Ben McPherson, Chef, Owner – BOH Pasta & Pizza; Willy’s Fried Chicken Twenty years after graduating from culinary school, following his undergrad degree from Johnson & Wales University, chef Ben McPherson is preparing to open BOH Pasta & Pizza at Bravery Chef Hall in downtown Houston. According to McPherson, “BOH is me coming full circle, back to my first love – cooking Italian cuisine. To me it’s about the simplicity and the use of the great ingredients. It’s rustic – with no pretention.”
“When I finished culinary school all I wanted to cook was Italian. I had grown up on southern food but Italian cuisine spoke to me. At the time Bluepoint was opening in Atlanta and it was the hottest restaurant opening in the south. I had been offered a position on the opening staff but passed it up to work at Pricci. I never looked back. I also worked at Veni Vidi Vici, Portofino and La Tavola during my time living in Atlanta, “ says McPherson.
BOH will feature housemade pastas utilizing freshly milled flours, Roman pizza al taglio and carefully chosen Italian salumi and cheeses for the menu. Inspired by every region of Italy, McPherson takes pride in the subtlety of nuance from each carefully sourced ingredient.
The design has accents of white marble, an island, pasta makers rolling dough, salumi hanging from the ceiling, pizza by the slice on display, and a Moretti Forni Pizza oven in the background. BOH is the culmination of a lifetime love and education for delicious food, culture and the gatherings that celebrate it.
The chef has also recently opened Willy’s Fried Chicken in Northwest Houston, a nod to his southern roots growing up in Northern Alabama and the Gulf Coast in Southern Alabama sans a two-year stint living in Germany. Traveling immensely throughout Europe with his father during that time fueled his lust for both European food and culture.
Back in the U.S., family gatherings in Alabama were always a big influence via large food affairs featuring the southern cooking of his two grandmothers, often showcasing local seafood caught the same day alongside vegetables from his grandfather’s garden. The combination of European influences and a love of fresh, seasonal ingredients had a huge impact on his trajectory as a chef.
McPherson describes his first experience with Italian cuisine were on a trip to Italy when he was 14, at a small restaurant on the outskirts of the Florence. “I had my first bite and I could not stop eating. It was so simple, but so addictive. Just penne pasta, some melted tomatoes, basil and Parmesan cheese. It was like I had discovered a whole new world. The rest of our time living in Germany, I was on a search for new foods,” says the chef.
Four years later, his dad was living in Naples, Italy while Ben was in college. He would visit during Christmas break and the two would travel all over Naples eating at every pizzeria, trying every pasta. McPherson even took cooking classes with a Nonna his dad knew, and she taught him the basics of Neapolitan cuisine. Ben McPherson’s career now spans more than twenty years working alongside acclaimed chefs followed by roles as executive chef and numerous leadership and consulting positions. One of his first jobs cooking was at Magnolia’s Uptown/Down South in Charleston, South Carolina working for Donald Barickman – “the man who made shrimp and grits famous”.
In Atlanta he honed his craft at the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group where he also got his feet wet in management with a multi-unit group, focusing on high-end ingredients and bread making, followed by executive chef roles at the acclaimed tapas restaurant Eclipse de Luna and ultimately multi-unit oversight with the addition of the company’s sister restaurant Loca Luna in Atlanta.
By 2010, Ben had a desire to learn more of the financial end of the business in a structured atmosphere, so he took a position to open as Chef de Cuisine at The Grand Marlin in Pensacola Beach, Florida, a gulf coast seafood and steak restaurant that cost $10 million to build out, seating 400 guests and with 130 employees on the opening staff. It was an experience like none he had previously held in his career. With $7.5 million in sales the first year, Ben learned how to operate weekly budget management meetings with standards of an 8.5% labor budget and a 33.5% food cost in the kitchen.
After his time in Florida, Ben took some time extensively touring and studying the cuisines of Singapore, Malaysia, and Korea. Upon his return he was offered the Executive Chef position at the newly opened Spanish Tapas restaurant, Barcelona Wine Bar. After two months of assuming role as chef he brought food and labor costs down to a company record with a menu written daily that focused heavily on locally sourced product and had sales of $6.5 million annually. During this tenure, Ben had the opportunity to tour Spain with the Corporate Chef and Sommelier on a wine buying trip. This experience inspired him greatly with the flavors of Spain and helped him further focus his vision. During Ben’s stint at Barcelona Wine Bar the restaurant received accolades including national and local press: “America’s Best Wine Bars” – Travel and Leisure Magazine; “Best New Restaurant” and “Best Tapas” – Jezebel Magazine; “Best Tapas” – Creative Loafing; “Top 50 Best Restaurants in Atlanta” – Atlanta Journal Constitution
McPherson then joined the Batanga team in Houston, TX as a consultant during the developmental phases in October, 2012. He fell in love with Houston so he decided to stay on and make the dynamic metropolis his new home. In opening Batanga, Ben assisted owner Brian Fasthoff in permitting, working with contractors, concept and design. Batanga opened to critical acclaim and success.
Once Batanga was opened and running smoothly, Chef Ben left to pursue his next challenge and became the Culinary Director for Prohibition Supperclub & Bar and Conservatory Underground Beer Garden & Food Hall (Silent Theatre Restaurant Group). With responsibilities for everything from kitchen design, buildout, all menus, recipe standardizing, financials, serving as face of the company and overseeing the kitchen staff.
After leaving his role with Silent Theatre Restaurant Group in 2017, Ben created Krisp Bird & Batter; a fried chicken sandwich concept with a focus on pasture-raised chicken. After opening to great acclaim, Ben was approached to be a part of Bravery Chef Hall in downtown Houston, for BOH. “Boh” translates loosely in Italian slang to “Eh, what do I know?”. A saying used in comradery, Ben incorporates this into his approach for the concept, as he is constantly learning while taking a humble approach to his cuisine.
BOH Pasta & Pizza is a project that has been in the works for Ben’s entire career. Italian food is what peaked Ben’s interest to become a chef and with this concept he will have the opportunity to demonstrate that passion, which includes plenty of recent inspiration from an extended 2018 “R&D” trip to Italy. If feedback from numerous pop-ups is any indication, Houstonians are excited to receive McPherson’s rustic Italian cuisine.
Links to Accolades and Press about Ben McPherson and/or the projects he has been a part of: