Kate McLean is the Chef de Cuisine at Tony’s, restaurateur Tony Vallone’s legendary fine dining restaurant at 3755 Richmond Ave. near River Oaks.
A Houston native, McLean began working in restaurants while in college in Boulder, Colo., where she earned a degree in business and marketing. From an early start as a prep cook at a Colorado resort, she quickly rose up the ranks, working as a line cook before landing a job as garde manger at the famous Dahlia Lounge in Seattle, Wash. Her career then took her to Hawaii, where she developed a deft hand with seafood. In 2010, she landed a job at the famous Les Carmes hotel in Provence, France, developing her knowledge and skill in haute cuisine.
By December 2010, McLean was back in Houston. A family friend helped her to obtain an “audition” with Vallone, and the rest is history. She was the first female Sous Chef at Tony’s and, at the age of 29 in 2013, became the first female Chef de Cuisine in the restaurant’s nearly 50-year history.
Q&A with Tony’s Kate McLean
Biggest influences as a chef: The people around me and our combined imaginations.
Why Houston is a great place to have your restaurant: Houstonians are very discerning and dine out more per capita than any city in the country, which challenges us and keeps us very excited to be innovative and creative for our guests.
What makes Houston special: Houston is special to me because of its diverse neighborhoods. I like Montrose a lot, especially down Fairview; it makes me feel like I’m in a little beach town in the city. I feel like I haven’t seen it all yet, and that excites me.
What you try to convey about the city/region with your menu: I like our menu to stay pretty modern Italian while at the same time taking advantage of local products. We use local eggplant in the Elk Chop dish, grape tomatoes on our focaccia and in our gazpacho, local honeycomb, pumpkins, butternut squash, just depending on what we’re able to get each week.
Last meal in Houston before leaving town, first meal upon returning: Confucius – black pepper lobster, egg roll, sautéed greens, crispy noodles – and Hay Merchant –their BURGER, pig ears, PB&J chicken wings