home and drove 45 minutes east on Interstate 30 to The Mansion restaurant in Dallas.
“I haven’t looked back since,” Simmons said.
The then-18-year-old parked his car with the valet, asked for an externship at the front desk and was rejected - something about having to go through the service entrance, Simmons recalled. Two weeks later, he returned, only to face rejection yet again.
Perry explained Simmons’ determination in a simple sentence.
“He just can’t take no for an answer,” Perry said.
By the third try, the sous chef at the restaurant realized Simmons wasn’t going anywhere, he said, and landed a spot on the line making $7.45 an hour. Within a year, Simmons had gone about as high up as a line cook could at The Mansion and so he set his sights on The Woodlands.
By 24, he’d become executive chef at Hubbell & Hudson, quickly becoming the sweetheart of the growing culinary scene in South Montgomery County.
“I like people pleasing more than I like anything,” Simmons said. “I’m a very hard worker and I like to put a lot of effort into something and see the reward on the other side.”
The menu and all subsequent iterations of it have been a product of Simmons’ culinary experimentations.
Perry said in preparation for a truffle competition in January, Simmons tried dozens of versions of a truffle grilled cheese sandwich, eventually settling on the simplest combination of house-made cheese on brioche bread.
“If you stay true to the flavors but interchange the technique, it doesn’t matter where you cook from,” Simmons said. “The bite takes a journey.”
Looking at the future beyond TRIS, Simmons has ambitious plans to break into the Houston culinary scene and have a concept housed inside the Loop within two years.
Perry said with his own attentiveness to the customer experience and Simmons’ culinary direction, there’s nowhere to go but up.
“There’s no roadblock to what we can do,” Perry said. “We’re two guys and a restaurant.”