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Food & Drink

Meet Chef Austin Simmons of TRIS in The Woodlands

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Texan-born and raised Chef Austin Simmons of TRIS, Cureight and The Kitchen in The Woodlands is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Chef Austin started his career in Dallas at the famed Mansion on Turtle Creek, and later at John Tesar’s Modern Steak & Seafood.  Chef Austin took everything he learned while highlighting ingredients from all over the word and used his unparalleled creativity to make his own mark at Hubbell and Hudson Bistro and Hubbell and Hudson Kitchen. He then took things a step further, perfecting his technique and vision at TRIS, Cureight & The Kitchen.

TRIS offers a menu that has been influenced by Chef Austin’s travels to places like France, Italy, and Thailand. A Pan Asian menu with classic French techniques, his influences can be found in one of his signature appetizers like Korean Butter Poached Crab. What you will get at TRIS is a perfect experience from start to finish, with upscale food and drink, and impeccable and knowledgeable service.

The TRIS website says it best, “Family comes first to Chef Austin Simmons. At TRIS, you’ll find Chef Simmons treats his team and restaurant like his own family. Which is why it’s only natural that TRIS is the name of  his own beloved daughter. The team is more than just family to Chef Simmons, they are the heart of the restaurant and partners in the success of everything at TRIS. Without the dedication and partnership from the team, TRIS wouldn’t run with the same love and commitment that makes it so special to the community.”

I have observed this first hand and seen Chef Austin in the kitchen, he is the epitome cool, calm and collected and treats his staff with the same respect they give him. Coaching his younger chefs to be better and learn more,  Austin is a true mentor to his whole kitchen staff. The kitchen is run like a well oiled machine and it doesn’t matter what station in the kitchen that the food is coming out from, the plates and presentation are stunning, like works of art that are almost too pretty to eat, but after one bite you will want more.

Photos by Nick Rama
Photos by Nick Rama, Appetizers at TRIS

Outstanding Burgers are also featured on the TRIS happy hour menu such as the TRIS Burger (Heartbrand x “10-year-old” akaushi wagyu, applewood smoked bacon, aged cheddar, bibb lettuce, oven-dried tomatoes and brioche bun or gluten-free bun) and the Chef’s Burger (Two smashed akaushi wagyu patties, bacon jam, American cheese, iceberg lettuce and English muffin).

Photos by Nick Rama
Photos by Nick Rama

Simmons has partnered with HeartBand Ranch, located in Harwood, TX to use older 8 – 10 year old cows for the ribs and beef served at the restaurant. The method which is used in Europe but has only recently started to catch up in the United States, the ranch provides akaushi and wagyu beef, which are Japanese breeds of cattle. Simmons, who has been a big supporter to Texas farms, has brilliantly given diners a tour of beef on his Steak boards with a sampling of different cuts of dry aged beef. The differences between the 2 year and a 10 year old cow is amazing, especially the extra beefiness in the taste. The ten year old was so much more flavorful and tender than the two year old. The only way I can describe the flavor between the two, is that the beefyness felt watered down on the two year old. You know that scene in The Wizard of Oz where everything switches from black and white to Technicolor? The two year old beef, while still very delicious, is the black and white, and one taste of the ten year and everything changes to vibrant color.

The steak board sampling listed below with a bonus Lobster Thermidor, has all of Chef Austin’s personal favorites to feature.

Photos by Nick Rama
1. Texas Heartbrand Ranch Akaushi Wagyu, two year old – wet aged 2. Texas Heartbrand Ranch Akaushi Wagyu ten year old hoof ; wet aged 3. The Big Rib with Kimchi vinaigrette 4. Kansas City Strip – Certified Piedmontese, Wet Aged 5. Lobster Thermidor – Shiitake mushrooms, cognac lobster cream 6. Shiitake Mushroom Gratin – Housemade Ricotta, Pickled Mustard Seed, Bourbon Breadcrumbs 7. Truffle Butter 8. KimChi Brown Butter 9. TRIS Steak Sauce 10. Roasted whole Garlic Cloves 11. PLUS Sides, Brussel Sprouts and Parm, and Kimchi Mashed Potatoes

