PORTALS

In our modern world, where communication is omnipresent via social media, texting, and online forums, it is a novelty to find a method of communication that goes beyond words on a screen. Amar Bakshi was shaped by his experience with a grandmother whom he maintained a relationship through an electronic medium, and his long bus rides back to law school during which he struck up conversations with random strangers to pass the time. However, Amar felt as if the same devices that keep us connected to our friends and family were restricting us socially. Social media outlets like facebook and communication apps like skype encourage conversations with the same people, and limit experiences with new people. It is with this revelation that Amar created Portals.

What began “as a daydream” now has over 20 locations all over the globe. Amar’s “Portals” are gold-covered shipping containers and tents that look like they belong in The Fifth Element. Within the containers are darkened rooms that allow the participants to have face-to-face conversations with another Portal across the world. The climate-controlled environments have been optimized for these conversations, with high-definition cameras allowing the immersive experience to provide the most realistic projection of the other Portal. Participants may talk for however long they desire, as long as the other Portal is willing to comply. The Portals, originally intended solely for conservation, have become home to intimate concerts, family reunions, and moving displays of dance. Amar “expected the Portals experience to be neat, unexpected – maybe cool. But we were surprised to find it had such an emotional effect.” Amar and his team regularly have to pull participants out after conversations run longer than two hours. Portals are staffed by a full-time “Portal Curator” who help participants with translation, interpretation, engaging the broader community, and organization of special events.

These Portals have an element of privacy and anonymity that is lost in today’s world. Amar explains “Cell phones don’t work in the Portal. Nothing is live-tweeted. Participants are unlikely to see their counterpart abroad again, so whatever they say is not likely to make its way back to friends at home. Third, the conversations felt relatively natural. Instead of talking to a disembodied head on a computer screen, participants spoke to a full, standing human being – fidgeting and swaying – and made direct eye contact, unencumbered by goggles or headphones.” These intimate and privatized experiences lead to more wholesome and engaged conversations that have led to the Portals becoming a international fascination.

All Portal sites can be found here: https://www.sharedstudios.com/sites
More information about Portals can be found here: http://www.amarcbakshi.com/portals/
To organize a portal for your community, visit: https://www.sharedstudios.com/contact

Article by Sol Thompson
All Images courtest of Shared Studios

 

ONE AND ONLY – REETHI RAH

IRIS07_OneAndOnlyReethiRah-1

Southwest of Sri Lanka, in the Indian Ocean, lie the Maldives, a land of blue lagoons and soft white sands, where coral islands form ring-like atolls. Formerly known as “King’s Island”, it is here, stretching across four miles of secluded coastline, that you will find the all-villa destination, One&Only Reethi Rah. A place awash in shades of teal and indigo with a sunlit sky, and comprised exclusively of villas, guests of Reethi Rah are sure to sit back and soak up the incredible surroundings. And for those looking for a little adventure, opportunity abounds.

North Malé Atoll is alive with possibilities for those who wish to explore a little further afield. Day trips off the island include traditional hand line fishing aboard a Maldivian dhoni, luxury cruising aboard a privately chartered yacht, island picnics on a perfectly secluded sandbank, epicurean cruising with champagne, seaplane flights or big game fishing to try catching yellow fin tuna, wahoo, and marlin. From fishing charters to luxury yacht cruises, the Maldives is a water-lover’s paradise.

Learn the fine art of harmonising tastes and textures in the utter luxury of the new One&Only Reethi Rah culinary school. Available in a range of culinary styles from around the world such as Maldivian, Chinese, Italian, Indian, Arabian, Japanese ‘Washoku’, Thai, and French; classes taught under the expert tutelage of master chefs provide guests with the opportunity to learn the delicate nuances of food presentation and world cuisine. The experience starts with a guided visit to the Chef’s Garden where the culinary team will demonstrate how to select the finest and freshest products while guests hand pick organic ingredients for their chosen course. Upon return to the culinary school, One&Only Reeti Rah’s master chef will guide pupils through an epicurean selection of the finest cooking products, helping guests prepare exquisite dishes with expert guidance.

One&Only Spa provides bespoke retreats to ensure that your stay on the island uplifts, revives and restores you. The consultants blend holistic and conventional expertise to create individualised programs combining the spa treatments and fitness activities in line with nutritional intake, creating focused spa regimens to inspire lifestyle change and well-being. With programs ranging from 3 to 7 days, all of the ‘Reset in Residence’ Wellness Journeys begin with a personal lifestyle, fitness and nutrition consultation and target specific goal orientated journeys, such as weight loss or anti-stress.

Surrounded by the crystal blue wonders of the Indian Ocean, this ultra-luxury all-villa resort in the Maldives offers an unrivalled level of style, choice and personalised exploration. Sleek and spectacular, with unprecedented privacy, One&Only Reethi Rah offers the ultimate holiday experience to those seeking the pinnacle of tropical luxury.

IRIS07_OneAndOnlyReethiRah-2IRIS07_OneAndOnlyReethiRah-3For more information and booking, visit oneandonlyresorts.com/one-and-only-reethi-rah-maldives or call +960 664-8800

SIMONE BILES

Interview by Pauline Snyder-Goodwin | Photography by Jhane Hoang | Styling by Ren. Garza | Art Direction by Marc Sifuentes | Hair and Makeup by Tonya Riner

Simone’s success didn’t come easy. Her journey to becoming a decorated Artistic Gymnast contained many challenges and crossroads along the way. But her passion and determination in becoming an elite gymnast prevailed. Following a brief period in a foster home in Columbus, OH, Simone’s grandparents officially adopted her in 2003, in Spring, TX. To Simone’s surprise, she discovered there was a trampoline in the backyard of her grandparent’s house. This was just the beginning of her journey towards becoming one of America’s most decorated gymnast with a total of 19 medals won; 4 gold and 1 bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and 14 World Championship medals.

Women’s gymnastics is a dangerous sport which also has a short career span, with women reaching their gymnastic peak during their high school years. In 2012, Simone sacrificed a traditional high school education, along with the social life that comes with it, by switching to homeschool. This decision was not easy for Simone, but it allowed for more training hours to continue mastering her gymnastic skills. Eventually, Simone would achieve mastery and effortless execution of even the most difficult gymnastics skills. She has an arsenal of amazing tricks she can do, but one of the most jaw-dropping is a tumbling skill she executes on the floor exercise simply called “The Biles”. It earned the namesake because Simone was the first female gymnast to accomplish two back flips followed by a half twist in competition.

Simone released her first book; Courage to Soar: A Body In Motion, A Life In Balance, at the end of last year. It’s a tell-all book where she opens her heart and soul as she takes us on her life’s journey from her early childhood to that rainy night in Rio where she would hold an American flag twice her size at the closing ceremonies. She was the first American female gymnast to be awarded this privilege. Who knew that the tiny girl with big muscles would accomplish such a feat and become an inspiration for little girls the world over.

We had the honor to catch up with Simone to learn more about her, her life’s passion of gymnastics, and her new book. The World Champion Centre, your family’s new gymnastics facility opened May 2016 in Spring, TX. What was the inspiration behind creating this gym? The idea of a gym started when my mom was closing out her former business and decided to start a new business venture. Her vision was to build a gym and have all the equipment that I would need for training since the Olympics was my goal. It has been so great having the facility available to me and I love having that support from my family and The World Champion Centre community.

Do you ever teach any classes at The World Champion Centre?

No, I have not taught any classes yet, but maybe in the future!

How does The World Champion Centre differentiate itself from other gymnastic facilities in the Houston area?

I believe The World Champion Centre is different from other facilities in the Houston area because it is multifaceted. We offer gymnastics, Artistic Olympics for boys and girls, Acrobatics-Silk program, Tumbling & Trampoline, the Warriors Program, Recreational and Preschool, Taekwondo and dance.

