The pandemic brought hardship to nearly everyone, and very high on that list were parents and young teens who lived far apart. Chef Ned Elliott, who spent a decade cooking in Austin near his daughter, got a bitter taste of that dynamic on the California coast. So, only a few years after leaving, he started job searching in the Lone Star State again.
As of last week, Elliot is now the Executive Head Chef at San Antonio’s historic Hotel Emma. It’s certainly a different environment than Austin’s Foreign and Domestic, which Elliott founded and built up to a neighborhood superstar, selling it in 2017.
With a much bigger staff — not to mention overnight service and in-room dining — Hotel Emma will put a lot more on the head chef’s plate. There’s a grocery store, a bar, and a restaurant to take care of, among other things. But the core job is the same.
“My goals are what they have always been,” says Elliott. “I want to create a wonderful culture of caring and empathy. At the end of the day, I’m a husband and a father. Those are the things that define me.”
It’s a humble stance to take as the chef helms one of the most lauded hospitality institutions in the city. Hotel Emma is constantly name-dropped in travel and business publications such as Forbes, US News and World Report, and Tripadvisor. There’s a lot to uphold.
And as lucky as the restaurant staff is to have such a support-obsessed leader, Elliott is also lucky a space opened up. It’s only been a year since Chef Jorge Luis Hernández briefly took the reins.
“The things that I can bring to Hotel Emma and our back- and front-of-house teams is…saying, I want people to flourish in their careers,” says Elliott. “How do we get the different cooks, and sous chefs, and Executive Sous, and servers, and bussers, and stewards to the next [step]?”
“I’ve had so many people in my career that have have helped me out, [like when] a friend’s father [loaned me a] security deposit in New York — that’s $4,000 — and things like that,” he. “It’s such a demanding career, [but] you’re more than that. You’re somebody’s daughter or son; a brother, a sister, a parent.”
Once the supportive goals are squared away, there is one kitchen centerpiece Elliott can’t wait to try. The hotel’s wood-fired grill feels particularly Texan after the chef realized there aren’t many in use outside of the state. (Tall cities, for example, will not install a vent that goes up 15 stories, he explains.)
Chefs in this San Antonio kitchen, however, can cook over embers, use a plancha, and soak up all the flavorful smoke that makes Texas cooking unique. Elliott did not mention any upcoming changes to menus or culinary direction, so for now it sounds like business as usual.
“I think that we have a really, really wonderful opportunity to bring back the glory years of hotel Emma,” he concludes.
More information about the culinary program at Hotel Emma can be found at thehotelemma.com.