 

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With Cureight, Chef Austin has created a luxurious eight-course tasting menu concept that changes weekly and is paired with hand-selected wines is a must try for any food and wine lover. (Temporarily closed, due to COVID-19)

(Pre COVID-19) Simmons had introduced creative culinary experiences with his exquisite “CollaborEIGHT” dinner series that partners him with local and national culinary talent. Previous collaborations have been with James Beard nominees including Chef John Tesar, Chef Hugo Ortega, Chef Kaiser Lashkari, Chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi, BBQ Pitmaster Will Buckman, Chef William Wright, and Chef Stefano Ferrero of Zanti. (Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Chef Austin has suspended the CollaborEIGHT events for the foreseeable future.

Photos by Nick Rama

TRIS has a phenomenal cocktail program, libations like Lavender Rosemary Lemondrop – Lavender Rosemary Infused Vodka, Triple Sec, Agave and Lemon Juice,  French Pear – Grey Goose La Poire, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Sprinkling Wine or the ever popular Brown Butter Old Fashioned – Brown Butter Bourbon, coffee shrub, orange bitters.

When visiting TRIS, make sure to save room for dessert, if you can’t decide between the many delicious options, go for a dessert board and sample several of them. Whether it is a special occasion or a group of friends, you might be in shock and awe from the two whole slices of cakes, bread pudding and strawberry shortcake for two people. Enough dessert for 6-8 people.

Photos by Nick Rama
Photos by Nick Rama, Texas Pecan Carrot Cake, Chocolate Cake with Sea salt caramel, Olive oil Strawberry Shortcake with Strawberry Sorbet and Bread Pudding.

 

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Interview with Chef Austin Simmons

Please note: The interview was conducted before March 2020.

What was the inspiration for the menu at Tris?

Global Flavors is the inspiration for the Menu at TRIS. I try not to blend in different flavors, and stay ‘True to the Cuisine’ as much as possible.

You have won many awards and accolades. What has been your proudest moment so far?

My proudest moment is always when a member of our team receives a promotion for his/her hard work. It’s very essential for me to grow people in this business, and if I can help elevate a talent to a new chapter in his/her life, I feel very accomplished.

The beef program here is so impressive; explain the differences between the many cuts of beef you serve?

We primarily serve Japanese Akaushi beef, both certified pure two year old and certified pure 10 year old cattle. The Heartbrand X 10-year-old is a program I help start with Heartbrand Ranch, using breed back cows that are not ‘highlighted’, and put into no-roll programs. We use different cuts across our menus at TRIS.

We also currently serve certified Piedmontese beef. This unique cattle is a lean protein that has fewer calories, less fat, and higher protein per ounce than any other beef, yet it challenges Prime-grade beef products in tenderness.

Photos by Nick Rama
Photo by Nick Rama

If you had to pick some signature Chef Austin dishes as your personal favorites, what would those be?

TRIS

  • Korean Butter Poached Crab
  • Shrimp Toast
  • Lobster Bisque
  • Crab & Truffle pasta
  • Hamachi Sashimi
  • Wood Roasted Oysters
  • TRIS Chocolate Cake
  • Texas Carrot Cake
Photos by Nick Rama
Photos by Nick Rama

Cureight

  • Our version of Oyster and Pearl
  • Truffle Grilled Cheese

How much of the menu do you try to source locally?

We source the best product we can find locally when available and in season. 

Family is a priority to you; how do you manage your work/life balance?

Balancing family life and the hard work in the restaurant is difficult, not just for me but everyone in the industry. That’s one of the reasons why we made a decision a few years ago to close TRIS for service on Sundays and Mondays, so that the team can spend valuable time with their families.

 

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Shout out to your team that keeps TRIS running like a well oiled machine – who would you like to acknowledge?