We also offer schooling for our gymnasts from 3rd grade through high school, and our pro-shop and cafe lend to our goal to satisfy each customer and make them comfortable.

Please tell us about the Academy at WCC.

Our Academy is a wonderful addition to World Champions Centre! We have two teachers that are master’s prepared. They tailor the student’s lesson plan to fit their individual needs and follow NCAA guidelines to ensure easy access to the universities. Students that are currently attending The Academy range from 3rd grade to high school. The Academy is a non-profit school which depends on donations for funding.

How old were you when you took your first gymnastics class? When did you first start competing?

I was six-years-old when I started gymnastics classes and was competing only a year later at the age of 7.

Do you remember doing your first cartwheel? Who taught you?

I remember being three-years-old when my brother taught me how to do my first cartwheel. I was hooked!

What lessons can students learn from gymnastics that they can apply to their everyday life?

Students can learn balance, discipline and organization, determination, mental and physical toughness, respect for their teammates and coaches, dedication to the sport, and most of all forming strong friendships and teamwork. That’s one of the things I love about gymnastics, aside from the flipping, soaring, and jumping, the sport is about teamwork, strength, and organization.

At what moment did you realize you wanted a career in gymnastics?

I fell in love with the sport from day one!

Best advice you can give young girls wanting to become an elite gymnast.

I would tell them to set goals for themselves and to not give up, even on the bad days.

Are you involved in any youth programs in your community?

Yes, I partnered with Mattress Firm Foster Kids, a donation-driven program that has given more than 610,000 items (clothes and school supplies) to foster kids and their families.

Who’s been your life mentor? What’s the best advice they have given you?

My mother has been my life mentor and the best advice she has given me is to “be the best Simone” that I can be. Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance, is your first book.

What motivated you to write it? What do you want readers to take away from this book?

I wanted to write my book because it is important to tell my own story. There are many things written about me but my fans should hear my story from me. I hope that my readers will get a little insight into my life and maybe be inspired to work harder in whatever sport they are involved in.

Mary Lou Retton wrote the foreword to your book. Tell us about this collaboration.

I first met Mary Lou at her invitational meet in Houston and I absolutely adore her. Mary Lou is one of the pioneers of Women Gymnastics and she is an amazing and powerful gymnast.

When did you first meet Mary Lou and what was that like?

I was very young when I met Mary Lou, I was about ten-years-old and we did not speak but I was in awe of her and I remembered her telling us to always stay focused and envision the routine before you “go” for it. From that day forward, and while in Rio for the Olympic Games, I think of that advice and it has really helped me as a gymnast.

In your book you talk about a field trip you took with your daycare class on a rainy day. Please tell us about that event.

I was attending Kids R Kids summer camp and it was field trip day. The plan was to go to an oil ranch. It was raining that day so the teachers needed a backup plan and they chose Bannon’s Gymnastix gym because it was close to us. I was excited because this was my first time in a gym. All the equipment was a dream come true. I was showing off all my tricks and copying what I saw the girls in the back doing. I remember this was an amazing field trip because I was sent home with a letter from the gym inviting me to join. At the age of three you were placed in foster care until your grandparents adopted you.

Any advice you would like to give to foster parents?

I knew that we were taken to stay with another family but did not quite understand why because I was young. I later learned that my mother had a substance abuse problem and had difficulty taking care of us. My short time in the foster care system was good and we were blessed to have been taken in by my grandfather and grandmother while my mother received help. My advice to foster parents is to give the child or children a chance and to love them.

Tell us about the nickname you earned in third grade.

My nickname at school was “swoldier” (classmates coined this term from the words ‘swollen’ and ‘soldier’) because I had defined muscles and was very strong. I had more muscles than any of the boys in my class, and I was very self-conscious of my body because of it.

At the 2011 Visa Nationals, you missed making the Junior National Women’s team by one spot. Please share with us this experience and the emotions running through you during this competition.

My goal and my dream was to make the National Women’s team. Missing that opportunity by one spot was devastating, but it made me even more motivated to get back in the gym and work even harder.

In your experience in women’s gymnastics, do you think there’s a significant advantage to having a woman vs. a man as a coach?

I have had both men and women coaches and I am comfortable with both. I believe it is who you are most comfortable with that will give you an advantage and who will push you and encourage you. You need a coach to teach, guide, and understand you.

Aimee Boorman was your coach since the beginning of your gymnastics career. What was the key to this successful relationship?

As a coach, Aimee knew and understood me as a person. She knew what I was capable of doing and knew that I needed a challenge to stay focused. Aimee managed to keep me motivated to push through the numerous repetitions during training.

You haven’t lost an all-around meet since 2013. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio you took four gold medals and a bronze setting an American record for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single game. How do you stay humble?

I am blessed to be consistent with my performances in competitions. My mom makes sure that we pray and go to church routinely and thank God for the body and gift he gave me. Life at home is the same. I am still responsible for doing chores in the house and keeping the same routines once I am at home, which helps me stay grounded.

You chose Samba music for your floor exercise routine at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. What motivated you to make this selection?

My choreographer helped me with selecting my floor music, and because I like upbeat music, it felt like the perfect choice for that routine. We debuted the music at the Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, WA and there was such a great response from the crowd that we decided to keep it for my floor exercise in Rio.

What was it like being a part of the “Final Five” team?

Being a part of the final five was amazing and a dream come true.

Do you have any good luck rituals you do prior to competing?

I do not have any rituals prior to competing, but I do take along my turtles and my St. Sebastian pendant with me because they are my good luck charms!

What’s your favorite thing to do when not doing gymnastics?

When I am not doing gymnastics I love spending time with family and friends and watching Netflix.

Do you have any furry friends at home?

We have 4 German Shepherds: Maggie, Lily, Bella and Atlas.

Who’s on your playlist?

Right now I am listening to a lot of Justin Bieber, The Chainsmokers, Drake, and The Weeknd to name a few.

Your favorite place to go to in the world?

I love visiting Belize because it is where my mother’s family comes from. It is a true connection to family and that is just very special to me.

When you’re not training or competing what’s your favorite food you like to eat?

Oh it would have to be pizza! That is definitely my favorite cheat food.

What would Simone Biles be if she wasn’t an Artistic Gymnast?

If I did not do artistic gymnastics I would probably be a dancer or in track and field. It would have to be something creative and physically involved, but still not a far cry from artistic gymnastics! .

Stylist Assistant: Dustin Bice | Special thanks to Brie Costello, Janey Miller and Ashley Laury | World Champions Centre Gym located at 28865 Birnham Woods Dr, Spring, TX 77386

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simon Biles available at Barnes and Noble, published by Zondervan Press

KAREN LEE – TRAINER

Karen Lee is centered. One can feel this immediately when standing within her presence. As with any athlete that has conditioned their mind and body through years of training, Karen’s calm collection is anything but docile. There is a hyper- awareness and intuition that is in operation, gears turning in full motion. Perhaps it is this quality that allows her to tap so readily into those she works with and trains.

A gifted motivator, Karen has the ability to help her clients reach within themselves,
find their grit, and use it as motivation to reach their personal fitness goals. In short, she understands her clients’ pain. “We are programmed to protect ourselves from physical pain, and working out hurts.” She says, however, that “it comes down to mindset.”

Fully knowing the challenge an early morning workout can pose while juggling a full schedule, the bodybuilder herself has been pursuing her love of physique training, while balancing her responsibilities as a single mom with her personal fitness-training career as one of Equinox’s Master Instructors. Here Iris had a chance to catch up with the demi-goddess while on set for her photoshoot at Equinox River Oaks.

When did you decide to become a bodybuilder, and what inspired you?

I started competing in 2013 as a way to challenge myself. I had been working out my entire adult life and I was starting
to feel like I was just going through the motions in the gym. So one of my friends suggested that I should prep for a show, so I did. And suddenly I had purpose and passion in the gym again. It sparked my competitive spirit and I have been addicted ever since.

