By Janis Turk
Best Chef, Texas James Beard Award Finalist Chef Steven McHugh
is a talented, tenacious, grateful guy who gives all the credit to his Cured family
From his childhood in a Wisconsin farmhouse to cooking in Manhattan’s famed James Beard House — as well as working in some of the best kitchens of New York, New Orleans, and San Antonio — all capped off by numerous James Beard Award nominations and all kinds of accolades in between, Chef Steven McHugh’s career seems charmed.
Owner/creator of San Antonio’s Cured gastropub at Pearl, and executive chef/partner of Landrace steak house on the River Walk, with a new Austin restaurant, Luminaire, and Las Bis bar opening this summer, Chef McHugh makes it all look so easy.
But wait for it.
Hurricane Katrina hits, cancer comes along, and a global pandemic spreads. Nothing’s quite as easy as it seems.
McHugh was a popular New Orleans chef when hurricane Katrina hit, so he and his wife Sylvia put all their efforts into feeding a flooded, starving city.
Then, just as things seemed to be getting better, and they’re moving to San Antonio to open restaurant Luke on the River Walk, doctors find a softball-sized tumor in the young chef’s chest: Cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
But Texas is good to the couple, and things start to turn around. McHugh beats cancer (thus “cured”) and opens his celebratory eponymously named gastropub, Cured at Pearl. It’s an overnight success.
Ten good years go by, but then a global pandemic shuts down the nation. Chef McHugh and his wife work to keep their staff and family fed and keep Cured alive curbside (“It was like we were running a 4,000-foot food truck,” he says), all while building restaurant Landrace on the River Walk at a time when no one knew if or when restaurants would reopen.
“It takes a lot to surprise me now,” laughs McHugh, whose optimistic philosophy is “just roll with it.”
Still, he admits he was surprised when fewer than two years after opening Cured, he opened his laptop to learn he’d been named a James Beard Award finalist.
That’s like winning an Oscar.
Considered the Academy Awards of the food world, the James Beard Foundation Awards recognize culinary professionals nationwide in a range of categories. No surprise to us, McHugh has been nominated no fewer than six times: this year for “Best Chef, Texas.”
Although the past 16 years have sometimes felt like ‘the best of times/the worst of times,’ the amiable chef says good days outnumber the bad. Sincerely modest yet charismatically engaging, McHugh is quick to give credit to the team at Cured who’ve worked beside him through it all.
Cured has been a cap rock of the Texas culinary scene and an anchor at Pearl for more than a decade. Known for fabulous gastropub fare, its menu relies on fresh seasonal ingredients sourced from Texas farmers, fishermen, ranchers, beekeepers, and more. This jewel box restaurant with soul is casual — never pretentious. It’s “a serious restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” says McHugh, who bases his daily menu on the best, freshest ingredients foraged from local farmers that week. Cured’s exceptional bar program is equally popular.
“I was so proud of my team and happy for San Antonio for the James Beard nomination this year because it validates all we’ve gone through as a family, a team, and a community. Each new day is a win because, after all we’ve been through, we now know what we can accomplish together. Maybe we felt more equipped this time when things got hard because Sylvia and I had already been through hell and back, but we’re humbled and grateful for the support of all who work with us and each of our loyal restaurant guests. This nomination is theirs; it’s San Antonio’s, too.”
SIDEBAR: This October 27-30, Visit San Antonio and Culinaria partner with the James Beard Foundation to bring a four-day Tasting Texas, Wine + Food Festival. James Beard chef-driven benefit dinners will also be held in various restaurants and venues across town, in conjunction with exciting new Day of the Dead parades and festivities. McHugh and other celebrated San Antonio chefs will be hard at work at the center of it all. See VisitSanAntonio.org and GrupoLaGloria.org for information on these exciting Day of the Dead week and Culinaria festival events.