Chef brings Texas twist to Benchmark projects

Noted Chef Stephan Pyles is bringing his expertise to Benchmark’s projects.

NEW YORK—Earlier this year, Benchmark opted to expand on its culinary offerings across its portfolio of some 70 properties within its Benchmark Resorts & Hotels and Gemstone Collection portfolios.

In two basically simultaneous moves, it added Todd Parmelee as its new VP of food and beverage, giving him oversight of operations for all F&B for each of Benchmark’s properties, and it also partnered with noted chef Stephan Pyles, a fixture on the Texas culinary scene who has opened 22 restaurants in five cities over 30 years, including his newest concept, Flora Street Café in the Dallas Arts District, and is noted for presenting “food as theater.” 

In coming on board, Parmelee told Hotel Business, “Each resort and hotel has its unique story to tell and food and beverage is a part of that.”

CEO Alex Cabañas noted Pyles, with the title Chief Culinary Advisor, has an intrinsic role to play. “He’s going to continue to run his organization and we are going to have access to his skills and his team on concept development, really helping to refine all the various projects that we work on… That’s really accelerating the investment that we could make in this business and accelerating the skill set we have, along with Todd and his leadership,” he said.

Benchmark is supporting the chef’s efforts with operations, staffing, infrastructure, financials, etc., as he develops new concepts for new projects.

“When we started to collaborate and said: ‘Here we are. What do we do?’ we thought it was a little frightening but also exciting because here’s this blank canvas that we didn’t have a guide for,” Pyles said. “Here’s all these properties and there’s never been this program and there’s never been either one of our positions, so we’re creating as we go.”

For starters, Pyles is creating one branded and one non-branded concept for two separate Benchmark properties. The non-branded restaurant is for the Verizon Basking Ridge (NJ) Hotel, where Pyles is developing a concept that he will launch together with the Benchmark operations team.

“I’ll then walk away but keep an eye on it into the future. I’m not tied to it as it doesn’t have my name on it,” he said.

Chef Stephan Pyles’ latest dining concept is Flora Street Café.

The cuisine, however, will be in Pyles’ wheelhouse. “It’s almost stealth,” he laughed. “It’s the same ideas, same flavor profiles. Somebody who really knew my food would probably say: ‘This is maybe a Stephan Pyles concept.’ But in New Jersey, where we’re launching this, I don’t think people would necessarily know that.”

The concept, said the chef, incorporates a wood-fired [a Pyles hallmark], farm-to-table menu, and he is sourcing local purveyors and suppliers.

The branded concept, a duplication of Pyles’ Stampede 66 restaurant, will be incorporated into the new 300-room Delta by Marriott Dallas Allen Convention Center at Watters Creek that Benchmark will operate 30 minutes north of Downtown Dallas. Currently under construction in Allen, TX, the project, which will offer 75,000 sq. ft. of meeting and convention space, is slated to open in 2019.

With projects at nearly opposite ends of the country, Pyles was asked how he intends to balance his efforts across Benchmark’s portfolio.

“We’ve made the commitment we won’t take on more projects than we can handle with quality. I could do one more project at this time, but that’s probably the limit,” said Pyles, who was the first person in the Southwest to win a James Beard Award for Best Chef. “It really won’t be based on [geography]as much as interest to me and the needs of Benchmark.”

Additionally, Chef Pyles’ Western/Southwestern Texas culinary repertoire will not appear pro forma throughout the Benchmark properties.

“It’s always going to have that kind of feel to it because that’s my brand; it’s my stamp and what I’ve become known for. When I approach a concept—unless it’s an absolute duplication—I always look at the area, see what’s there, see how I can connect with that part of the country. Wood-fire cuisine really is not specific to an area of the country or to a culture; it’s really being used everywhere now. I mean, I kind of helped start that—pardon the pun—fire some 30 years ago,” said the chef. HB

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