Was there anything in particular that attracted you to it?

Because of my background as a gymnast, I have a tendency towards perfectionism. The tough thing about physique sports
is that there is no such thing as perfect and there is always something that can be improved. So I have learned to reign my inner perfectionist in a little, so that I can focus more on progress and improvement.

What challenges have you had to overcome in pursuing bodybuilding?

Most of the challenge for me comes in balancing my life with my passion. I have to take care of my priorities first; my daughter, my job, my health. I will never allow any of my priorities to suffer for my desire to improve my physique. That means late nights of preparing my food and early mornings at work to allow time for workouts, but my goal is to keep the rest of my life and my daughter’s life as normal as possible.

What feelings or emotions do you experience while training?

It is a complete spectrum. One day you walk into the gym feeling like, “I am on fire and I’m gonna kill this workout and then go home and be a great mom and take care of business!” The next day you wake up and think, “I’m not gonna make it, why am I doing this?” But ultimately, what separates good from great is your ability to push through those tough days. I have learned you can’t be spectacular every day, but either way you have to show up and give your 100% effort for that day, whatever that may be.

Can you explain a little about the sport science of bodybuilding?

Many people would assume that most bodybuilders and coaches are a bunch of “meatheads”. But in order to stay healthy and get your body to extremely low levels of bodyfat for competition, it takes a very specific, science-based diet and training program. You can’t just starve yourself and do a bunch of cardio, expecting great results. We go through a bulking season where the goal is to build muscle without gaining too much fat. This requires a lot of nutrient dense foods at specific times, and lifting typically heavier weights with not as much cardio.

Then, when preparing for a competition, I take about 16 weeks to diet down. This means everything I put in my mouth is measured and calculated and serves a specific purpose: some days are higher in carbs, other days are higher in fats.
It also means an increase in cardio and higher intensity weight lifting sessions. There are a lot of wrong ways to do it, but there is no one right way to do it; each competitor has to find what is right for their body.

Have you experienced any stigmatization because of how your body changed since you began training? From either men or women?

Definitely, from both men and women. Some of the comments are positive, but also a lot of negative. I just don’t think people are ready to accept that a woman can be strong and feminine at the same time. It used to really bother me at first, but now I try to take the comments in stride, even the negative ones.

Additionally, I find that people see me a s very one dimensional because of the way I look. I spend a lot of time in the gym, but I am not just a “meathead”. I have a college degree, a successful career, a happy healthy daughter, I foster rescue dogs, attend church, travel, read, etc. Lifting is just something I am passionate about. It is a part of me, but it is not who I am.

I don’t think their intention is ever to insult. I think they don’t know what to say when they see something out of the norm like a girl with big muscles. It used to really bother me but I’ve taught myself over time to take it as a compliment because they don’t know how to say, “Wow you look like you work really hard,” or “I can see your dedication.”

Do you think women need to push back on body image standards that have been imposed by fashion and commercial advertising?

As a society we are shown images of women who crash diet, don’t exercise, don’t sleep. And then the alternative
to that is plus size women who “love their curves” but have unhealthy body fat percentages. I don’t know that either one is really healthy. I wish there was as much marketing for health as there is for beauty. I really think that everyone has to look at their own body and embrace who they are. My body is more muscular so I’ve embraced it. I think the push needs to be toward more healthy bodies. Healthy bodies are beautiful. Just as it’s not healthy to be 30 pounds overweight; it’s also not healthy to be 30 pounds underweight.

Do you see bodybuilding as an opportunity to change the way we see beauty?

I realize this lifestyle and this physique is not for everyone. I think a strong woman with muscle should be included on the spectrum of beautiful women.

What advice would you give to other women who would like to start training to become a bodybuilder?

Identify your reason for wanting to compete. We all have different reasons why we are driven to push our bodies to the extreme, but I think you have to have a firm grip on what that reason is. When things get tough, you can always remind yourself why you do it.

What classes do you teach at Equinox?

I am a full time tier 3+ trainer and Master Instructor at Equinox. I focus all my energy into training my clients one on one and then training other trainers.

Do you have any easy workout routines that you utilize on a daily basis and might advise others to try?

With my clients, I like to start with the basics and work up from there. I always start with some easy mobility work, like stretching and foam-rolling. Then after about a 10-minute warm up we start in with the strength work. I typically like to incorporate several different movement patterns, depending on the client and their needs. A hip hinge, a pushing movement, (like a push up) a pulling movement (like a row) a squat of some sort, a loaded carry (like a farmers walk) and a twisting movement (like a wood chop). I think people try to get too advanced too quickly. My best advice is to get really good at the basics, and then progress slowly and systematically.

Do you think visualization practices help attain physical results in training?

Visualization and mindfulness is a must! Don’t get me wrong, I lift very heavy weights one or two days a week, and on those days it’s just about moving the weight. But on the rest of my training days it is mostly with lighter weights moving slowly and really squeezing the muscles. That’s where the mind/muscle connection really comes in. I visualize each muscle fiber contracting one after another like dominoes falling until the entire muscle is squeezed tight.

What advice would you give to anyone who’s wanting to reach specific goals in health and fitness?

I think clearly identifying your goals is the first is super important to make sure you know the “why” behind the “what”. Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to get more muscles? . It’s never just because I want to look good in my clothes, there’s a deeper reason and that reason is what’s going to get you up at 5 in the morning to do your workout. Looking good in your clothes is not going to get you up at 5 am. Wanting to keep up with your kids or wanting to become healthier are reasons that will motivate you, because working out is very counter intuitive right? It’s painful, it’s not just you! We like the result, we like the feeling that comes from it, but the actual workout is not always rewarding, initially. That’s why you have to know what that deeper motivation is and have a firm grip on it.

So in order to be successful you need to make a gradual lifestyle change that begins to include working out as a part of the normal routine?

For sure! Even if it’s not working out, whatever behavior it is that you want to change, you don’t ever set up a goal and say, “Okay, I’m going to go to the gym for the next 365 days.” That’s not manageable and unrealistic! I think people try to bite off way more than they can chew and often we see these things in fitness magazines that are “30-day challenges”. First of all that is an overwhelming idea to get fit it in 30 days. Secondly, what happens on day 31?

The new habits start to break down because they’re not the person doesn’t own that goal they just rented it for 30 days. Maybe for those 30 days they were so dedicated and had so much willpower. Maybe they even accomplished the challenge. But how do you maintain that over the long term? What I find that works a lot better among people is to begin training slowly and in stride with their bodies, even if it doesn’t seem like much at the time, they’re more likely to be successful in forming the new behavior. It starts with baby steps; it’s always baby steps. It’s never giant leaps.

Do you have any rituals that you practice that keep you centered and grounded?

I go to church with my daughter. That always keeps my priorities in check and reminds me that being a good person and looking good are two different things. I have to remember that my inside needs as much attention as my outside.

I’ve also been making it a practice to remain present, for example I limit my phone usage while I’m with my daughter so I can focus just on her. Even if I’m doing something not so fun like working, trying to be present by not thinking about what I’d rather be doing, but focusing on the task at hand. It’s more fulfilling because I am engaged in the moment and not thinking about what I have to get done later.

Is working out, in a way, its own form of meditation for you?

Before, I used to let my mind wander during my workouts, and they were not as productive. There is definitely a mind muscle connection, so you can’t just zone out and mindlessly sit on a machine. You can, but your body won’t change at all. So in order to really see change and make the most out of your workout then you definitely have to be present in what you’re doing. There’s a lot of risk involved. There’s potential injury, so if you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing and zone out, you can get hurt.

What makes you feel beautiful?

