“My goal has been to transform Café Cenizo into one of the best restaurants in Texas,” says Paul Petersen, the new executive chef at the Gage Hotel. Petersen has turned that goal into a reality, garnering high praise from critics everywhere, receiving one of the most prominent of honors as “#34” in the 2007 issue of Esquire 100, the magazine’s annual feature on emerging talent, nationwide. Most recently, Petersen was featured in a six page feature story in July 2008’s Texas Monthly, entitled, “Keeper of the Flame.”
Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio food connoisseurs who say that dining at Café Cenizo is well worth the drive to Marathon. The Dallas Observer called Petersen’s cuisine “tantalizing and riveting.” It is a match made in Big Bend heaven: chef Petersen, a rising young Texas culinary star, and the Gage, one of the most distinguished hotels in West Texas.
San Antonio natives, Petersen and his wife, Beth, moved to Hyde Park, New York in the mid-1990’s where Petersen studied at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Immediately after graduation in 1997, the couple migrated to Manhattan where Petersen began cooking at Michael Romano’s celebrated Union Square Café. Toward the end of that year, Larry Forgione, with whom Petersen had previously worked at CIA, offered him a sous-chef position at An American Place. The young sous-chef’s next post took him to The Red Cat, where he worked with Jimmy Bradley in his acclaimed neighborhood restaurant serving Mediterranean fare.
It wasn’t long before the Petersens turned their gaze back to Texas – specifically, to the thriving, vibrant Austin area. With family in San Antonio, they settled in the small farming community of Buda, located between Austin and San Antonio. With a new home and a commercial kitchen from which to cater, Petersen crystallized his plans to build his own restaurant and explore his evolving style.
In August, 2002, Little Texas Bistro opened to the delight of locals and nearby city dwellers. As executive chef of the eatery, Petersen applied his French techniques and aesthetic to rustic ingredients. With his matchless imagination, Petersen ennobled simple food to its highest form. Critics took note as well, honoring the young star with accolades: “Best New Chef” from the Austin American Statesman, “Best New Restaurant” and “Rising Kitchen Star” from the Austin Chronicle.
Petersen continues to dignify “down-home cuisine” in his new leadership position at the Gage’s Café Cenizo. Like Little Texas Bistro, the Café Cenizo is already garnering a devoted following as word spreads about Petersen’s innovative approach to fresh, top-notch ingredients. The award-winning chef is well on his way to carving out a place for Café Cenizo in the pantheon of best Texas restaurants.