The Cook's Tale 

click to enlarge JOSH HUSKIN
  • Josh Huskin

Stefan Bowers, Feast

Stefan Bowers, the driving food force behind Southtown's Feast, grew up in Berkeley and spent time in the Navy as a rescue swimmer, and then served an apprenticeship at an Italian restaurant in San Diego. The experience inspired him to attend Houston's Culinary Institute LeNotre, after which he landed a job at Jason Dady's late Lodge of Castle Hills. He later became executive chef at 20Nine Restaurant and Wine Bar. "I wanted to create a menu accessible to two worlds — those who want to be fortified and not over think things, and those who want to be challenged," says Bowers about Feast. As befits someone who used to leap out of helicopters, he doesn't want to become "too precious." "Our dishes," he says, "need to have pronounced flavor ... and we don't need to be too in love with ourselves." Mission accomplished.

1024 S. Alamo, (210) 354-1024, feastsa.com

Shawn Fletcher, Bella on the River

Shawn Fletcher, a local boy, has bounced around a lot — first to Austin's Texas Culinary Academy (now Le Cordon Bleu). After graduation, he applied to Jonathan Parker, then chef at Watermark (now Ostra), where he worked for free a few months. When Parker moved on, Fletcher joined him at another ill-fated restaurant and moved, when it cratered, to Bohanans, where "the menu didn't change much — I wasn't learning anything."
Both ended up at the short-lived Merchants on Broadway, then at Ounce Steakhouse. Fletcher eventually learned of David Snyder's plans to open Bella on the River, where he's been for over a year. "Now," he says, "the recipes are almost all mine." Watch the specials chalkboard.

106 E. River Walk, (210) 404-2355, bellaontheriver.com

Martin Stembera, Biga on the Banks

In contrast, the story of Martin Stembera, Chef de Cuisine at Biga on the Banks, is a simple one: he was born in the Czech Republic, moved to the U.S. at age 12, worked as a busser at Alamo Café in high school, then labored at the Magic Time Machine for five years. Save for a hiatus while Biga moved from its old location to the river, Stembera has been there more than 17 years. "Bruce [Auden] and Mark [Bliss] have been my biggest influences — Mark for hands-on, Bruce for the conceptual part," he says. Like any good son, he also says "for me, though, it's mom's [middle European] cooking that hits the spot.

203 S St. Mary's, (210) 225-0722, biga.com

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