It took me a long time to accept this, but I feel most beautiful with a clean face, clean body right before I go to bed. I know my body is healthy from the inside out and that makes me feel beautiful.

What makes you feel powerful?

There is nothing like the feeling of hitting a personal record! You set a goal, design a program, and then after systematically executing the program, you are lifting weight you never thought possible. It makes you feel like you can literally accomplish anything!

What makes you feel confident?

Preparation. When I take the time to be prepared, I feel like I can take on the world. So I take Sundays to prep meals, do laundry, write my clients workouts etc. Then Monday morning hits and I feel like a time management machine and I can take on anything that comes my way! ‡

For more information contact Equinox River Oaks, River Oaks District, 4444 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77027 281-936-0963 | equinox.com

Photography and Interview by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes Art Direction by Louis Liu | Hair and Makeup by MakeupByDiego

IRIS MAN: TILMAN FERTITTA

Interview by Marc Sifuentes | Photography by Jhane Hoang | Art Direction by Louis Liu

iris04_tilman_web Tilman Fertitta photographed at the construction site of Landry’s new corporate office and Tilman’s mixed-use Houston tower – The Post Oak in Houston, TX.

Since childhood, Tilman Fertitta had dreams of becoming a business owner, an odd desire for a young boy; however, it was foreshadowing what his future would become. By age twelve, he was working for his father in the family restaurant, trying to send the patriarch home regularly with aspirations of running the place himself. Born in Galveston Texas, Fertitta spent his formative years working, and that passion for hard work has not died down and continues to become increasingly fiery. Work became such an integral aspect for Tilman’s life that it overshadowed his pursuit of higher education, but he viewed traditional education as a tiresome obstacle to his path towards success. Fertitta has enriched his community and given opportunity to thousands of people through his entrepreneurial and charitable endeavors. However, it is not without merit for he is a man whose natural intuition and savvy could produce corporate mergers, brilliant investments, and millions of dollars in his bank account before age thirty. Now Tilman Fertitta is the sole owner, chairman and CEO of Fertitta Entertainment, Inc., the mother company to both the restaurant empire Landry’s and the Golden Nugget Casinos. Now Tilman Fertitta has taken time to sit down with Iris and discuss his meteoric rise and estimated $3.2 billion fortune.

Let’s talk about how you started in the world of business, and what was the first venture you started on your own? How did you fund it?

It’s kind of funny because I did three scenes today for my show, and while I was having a conversation with one of the contestants, I told her you have to go get a line of credit. You know I remember in 1979 going to a bank, scared to death, to borrow $6,000. That’s how I started. A $6,000 loan, no guarantee, just me. The first business I was ever in was a women’s clothing store. I had a cousin who was in the women’s ready-to-wear business in Dallas. I would go and hang out with him, and one day I asked him what he did with all of these samples. He said we just get rid of them at the end of market, so I offered to buy them from him and start my own store. It was called the Sample Factory and it was my first store, my first business really.

How did it develop from there?

Well, my next business was with these people in the Shaklee Vitamin industry, and I met them and opened the Shaklee Vitamin Stores all over Houston. By the time I was twenty-one, I had won a free cadillac selling Shaklee Vitamins. Then I got into the building business, home building and then developing shopping centers, and by the time I was twenty-six I had built a hotel in Dallas. I did that for a few years then I was an investor in a restaurant and bought all of my partners out in 1986, and then I just started building restaurants. In the development business the world fell apart in Texas in 1985 because of the economic recession. From 1986 to 1993 we just built Landry Seafood restaurants in Houston, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Louisiana and a few other cities. I went public in August of 1993, and by the next morning I was worth one-hundred-million dollars. It was a crazy stock market, and the rest is history. The hardest thing to do is make the first one-hundred-million, I know it sounds easy but it isn’t! (laughs)

Sounds like you took a risk with the economy tanking in 1985, would you say that a lot of your success is based on risk taking?

Absolutely! You cannot be scared. If you want to be an entrepreneur and make big money you cannot be scared. It is a different world today, so many young people are working in tech and happen to work at the right companies at the right time, and they’re worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but to do it by sticks and bricks…you can’t have any fear.

Well, going back again to your childhood, your father owned a restaurant and you used to work there as a child, did you ever feel like you didn’t want to get into the restaurant business because of that?

I never really thought about it. I was always working there, I even tried to send him home so I could run it. I was twelve. (laughs) I have always loved working. I remember growing up in Galveston in my early years, working at my dad’s restaurant and then working at the pier as a lifeguard, which I now own and renamed Pleasure Pier. I have always worked. I had done every job that there was to do in Galveston by the time I graduated high school. It didn’t bother me to work. People ask me, why are you always working, and I say, “What else am I going to do? Sit on an island?”

You have four children, will any of them be taking over the family business?

I’ve got one whose last day of college is today, and he will be here tomorrow. All four of my kids love the business, it’s all they’ve ever known. They grew up with it. 48 Hours did a piece on the family about thirteen to fourteen years ago about how the kids had an influence on the business. They all want to be involved in the company.

We want to talk about the show you are now hosting and starring in, Billion Dollar Buyer, how did that start?

I had always guest hosted on CNBC, and they started a primetime a few years ago and asked if I would be interested in having a show but I just never thought it was the right time. But when CNBC contacted me about this and told me it would be a business type show and I could have some fun and be myself and it would be educational for people I felt that it was the right time for me to get into it. It is really amazing, you know, I was having dinner last night and this waiter came up to me and he was talking to me about his business and he told me “I learned so much from your show.” That’s what I wanted it to be, fun but educational.

Have you learned anything yourself from doing the show?

You know what’s good about it? I just got back from shooting in New York and I did three boardroom scenes, and you just have to always be on, so mentally you’re just whipped at the end. The world is changing and I have to stay up with it. We have to keep up with all of these young companies, and the show is keeping me on the cusp of what is really going on in the entrepreneurial world. For me, it’s about seeing all of these small companies, and seeing what is next and what is cutting edge.

You seem to have had a very fast rise in the entrepreneurial world. When your company started taking off, were you ever overwhelmed by the seemingly “overnight” success?

No. I never thought it was growing too fast. Have there been ups and downs? Absolutely. We’ve just been lucky enough to have more ups than downs (laughs), and the ups were big ups and the downs were little downs. I was very fortunate with my business decisions and it panned out very well for me. I never try to bite off more than I can chew.

As a busy entrepreneur, with a new TV show, buildings always going up, and the daunting task of managing all of these properties, you still manage to add more and more to your plate. What new and exciting concepts can we expect from you in the future?

Well, I am building a bunch of new concepts out here in Houston, and it will be just unbelievable. Downtown we’re building a new Grotto, and it will be nothing like the current one. It’s a real popular restaurant, but I am doing it with a twist and want to cater to the younger people. I am always building. I am building a couple of other unique restaurants inside of the hotel properties. I am always very excited about what is new and cutting edge, and it is really my mission to bring those ideas to Houston.

How does your team come up with a concept and how do you know that that’s the direction you want to take?

Everything usually comes out of my head, and I have a wonderful team that’s been with me forever. Like the Aquarium restaurant downtown, that used to be a fire station. When the city said that they wanted to get rid of it, I walked in there and I knew I wanted to do a big public aquarium on the ground floor, and a huge restaurant with a large tank on the second floor which would help draw people in, third floor I’d do a private dining room, and the fourth would be support. Outside I’d build a few amusements and make it fun. Then they said we also have this old waterworks building and that I couldn’t tear it down, but that I could do something in it. That’s when I came up with the idea to put a giant shark tank inside and have a train that goes through it. I am very fortunate that I have a wild imagination. (laughs)

What would you say is the most important characteristic a business person should have?

Well, we’re all business people. What has made me successful is my drive, and number two I understand the operational side of the business, but yet I know how to create. I can build from my imagination, and then I can operate it. Usually a developer is a developer, and they get tenants to maintain the property. Nowhere else in America is someone able to maintain the restaurants, hotels, entertainment, etc. in one property development.

