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East Side Show Room's Paul Hargrove combines classical training with love of local food

Claire Canavan

Paul Hargrove, the new executive chef at the East Side Show Room, learned to admire farmers at an early age. Growing up in Shreveport, La., Hargrove watched his stepfather, who owned a farm, work six days a week from dawn until late in the evening. “It was all the time, never-ending,” Hargrove said. “That’s where my respect for farmers came from.”

Hargrove’s stepfather grew watermelons, squash and tomatoes on the farm and sold them at a bare bones store. As a teenager, Hargrove worked at the store occasionally, an experience that left him with indelible memories.

“I can still remember the smell of warm vegetables at the market,” Hargrove said. His appreciation for the taste and freshness of local foods would follow him into his career as a chef.

That career began with Hargrove’s stint bussing tables and washing dishes at a chain restaurant in Shreveport. He moved on to waiting tables and then to bartending at an Italian restaurant. There he developed respect for the kitchen cooks, who he described as “lifelong cooks who were not in it for the glory.”

In 1999, around the same time Hargrove was watching the line cooks at work, Chef Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry Cookbook “was published. Hargrove remembers paging through it, amazed at how cooking, something he saw everyday at work, could become so elevated and artful at a restaurant like the French Laundry. He said he felt in that moment that cooking was what he wanted to do. In 2002, he sold all of his belongings and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

For several years after culinary school, Hargrove worked at restaurants in New York, including Hearth and Café Boulud. In 2007 he moved to Café Boulud’s Palm Beach location in the Brazilian Court Hotel. As the executive sous chef, Hargrove learned how to handle the demands of a huge, popular restaurant that during peak season might serve four hundred covers a night.

After leaving Café Boulud, Hargrove dreamed of going to Spain. Years ago he’d read an article about Arzak, a restaurant in San Sebastián with a wine cave, molecular gastronomy laboratory, and floor-to-ceiling spice room. Hargrove thought it sounded like “the coolest thing in the world.”

In 2008, Hargrove got the chance to travel to Spain after his mentor Daniel Boulud connected him with the opportunity to stage at Arzak. He remembers that summer as an inspiring time.

“You’re working in the kitchen and the doors open. A truck pulls up and a butcher walks out carrying half a lamb. Or some heavily bearded gentleman would walk in with freshly foraged mushrooms. It was incredible,” Hargrove said. “It was a totally different experience.”

In fall 2009, Hargrove and his wife, who was expecting a baby, decided to move to Austin to be closer to her family. Hargrove’s first job in Austin was as the executive chef at Trace in the W Hotel. Their timing was perfect. “My daughter was born three days after our new health insurance kicked in,” Hargrove said. “She was two weeks early, born the day before we opened Trace.”

At Trace, Hargrove got to combine his classical culinary training, farm-to-table philosophy, and experience running a restaurant in a hotel.

His embrace of local food eventually caught the attention of Sonya Coté at East Side Show Room. As Coté transitioned out of the executive chef role to focus on her new restaurant, Hillside Farmacy, she chose Hargrove to step into her position.

“I wanted to work with Paul because of his experience at Trace and because I trusted that he would continue to buy food for the restaurant from the local farmers that I had developed longstanding relationships with,” Coté said.

East Side Show Room reminded Hargrove of Hearth, one of his favorite restaurant jobs in New York. He had loved Hearth’s small size, great cocktail program, and rustic yet elevated food, and he saw the same things at East Side Show Room. “It was my style,” he said.

Hargrove started at East Side Show Room in June and gradually developed two menus, one a set menu with seasonal standards and another with rotating weekly specials. Regulars will be happy to see that Hargrove has kept some favorites, such as the blue cheeseburger served with rosemary-sage shoestring potatoes.

A ravioli and pork belly dish tops Hargrove’s list of personal favorites on the set menu. To make it, he braises Richardson Farms pork belly, then crisps it in the oven and tops it with ricotta filled ravioli and a Parmesan-mustard broth.

Hargrove bases weekly specials on what’s available from local farmers. Recent dishes included beef heart tartare (with hearts from Bastrop Cattle Company) and chicken cooked under a brick with paprika roasted potatoes and peppers (with chicken from HausBar Farms).

At happy hour (from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily), diners can snack on new dishes like crispy chickpea fries with spicy tomato sauce or dip salt cod beignets into Spanish romesco sauce.

A revamped dessert menu includes pies and cakes made fresh by Hargrove’s wife, Ame Brewster. The chocolate pecan pie gets spiked with 512 pecan porter and served with smoked vanilla whipped cream. Texas apple teacake with streusel and cinnamon ice cream captures the flavors of fall, but expect the desserts to change with the seasons.

The French-trained Hargrove also has a passion for making fresh charcuterie. At East Side Show Room, Hargrove recently offered “forestier,” a pork paté laced with cremini and black trumpet mushrooms, as well as a pork rillettes brushed with mustard and studded with parsley and peppercorns.

Outside the restaurant, Hargrove is experimenting with making smoked beef tongue, duck tenderloin pastrami, and beef heart jerky. He plans to soon open a charcuterie business, called Hind and Quarter, which will sell directly to restaurants.

Hargrove and his wife have also been making jams and preserves as part of their new small business idea. His wife’s family owns some land near College Station, and the couple has been picking wild persimmons and mustang grapes to use in their jams and jellies.

Even this new venture circles back to his longtime passion for local food. “The goal would be to only use wild Texas ingredients,” he said.

East Side Show Room