Every year, hundreds of thousands of people move through the George R. Brown Convention Center for conferences, corporate meetings, and trade shows. They may be there to network with one another, learn from experts, or check out the latest trends and technology in their field. But regardless of the event or its focus, one thing is consistent: attendees need to eat.
Feeding groups large and small at the GRB is the realm of Chef Dominic Soucie. Soucie serves as executive chef with Levy Restaurants which manages the culinary services at the 1.8 million-square-foot convention center. There he oversees a 5,000-square-foot operation of more than two-dozen full-time chefs, cooks, prep-cooks and other employees that can expand to more than 100 workers during large-scale events.
Born and raised in New England, Soucie got his start working in big venues in Boston. He first met the team at the GRB in 2008 when he came to Houston for an event with Microsoft and moved here for a role as the facility’s sous chef in 2009. He got the chance to learn the ropes at the GRB, forging a strong relationship with senior team members before getting an opportunity to lead his own team at Minute Maid Park in 2013. Soucie returned to the GRB as executive chef in March 2018.
While his tenure at Minute Maid allowed him to manage talent and hone service at all different levels—from high-end plates in the Diamond Club to concession-stand fare—it’s a different ballgame at the GRB. “Every day here is different. You’re constantly customizing what you’re doing to accommodate the client,” Soucie said. “We’ve got clients coming from all over, and maybe they want what they know or maybe they want a taste of Houston. This is an operation that keeps you on your toes.”
Days in the GRB kitchen start around 5 a.m. with prep work and baking. Soucie begins his mornings checking the big board to ensure any changes to what’s already been planned have been communicated out to his crew. He then walks the stations to check on the different operations and verify everyone has what they need. A full team meeting happens around 8:30 a.m. to be certain everyone is on the same page about what’s happening that day. Soucie then checks in with his sales team on any last-minute adjustments before regrouping with his banquet staff on that day’s production.
"We’re extremely fortunate to have a great team that’s always thinking two or three steps ahead with a few backup plans because there are always curveballs,” Soucie said.
Since no one cuisine defines Houston, the GRB culinary team approach serving local flavor through the lens of the city’s dynamic neighborhoods—offering for example a taste of Navigation Boulevard with traditional Mexican foods or an exploration of Houston’s Asiatown with Vietnamese or Chinese dishes. Instead of serving buffet style, the crew organizes stations in a market-like atmosphere, allowing guests to pick up an assortment of tapas-style small bites from different areas rather than one big plate.
Soucie’s team has a lot of latitude for creativity, particularly when it comes to impressing a client. Site visits often give the team an opportunity to really show a client what’s possible. When a major commodities show was considering Houston for its event, the crew created a mini-farm complete with small tractors and various bites with a list of which farms items were sourced from. Another pitch for the Professional Golfers Association prompted the purchase of all the wheatgrass the group could find to turn the facility’s executive boardroom into a small golf course with greens and fairways.
Since most conventions and events in the GRB are only for registered attendees, many Houstonians don’t get to see the culinary prowess of Soucie’s team. “We are probably the best-equipped kitchen in the city, capable of doing a high-end experience for 10 people or 10,000. We push high-end volume to its extremes, and we do it safely and consistently.”
We asked Soucie what’s trending in desserts right now, because frankly we think it’s important. He said the days of the massive celebratory cake are gone. Instead, more health-conscious attendees are looking for bite-sized options. Fruit-forward as well as chocolate-focused desserts, often in a small trio are the overriding trend.
Soucie said the GRB sources as much as possible from local farms and minority vendors, all in an effort to increase sustainability and support community businesses. Honey is being cultivated via multiple beehives on one of the convention center’s terraces and food waste is dramatically reduced through a program with Second Servings of Houston which distributes surplus product to area nonprofits.
Major, multi-day events with thousands of attendees are often both challenging and rewarding, Soucie said. “You finish a really big show with a lot of moving pieces and you’re just going for days, and when it’s over you realize ‘man, look what we just did!’…What’s most gratifying for me is leaving people with a happy thought—that somehow, someway we made their visit to Houston better and more memorable.”
(portrait photo by Jhane Hoang | pictured Dominic Soucie in GRB kitchen, August 2023)