You’re a contributor to several charities, do you have any that you hold close?

Number one right now for me, I am Chairman of Houston Children’s Charity and have been for many years. I love it because we are a children’s charity that does not operate in a silo, only focusing on one thing. We do multiple things for the community, like buying vans for people who are mentally or physically handicapped so their family can drive them to services that they need. I love being Chairman of the Houston Police Foundation. Yesterday I approved the purchase of four hundred specialized vests for officers, so they could operate more safely. Of course, the University of Houston is also very special to me and I am Chairman of that board as well. I just gave twenty million dollars for them to build a new basketball arena. I love doing stuff for the police, children, the university.

How do you think the industry has changed over the years?

Well, the whole industry has changed everywhere. Texas is very diverse, you have to cater to a lot of different people, and the industry is always changing, but it is very easy to do business here. I love Texas, I love the uniqueness of Texas, and I love being from Texas. No matter where you go, if you say you’re from Texas it makes people raise their eyebrows.

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

I’ve never had that one mentor, but I have really tried to listen to a lot of other people. There is not one singular thing or piece of advice that has really struck me, but I try to learn every day. I want to wake up every morning trying to be a little smarter than the day before. A lot of young people today, who are very smart, don’t appreciate history. When you have done something a lot of times, you are just better at it.

What is your personal definition of success?

Anybody who does what they are passionate about very well, and who exceeds expectations, is successful to me. I have said this many times in speeches, “money is not a definition of success.” You can be a great artist, a great musician, you can take the engine of a car apart and put it back together –that is pretty damn talented to me. I can’t even change the oil to my car! (laughs) A lot of people make money accidentally, but I believe that it is what you do and how you do it, not what you get in return that makes you successful. 

If not business, what other career paths would you have taken?

None. (laughs) I’m not good at anything else! I think we are all born with a certain amount of talent and everyone just needs to find what they do very well. I was born to work in business, and I was blessed enough to find that out at a very early age and go with my gut to pursue it. 

What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur who wants to open a business?

If you get a partner, don’t get one that knows what you know. If you’re strong in operations get someone who knows sales, and vice versa. Whatever you think it is going to cost to stay in business, you better have a lot more capital. People usually fail because they are under capitalized. It is important to understand your flaws and weaknesses so you can compensate for them. I find the most successful entrepreneurs are people who do not believe that they can do it all.  ‡

iris04_tilman_web2

IRIS WOMAN: DEBORAH COLTON

Philanthropist. Art curator. Gallery Owner. Deborah Colton has become a force in the art world, and has dedicated her life’s work to sharing ground-breaking international artists with her network of collectors, gallerists, and art aficionados.

iris04_deborah_webDeborah Colton photographed in front of Untitled Diptych by Daniel Kayne from the Dividing God Series, 2008 at Deborah Colton Gallery, Houston, TX.

While living in Asia for eight years, Deborah Colton’s first emanation was a virtual gallery, starting in 1998, whose main focus was to create an awareness and appreciation for the multi-media talents of artists from Thailand, Japan, China and throughout Asia. With a background in marketing and a passion for art along with the support and encouragement of her peers and critics, Colton soon set out to look for her own gallery space. In 2000, finding a dilapidated but promising warehouse near downtown Houston, Deborah was at the forefront of initiating the gentrification framework for other artists and galleries to build out this blank space to curate their artistic visions. A few years later in 2004 she would open the Deborah Colton Gallery in a new Houston location, here she would expand her roster of artist for her now faithful international clients. While continuously supporting many art non-profits over the years, Colton shares her mission through various endeavors that help make Houston a destination city for the arts, nationally and internationally. We were lucky enough to have Deborah sit down with us to discuss her life in art.

What spurred your fascination with art? Any piece you collected that began this journey?

My fascination with art started as a young child with my mother painting on canvas in my playroom. My mother was an artist, and then later studied interior design at the New York School of Interior Design.  She has always had a wonderful sense of style and a sophisticated eye in creating our home in Essex Fells, New Jersey, which was featured in many newspapers and magazines. Living near New York, we would drive into the city to visit museums all the way through my college years. I drew and painted also, but my father wanted me to go more into business. I went that route, but always kept art as a hobby. I started to collect fine art in my mid-30’s when my husband and I moved to Tokyo, Japan and I was living a charmed international ex-pat life. By the time we moved to Bangkok, Thailand four years later, I  was supporting Asian artists and continued to acquire a fair amount of contemporary Asian art. Loving art so much and wanting to support artists and the community while trying to create cross cultural exchange are some of the reasons I have the gallery now.

Did you always know you wanted to curate and collect art? Was there another career path you had in mind before you became emerged in art?

My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Marketing with a minor in Psychology. After college I was in corporate sales, sales management and product launching in Houston and then in New York. My heart was always pulled towards the arts and I took night courses studying art whenever I could. When we moved overseas, it was easier for me to become more emerged in the arts again since I was not working in my first career anymore.

While living in Bangkok, I became very involved supporting many of the national artists of Thailand appointed by His Majesty the King, many of whom were professors and deans at the major fine arts university there. There they gave me private lessons on art techniques and processes. I have always felt I have had a privileged art education, being mentored by excellent international curators in Asia who studied in Europe at the finest schools, then later having top art historians speak at our gallery and having learned from all outstanding artists we have exhibited over the years. It’s been an amazing journey and I am very humbled and appreciative.

How has your view on art changed since moving back from Asia sixteen years ago?

I have realized it is a full-time life commitment being involved in the arts. It was the Thai artists who inspired me to open a gallery when I moved back from Asia. They said historically in Europe, private galleries were created by art patrons who wanted to give the artists a place to exhibit and sell their art. These patrons’ friends and peers would acquire the art which would help the artists establish their full-time careers. The art patron-gallerist in Singapore, who did so much for the contemporary art scene in Singapore, including establishing their international art fair, felt I had the personal portfolio to be successful at this too. I had always been involved since college in contributing to my community, so making this contribution to the arts to help make Houston become more of an international art city seemed like something that would fully inspire me.

Why does the Deborah Colton Gallery focus on international artists rather than strictly American or even just Texan artists? Why do you find this focus important?

Every gallerist has their own personal journey and this is reflected in the art and artists they choose to exhibit.  I lived overseas for over eight years with my family.  Our perspective on the world changed, making best friends with people from all over the world and living in different countries with different cultures. We all became “citizens of the world” rather than of one place, and relationships became the most important to us since the places we lived always changed. The first exhibitions I curated in the United States were from Asia. In October of 2000 it was an exhibition of over fifty works from Thailand with Consular Forum 2000 in conjunction with the Asia Society. Next it was China, next Japan, all in conjunction with the Consul Generals of these countries is Houston and with the Asia Society.

Who are your favorite artists to feature and how do you decide who to represent?

All our artists are special in that they don’t mass produce work just to make sales. They are true, pure artists and create from their souls and their intellect. Most are trying to create awareness about issues that affect us as a global human race in this 21st century or have concepts that help make people feel “whole” and more connected. I feel that if people take the time to look and understand these artists, the quality of their lives will improve. They will become more connected with themselves, their environment, their quality of their relationships, and how we all co-exist with each other, sharing this planet together right now. Other artists like Jonas Mekas and our Houston based artist Suzanne Paul, help us understand where we come from as art communities, as a nation. Respecting the past and understanding it helps us be more present in today, and prepares us for the future.

Almost all of the artists we present are part of our mission statement, which is to use the gallery as a forum to connect Texas with national and international artists to make positive change. Visual arts are part of the humanities that we can’t lose as a modern technological, more commercially-driven society. Our mission is to preserve this and create more world wide understanding through the arts.

