Talking with chef Andrew Weissman ('91) is as refreshing as eating his pink Texas grapefruit and vermouth sorbet.
This international star of the highest culinary arts is as down-to-earth as he is professional.
In conversation about his remarkable career and his now-famous French restaurant Le Rêve — on the River Walk in San Antonio — he doesn't even utter the words "haute cuisine," or "nouvelle cuisine," for that matter.
Yet his restaurant is the talk of the world.
The dream emerges
Although Weissman made it big in a field other than the one he studied as a radio/TV/film major, he says his college days and brief career in broadcast journalism eventually led him to his dream.
Le Rêve, in fact, means "the dream" in French.
"I was just a happy-go-lucky guy when I arrived in Denton," he admits.
A girlfriend who'd enrolled at UNT lured him to town, and so he enrolled, too. He tossed around various ideas for what to major in before he settled on RTVF.
His subsequent journalism career took him to Mexico
City, where he worked for the NBC bureau. When he found he didn't have enough work, he started cooking for news crews. The son of a working mother, he'd always cooked for himself, and he knew his way around a kitchen.
One day, journalist George Lewis of NBC told him, "You know, I've eaten all over the world, and this is the best meal I've ever had," Weissman recalls. Lewis, who has traveled the world during his award-winning career, knows what he's talking about.
His comment was a wake-up call to Weissman.
"It clicked in my head, y'know this is what really makes me happy," says Weissman. "I get a lot of joy out of cooking."
And the rest is culinary history.
The CIA and beyond
Weissman packed up and headed back to his hometown, San Antonio, to talk to his supportive mother about his dream — first step, attend the Culinary Institute of America.
He graduated first in his class. Then, hand-picked by one of France's most illustrious chefs, he headed for Europe — the first-ever CIA graduate to be chosen by this particular chef. His skills shone and he found himself working in France's best restaurants for nine months.
Back on the East Coast, he worked for top restaurants including Lutece in New York and LaGrange in Greenwich, Conn., before getting in on the ground floor with the now legendary Le Cirque 2000. He admits it was all quite a heady experience.
But something nagged at him.
He wanted his own restaurant, and he thought, "Why not San Antonio?"
He was advised to drop the idea of putting a fine French restaurant in a city known mostly for its Tex Mex. He ignored the advice.
Who needs money?
He had only one problem. He had the chops, so to speak, but he didn't have the money.
So he did it on a shoestring, borrowing a few thousand dollars from relatives, chipping in what he could and fixing up a space on the River Walk that had been trashed deliberately by its previous tenants.
"The place was a dump," Weissman remembers. "Horrible. We redid everything."
Never one afraid to get his hands dirty in pursuit of a dream, he did a lot of the renovation himself: "I was the general contractor."
Today, his perseverance has paid off. Gourmet Magazine, the New York Times, Texas Monthly and many others sing his praises, some dubbing his Le Rêve the best restaurant in Texas.
His customers call for reservations from all over the United States and the world.
"It's best to make reservations at least three months in advance to assure you can get a table when you're in San Antonio," he says.
What it takes
Obviously, it takes drive and pluck to do what Weissman has done. But it also takes creativity and resourcefulness with food.
"I believe in minimal manipulation," he told New York Times writer R.W. Apple Jr.
He likes to use local products, such as Texas pink grapefruit, but he also brings in the finest foods and wines from far and wide. Everything is as fresh as possible. And, everything is cooked fresh — never ahead.
For his customers, an evening at Le Rêve is a mouthwatering, leisurely experience never to be forgotten.
"We've hit our stride," says Weissman. "It's become a destination restaurant."