Christopher Perry, GM

Cortney Taraboi, Executive sous Chef

Courtney Lacarter, Sous Chef

Dominique Vasquez, Operations Manager

Janine Jones, Events and Catering Director

Angela Mireles, Maitre D

Photo taken prior to March 2020 (by Nick Rama); Courtney Lacarter, Sous Chef, Cortney Taraboi, Executive sous Chef, Executive Chef Austin Simmons of TRIS : Cureight

 

The wine and cocktail program is very impressive. How do you select the wines you serve and come up with signature cocktails?

We frequently brainstorm as a team on new cocktails and also decide on unique boutique wines we can add to the TRIS menu.

How do you pick what Chefs you want to work with at the ‘CollaborEIGHT’ Dinner Series’ at Cureight?

CollaborEight is an eight-course collaboration dinner experience that we host on a regular basis throughout the year at TRIS / Cureight. Since its inception, we highlighted many local and nationally acclaimed chefs. The series started as a means to grow my team, to give them an opportunity to learn from other experts. We invite chefs to collaborate, whom I believe can help inspire my team.

What has been your most memorable collaboration?

We hosted Chef Hugo Ortega back in October. I have never met and worked with a more graceful, talented and humble chef before. He treated my team with a lot of respect and we all enjoyed cooking with him.

What would your perfect meal from start to finish be here at Tris?

  • Hamachi Sashimi
  • Korean Butter Poached Crab
  • Crab & Truffle pasta
  • Dry Age Big Rib
  • Side by Side Steak Tasting
  • TRIS Chocolate Cake
  • Hand-made chocolates

Tris has an amazing Happy Hour, what can someone expect?

We offer a great selection of wine, beer and cocktails at a reasonable price, along with many shareable appetizers. But the best part of our Happy Hour menu is our Cast Iron Burger, only offered during Happy Hour, at a great price!

How often are you at The Kitchen and what are some highlights from the new menu at the fast casual concept?

You’ll frequently see me at The Kitchen throughout the week, or most Sundays with my family enjoying brunch. The Kitchen has a new menu that features some of my new healthy options such as; Crispy Cauliflower, Miso Eggplant, Thai Peanut Chicken Wrap, Chicken & Rice Bowl, The Meal Plan Omelet.

Photos by Nick Rama
Photos by Nick Rama

 

5 Words to describe Tris?

Worldly

Classics

Elegance

Family

Progressive

Learn more about TRIS, view the menu and make a reservation by visiting triswoodlands.com.

Photo: Chef Austin Simmons, courtesy of TRIS

 

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Nick’s Local Eats – Drink For Charity

TRIS was recently awarded 3rd Place in the cocktail category for Nick’s Local Eats’ Drink For Charity and Sweets For Charity contests where local restaurants helped raise $17,689 to donate to the Montgomery County Food Bank. The donation will be used to purchase 88,445 meals for families in need in our community.

Nicks Local Eats Drink for Charity TRIS

The Nick Local Eats Drink For Charity contest include over 20 participating restaurants with a featured specialty cocktail, margarita, beer or wine. For each drink sold (like TRIS’ Green Monster cocktail), $1 was donated to the Montgomery County Food Bank.

Based off the success of the programs, Nick’s Local Eats will be continuing the Drink For Charity and Sweets For Charity contests from October 1st through December 31st. For more information on the contest and how to get involved visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NicksLocalEats/

Photo by Shawn Chippendale Imaging; Nick Rama and Janine Jones, Director of Events and Off-site Catering for TRIS, Black Walnut and The Kitchen, accepting the 3rd Place award in the cocktail category in Nick’s Local Eats’ Drink For Charity contest, and Lisa Benoit of Benoit Dream Team, Abby Realty.

 

Nick Rama is a food writer, contributor of Hello Woodlands, and shares his restaurant experiences on Nick’s Local Eats at NicksLocalEats.com and the TX BBQ, Burgers and Brew Facebook page. Nick enjoys helping the small business owner, supporting his community with fundraising for food banks, and plans tasting events with locally owned mom and pop restaurants.

 

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