What is the most powerful memory that comes to your mind related to art?

I remember I took a lot of time, actually over three years coming back from Asia, deciding what type of gallery I wanted to open and where it should be, based on our programming. As I had mentioned, I had done  “Pop-ups” in various Asian countries before this, and also an exhibition that had only shown in New York which included a film at the Angelika and a “Pop-up” exhibition in conjunction with FotoFest 2002.

This took off, and I wanted to exhibit really cutting edge Asian and international art in the future too. It was all going to be different from what the city had experienced before. Thus, I needed a unique gallery space. So I decided to open a gallery in the First Ward near the railroad tracks in a dilapidated warehouse. My most amazing art experience was the opening of Deborah Colton Gallery during FotoFest of 2004. We had over eight-hundred people come. Then the next show, one of the four artist’s entire body of works went into the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The next show over 1,200 people came. That was when a building developer decided to restore one of the other old artist studio buildings.

We supported this effort and helped him get artists to rent his studio spaces and then we worked towards making the whole area a protected First Ward Arts District. Now this First Ward Arts District is one of the largest artist studio areas in the United States and is called the Washington Arts District. It’s good for the artist; it’s a place for them to show their work and sell it and they really don’t need a commercial gallery. It brings art to more people which is a positive thing.

iris04_deborah_web3How did the idea of placing the Yoko Ono IMAGINE PEACE billboard come to fruition and what was the reaction from visitors and residents of Houston?

The planning of this show started shortly after September 11th, 2001, a day that changed the way we related and protected ourselves in the nation. Yet, many of us felt more war was not the answer.  I started to organize the 2006 WORD exhibition shortly after we opened the Deborah Colton Gallery in 2004. We had a focus on creating more world wide understanding through the arts and wanted to have a major exhibition of the most historical conceptual and fluxus artists. I believed in extending our exhibitions outside our own four walls and felt very strongly that the largest Yoko Ono IMAGINE PEACE billboard must be placed in Houston, going into downtown where thousands of people would see it each day.  When the billboard went up, the city was mesmerized by it. All of the TV stations covered it, all the newspapers and magazine press. Additionally we had hundreds of emails and phone calls with people giving testimonials of their life experiences and how important this major, harmonious billboard touched their lives each day. The billboard took on a life of its own, since the billboard company also got hundreds of phone calls. People wanted to sponsor it to keep it as a permanent installation. The city of Houston reacted
as much when it was taken down as when it went up, and the billboard also got national and international attention. For this reason I sponsored the billboard again at the same place for our 2011 “Positive Perceptions” exhibition which was the time of the 10th memorial of 9-11. The public was so pleased to have it in the city again and it showed unity in our nation to support those who lost their lives in New York. I was happy to sponsor it again.

Do you feel that being an independent gallerist gives you more freedom to take a risk on showing an artist that might not have the commercial success of a more mainstream artist or do you feel your approach is a good balance of art and commerce?

Luckily I have clients and supporters all over the world. We have artists from every world region and I am established as an international dealer. Thus, I can take risks with exhibitions that make an important social statement for positive change. I don’t judge my success by how much we sell locally from each exhibition as much as how much we contribute, and how much of an impact we make.

Why did you choose to create a social and cultural center like the Deborah Colton Gallery in Houston rather than somewhere like New York or Los Angeles?

Houston is much more exciting to me. It is open and I love the way the people are. It’s a young dynamic city that is open to new ideas and is a city of the future. The city is diverse and has great potential for growth. It’s also very diverse and international, with over ninety-five Consulate offices and so many international leaders in all professions here. The city embraces new ideas and innovation, which is what Texas is made of. I have more freedom here to do really provocative and informative, dynamic, international programming that is fresh and inspiring, like the city of Houston. There is no where else I would rather be. It’s great here!

What type of experiences do you hope visitors take away from visiting your gallery?

I hope that they will reach new levels of understanding of issues that affect us in a non-confrontational way through the beauty and essence of visual arts.

You are involved in so many great charities in Texas, is there one that is particularly close to your heart?

They are all important to me. I am on several boards and advisory boards because I believe in the organizations. I must say that helping Jonas Mekas and his Anthology Films Archives in New York is very important to me because it is the largest archive of independent film in the world, and I respect Jonas and his deep convictions. In Texas, I support organizations that help the underprivileged children through the arts, like Community Artists’ Collective and City Art Works. I’ve been helping try to get our art fairs to the highest level and getting them on the same weekend so that we can establish a Houston Art Week that will highlight all the arts of the city. I spend a lot of my focus on Texas artists that did not go as far as they deserved in their lifetimes, like Bert Long, Dorothy Hood, and Suzanne Paul, who documented so much of Houston arts history since the 70s. We are establishing a project now to reveal our city’s foundations so that, as the mega international city that we are now, we have something documented and concrete to build on.

Where do you see the Deborah Colton Gallery in 10 years? What is your next step?

I don’t want to expand to other cities. Though we work with artists, curators, museums and collectors throughout the world. Houston is our home base and we only want one “white cube” exhibition space and gallery. I am open to the future.

What would you like your legacy to be?

I just get up every morning and try to contribute every day. Besides the fact that my husband and family are always the most important to me, the rest of my legacy the public can decide.  ‡

iris04_deborah_web2Deborah Colton photographed in her 2015 Maserati Gran Turismo convertible.

PALAZZO DAMA – ROME, ITALY

Rome is the home of legends, religions, and a storied, war-torn, and majestic past. Palazzo Dama wishes to share its own regal history with the glory of the ancient city, and by doing so has become a beautiful destination hotel for the discerning, elite clientele of the world. Experience Rome as one of the oldest families of nobility, the Malaspina family, did for over a century.

The Palazzo Dama is situated near the banks of the Tiber River, and has been host to countless aristocrats, diplomats, and other prominent social and political figures for generations—it is alway a pleasure to stay in Rome feeling like a noble. Named in honor of the dignified elegance of an aristocratic woman, or dama in Italian, this estate offers beautifully decorated rooms, sweeping views of the surrounding area, and a ma- jestic, full-service villa. The hotel was constructed mere steps from the Piazza del Po- polo, where guests have the freedom to pick from numerous events and destinations in the capital city. Designed by the famed architect Antonio Girardi, thirty sun-drenched rooms and suites make up the luxurious and historic vacationing experience. The garden of Palazzo Dama is filled with native lemon and olive trees which fill the air with scents of the Italian country. Located in the garden is a beautiful, pristine pool elegantly carved out from the earth. Guests can be seen lounging around the area and taking a swim in the waters as the naiads of myth did. On the rooftop, a private terrace provides stunning views from the Tiber to the Vatican and on across the glorious cityscape of Rome’s terracotta rooftops and ruins.

The hotel itself was made to feel like a luxurious private home, as if you were arriving at your own villa. Original marble mosaics be- deck the entrance, alongside stunningly de- tailed Art Nouveau doors which open to the lobby, hall, and lounges. The ceilings of the communal areas of the hotel are spotted with crystal chandeliers sourced from New York’s iconic Plaza Hotel, along with vintage Venini glass fixtures. A gracefully carved grand wooden staircase sits stately at the center of the palazzo, and is lit by turn-of-the-century beveled glass mirrors reflecting the natural lighting of the space.The furniture, hand-crafted by artisans and designed by the ho- tel’s architect, was carefully selected to enhance the already palatial hotel.

Once you have arrived to your suite in the Eternal City, enjoy a meal at the L’Autre Dame which offers gourmet, fresh, health-conscious dishes and a menu of international and local fare, with a kitchen open to guests twenty-four hours a day. The cocktail bar, situated in a beautiful deep blue alcove, is a great go-to evening spot, but the subterranean nightclub located below will be the perfect end to your day in Rome. Dance the night away and enjoy the hotel’s signature cocktails during your Italian vacation. In the morning, spend the day exploring the city with customizable tours, or perhaps spend the afternoon pampering yourself with exclusive beauty and wellness treatments in the comfort of your own suite.

The suites have been designed to create an atmosphere of comfort, with vintage artistic objects from international collections, coffee table books filled with art, photography, and culture, and a collection of iconic photographs by world-renowned photographers. The high ceilings of each suite highlight the airiness of the rooms which have been painted in a rich but soothing palette of dark blues and aquatic greens that echo the design elements of the hotel, along with the surrounding Tiber River. To complete the sensorial and visual experience, Diptyque candles and beauty products fill each room with botanical scents in order to transport each guest to bliss.

The Palazzo Dama offers a unique opportunity to exist as a member of nobility once again, and is one of the premiere hospitality destinations for Italian luxury travel. Come to the ancient city and luxuriate in the paradise of Palazzo Dama as if you were a Roman empress of old.

For more information and booking, visit palazzodama.com or call +39 06 8956 5272 Lungotevere Arnaldo da Brescia, 2, 00196 Roma, Italy

LE COLONIAL – VIETNAMESE VANGUARD

Le Colonial, after opening merely a few weeks prior to our interview, has already proven to be a destination lure for people looking to enjoy the elevated Vietnamese food of Nicole Routhier. This afternoon, Nicole has welcomed us into the restaurant and has taught us about the origins of the eatery, how she became a partner and culinary director, and what were her own origins as a chef and an authority of Vietnamese food. From growing up in Laos, being discovered by New York’s premiere food critic, to bringing Vietnamese food to the masses –Nicole Routhier is truly a star of international fare.


Le Colonial’s partner and culinary director Nicole Routhier and co-owner Joe King.

When did you first know you wanted to become a chef?

There was never one moment that I thought I would become a chef, it was more of something that I inherited. Ever since I was a little girl I have loved food and being in the kitchen with my mom. As a kid and as a teenager growing up,
my mother who was a single mother, owned a restaurant back in Laos. I just knew that I loved food and I always
hung around the kitchen and asked chefs questions. I didn’t know it was something I wanted to do until much later in my early twenties, after my studies when I went to New York.

What was it you were doing in New York?

At the time I was working in the travel industry because I loved language, but I always felt that something was missing.
I knew I wanted to be cooking. I put
some money aside and I went to the Culinary Institute of America. After school I worked at Sarabeth’s. While I was working, there was an article written by Craig Claiborne who was the food critic of the New York Times. I knew that he loved Vietnamese food, and after he went to Vietnam to try it on its native soil he wrote that since that experience he was unable to find great Vietnamese food in the US. I read that article and I just wished that I could cook him a great meal, so I basically wrote him a fan letter. About two days later he would call me and ask “when can I have that meal?” His kitchen was like a lab. There was everything you could need. That’s where all the great chefs had come before they were stars, they had all come through his kitchen for interviews and so forth. Little did I know that it was also an audition that I was doing. (laughs). Instead of just writing a little article, he wanted to do a spread
 of the dishes, almost like a banquet. Somehow I managed to produce all of
the dishes, but the single dish he really judged was the famous nem rán hà nội, the Vietnamese spring rolls, because those are very hard to do well. I thought he would have a little gathering to enjoy all of that food, but it was just him. He was sitting at his table with a little typewriter. He didn’t speak much, it was very intimidating.

He was observing you.

Yes, he was observing me and registering the recipes. Then when the food was done, I asked who was going to eat all of this food? So he called over his neighbors and one was Jacques Pépin and another was an Italian contessa. Soon they were tasting and telling me it was fabulous; he asked me a few questions about my background and so forth. Then it was over.


Image courtesy of Studio Communications

Did the New York Times feature ever come out? What was the reaction it received?

Just a few days before graduating! It was at the front page of the living section and it was an entire spread. Basically, he made me the authority on Vietnamese cuisine. His verdict was that the spring rolls were as good, if not better, than the ones he had in Vietnam and that press, to me, you cannot buy. The minute that article came out, people were tracking me down at the school and publishers and book agents were calling me up telling me to write a Vietnamese cookbook, but I was a young student putting myself through school and I said no. I spent a lot of money and I needed to find a job! In the back of my mind I thought that we needed a great cookbook on Vietnamese cuisine, and twenty-five years ago there was nothing like it on the market. Even just for myself it would be helpful because the only way I knew how to cook was from my mother. I knew what the dishes should taste like but there were no recipes. So I spent around two and a half years recreating these dishes from taste memory.

Did you find it hard to create recipes just from taste memory? Did the ones you came up with differ from the recipes you were taught?

Vietnamese cuisine is a very old tradition, and it changes very little. It has been under so many influences, China for instance for over a thousand years and then over to France for almost one hundred years. Of course over that time they had a lot of influences from Chinese cooking, but yet the Vietnamese have really kept on to their own traditions. For such a tiny nation it is quite a feat to emerge from all of that colonialism and still hold up to your tradition.
That is what I wanted to focus on with that first cookbook. We can be true to our traditions and show people that
our food can be really great. I am a 
strict traditionalist, but I am also for modernization because you can have
the best of both worlds! This is what we wanted to do with Le Colonial. It is based on the time of French cohabitation with the Vietnamese, you know I am a result of that, my mother was Vietnamese and my dad was French, so there was a lot
of french elements in the design and architecture and the service, but the food is Vietnamese.

What about when you developed the menu for the first restaurant and how has that changed over time to this one?

It hasn’t really changed. Again, it is more traditional and we have classic dishes that never change. That’s the great thing about it because you can take it and use it over time like classic French cuisine. Over the years the dishes ended up being watered down and when I came back to Chicago a lot of the dishes bared no resemblance to what I had taught them. The owners asked me to come back and bring it back to the way it was done initially and that is what we are trying to do here. My role here is to eventually move them beyond those classical dishes that they know, so that’s when
I will start bringing my own creations. Eventually we will modernize it, we are already way beyond what the people are doing in New York and Chicago and LA.


Image courtesy of Studio Communications

Do you think that for the people that are coming to the restaurant, it is also an education process for people to understand what it means to taste an authentic Vietnamese dish?

I think that here in Houston, people are very knowledgeable about Vietnamese cuisine because we have a very large Vietnamese community. We have our Chinatown, it’s huge and they have tons of great Vietnamese restaurants so people are very knowledgeable about Vietnamese food. In a way it is a challenge for us because yes we are new in town, but the food we are serving is just as authentic, and what we are trying to do is elevate it. You know people are used to those mom and pop shops where you can get a lot of food for very little money. Those Asian cuisines are so labor intensive because they are so old and you cannot change the preparation. So if anything, it should be just as expensive as any French or American eatery.

I’ve heard that you have to be in the mold
 to break the mold, so you really have to understand the structures of things in order to break free of them, do you feel like it is your job to teach how to improvise?

Yes, to improvise and go beyond what they know. Yes, this is my task, and it is a challenge but they are learning and it is all quite new. We have only been open for a week, and training for a month. It takes time, but that’s why I say it is so important to have Vietnamese people in the kitchen, because they understand the cooking and the food.

If your mother saw what you were doing now and how you were experimenting with the dishes now, do you think that she would be happy?

Oh yes, I think that she would be very proud. I think she was the reason I became a chef. After all of these years
I still miss her, but you know what was surprising is she never wanted me to become a chef. She was against it. She knew how hard it was, she said, “I will support you to do whatever you want, but not a chef because it is not a life.”

I think anyone who tries to go into a creative field, their parents try to distract them because they want them to have a more secure, and stable career.

You know, it was hard because I tried to be obedient, but I was never happy in my other jobs. So after she passed I said, “Ok, now I am free to follow my path”, but I know she would have been very proud.


Image courtesy of Studio Communications

You can tell she really inspired you, and she is still leaving her legacy with what you are creating here at Le Colonial and the lessons you are passing down to novice chefs.

That’s true and that’s why I wrote the cookbook because I wanted to dedicate
it to her. She showed me so much that I did not know. She was amazing, she had no training and was self-taught. She was so talented. She would go out, and when she tasted something she liked, she would go home and recreate it and make it even better. I think that is what I inherited.

Are there any other cuisines that you are inspired by?

Oh I love Thai, Mexican, anything that
is really intensely flavored—Indian cuisine, but you know I am open and very adventurous. I will try anything and everything at least once.

Are there any places that you travel for food?

Oh yes, even during my leisure travels. When you’re a chef you never stop being
a chef, and you can always find inspiration in the least likely places. For example,
this February I was in Ko Samui just vacationing with my sister in Thailand, and this is a very simple island with very fancy restaurants, but the best foods are on the street. Street cars and the markets, just fabulous foods! I found so much inspiration. I am always open, I never stop learning.

What is the best advice you could give an aspiring chef?

Follow your instinct. If something inside of you tells you that this is what you love, follow that. Regardless of obstacles, the love will be so intense that you have to follow it and everything will fall into place. If you follow your passion you cannot go wrong.


Le Colonial’s partner and culinary director Nicole Routhier.

For reservation or information about Le Colonial, call 713-629-4444 or visit lecolonialhouston.com 4444 Westheimer Rd G-140, Houston, TX 77027

Portraits by Jake Toler | Art Direction by Louis Liu Hair | Makeup and Grooming by MakeupByDiego | Interview by Marc Sifuentes

COUSINE ISLAND

Inside the beautiful cerulean waters of the Indian Ocean lies a rarified gem which offers paradise and escape from our usual urban culture. The unique environment of the island has created an immaculate habitat for all sorts of life, however, human-kind is the one species which has taken a backseat in participation. People are now invited to protect the ecosystem and help it thrive, while enjoying exclusive, private, eco-friendly accommodations. Cousine Island is one of the least touched or changed granitic islands of the Seychelles archipelago and is internationally famous for being an extremely ecologically important, privately owned island.

Reopened in April 2016, Cousine Island offers a rare natural experience without sacrificing truly unparalleled luxury and mindfulness of our impact on the world around us. On the island there is a sensation of seclusion and privacy that we almost never have in our largely urban lifestyles. You too can become a part of pristine nature and live, not as an intruder, but as a guest at one of mother nature’s most stunning creations. Cousine Island has four beautifully designed French colonial luxury villas and one impressive Presidential villa which offers two master bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, a study area, personal gym, spa, kitchen, dining room, and outside bar and living space. All five of these villas are surrounded by lush, vibrant, local flora and are just a stone’s throw from the beach. Each villa is specially designed with handmade furniture as well as the most innovative technology to ensure each guest is living in luxury and comfort.

The island offers an option for a full-time butler and accommodation for a private au pair for families with small children who wish to enjoy the beauty of the island sanctuary without worrying over their little ones. No expense has been spared to ensure the happiness of each guest. On this vacation getaway expect to have a gastronomical experience that will leave you enchanted by the chef extraordinaire’s ability to craft delectable dishes filled with color and aromas inspired by Creole, Asian, and Western cuisine. There is no menu, but instead the chef discusses each meal with the guest to ensure a bespoke eat- ing experience which is custom made to ensure satisfaction. All of the ingredients in the haute cuisine meals are sourced locally or from Cousine Islands’ garden supply of fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. Fresh fish is caught locally and sustainably by fisherman on Praslin and Mahé Island.

The private island is the first exclusive eco-luxury conservation based model of its kind to ensure that all of the revenue derived from each guest is reinvested to ensure the long healthy life of the island and its many animal inhabitants. The lodgings give a comfortable and familiar atmosphere while providing opulence and paradise that coincides with strict building protocol and regulations to make sure the human needs of its ambassadors do not outweigh the needs of the ecosystem. The materials and colors of the interior blend into the ocean, sands, and surrounding vegetation which creates a soft, seamless transition from the outside in. Cousine Island strives to reinvent the way that we view tourism; they believe that sustainable ecotourism should benefit the island and promote conservation and sustainable resources and practices by involving the guests on the island directly with the region’s biodiversity. There is much conservation work on the island such as the planting of indigenous trees from the island’s nursery, assisting the monitoring of marine turtles and birds, and “to promote and practice nature conservation and the wise use of nature resources of the island and its surroundings”. When you leave the magnificent island preservation, you will have a greater knowledge of the environment and importance of respecting nature and appreciating all of its gifts and beauty. Even if you choose not to get involved directly with the conservation, by visiting the tropical oasis you will be supporting its efforts to spread the beauty of eco- tourism and keep the habitat thriving. ‡

For more information and booking, visit cousineisland.com or call +27 11 706 3104 Cousine Island, POBox977, Victoria, Mahe

J.K. PLACE CAPRI

Capri cannot help but conjure up images of Greta Garbo and Marlon Brando cavorting around the island in chic cropped trousers and sandals, and still the tiny, rocky island contains that same reputation of glamorous beauty. In the summer, upwards to 20,000 visitors can be caught on the island touring and shopping each day. However, it is the crowds that stay on the island once the ferries leave to dine and promenade after the sun sets that are the ones to watch. Some of these glamorous people are guests at the world-renowned J.K. Place Hotel.

The luxury of discreet sophistication and taste make the J.K. Place Hotel a location where comfort and wellbeing are combined with an enviable panoramic position and setting in the luxuriant Amalfi coastline. The venue possesses an under- stated charm and elegance which offers the comfort of the hearth while surrounded by precious details of subtle luxury. With twenty-two spacious rooms designed with the artful revival of classical style in mind, the concept of the resort is that of a luxury house that amplifies the light, color, and breathtaking beauty of the sea. The airy curtains let light spill onto the white stone floors, highlighting the picturesque views of the Capri coastlines. The rooms also offer large windows and panoramic views so guests may really immerse themselves in the opulent setting. The stylish touches of mosaic and stone , elegant black and white furnishings, and other premium decor highlight the casual beauty of the space. How- ever, the great beauty of the space with equally superb service. The guests are coddled by warm and friendly care that starts once you arrive and continues on until you may just mistake yourself for an empress or pampered courtesan.

The hotel offers a splendid pathway that spirals down into the ocean so guests may enjoy the azure waters off the wind- swept cliffs. The building overlooks the Marina Grande beach, near the Amalfi Coast, and provides guests with ample space for sunbathing and enjoying the salty Mediterranean waters. After you lounge on the white sands of Marina Grande, you can head up to the JK Spa for a relaxing sauna or massage. The spa of J.K. Place is what every spa should aspire to be. Stocked with products from the famed Santa Maria Novella brand, it is easy to lose yourself in a lavender scented haze and shea butter lotions. Or perhaps get in a workout at the premium JK gym be- fore heading out to dinner. J.K. Place is just steps away from the port, and the characteristic “Funicolare” railway transports visitors from Marina Grande to the Piazzetta, pulsating heart of the island, in just three minutes for one-of-a-kind dining and shopping experiences. J.K. Place also offers its guests unforgettable excursions and mini vacations towards the most enchanting locations of the Blue Island and Amalfi Coast, night excursions to watch the sunset, and tours around the island to discover all of the natural wonders that the area has to offer.

All of these amenities as well as the sheer majesty of the resort have made this space a highly coveted vacation destination, so rooms are booked months in advance. However, it is not surprising since this is an exclusive destination and source of inspiration, a resort for emperors, poets and noble travelers, a haven for the soul in which you can lose yourself in admiration of the sea. ‡

For more information and booking, visit jkcapri.com or call +39 081 838 4001 Via Provinciale Marina Grande, 225, 80073 Capri NA, Italy