Food + Drink

From Top Chef to Top Choice: How Sasha Grumman Redefined Houston’s Private Dining Scene

Unlocking Houston's Private Dining with Sasha Grumman

Chef Sasha Grumman (Photos by Megan Snell)

It’s a Friday evening and Sasha Grumman is packing her suitcases for a work trip she is leaving for the next day. She runs through a checklist of what she’ll bring to the Bahamas, where she will prepare a variety of expertly made meals for her clients. The private chef quickly assesses the contents of her suitcases: comfortable shoes, toiletries, and a selection of her favorite Moroccan spices.

Grumman couldn’t have imagined herself in this position just a few short years ago. Today, the Top Chef Season 18 contestant has catapulted her dreams into a successful and exciting career after years of hard work and believing in herself.

Traveling isn’t a foreign concept for the Newport Beach, California, native. “I went to culinary school in New York after graduating from college in Ohio. Then I moved to San Francisco, L.A., and Austin before moving to Houston to open the C. Baldwin Hotel as the executive chef,” Grumman explains. On why she chose to call Houston home, she shares in part, “The food community here is ginormous, and the number of different kinds of restaurants is astounding.”

Culinary seeds were sown at an early age for the professional chef. “I grew up in a Sicilian family, so we’re all in the kitchen during every holiday and family gathering. The culture was ingrained in me as a kid,” she says. “I was in the kitchen from the age of 5, on a step stool getting my hands dirty. Nobody in my life was in the industry as a chef, so I never saw it as a potential career.”

After graduating with a sociology degree, the future entrepreneur returned home and received sage advice from an important source. “I moved home and just started cooking. I’d make a grocery list and my dad would go buy a bunch of stuff that I wanted, and I would just cook all day. I loved it so much,” she says. “One day, my dad said, ‘You know that you can do this as a career?’ My parents were so supportive, so I applied and went to the French Culinary Institute in New York, where I spent three months before moving to Italy to work in a restaurant six days a week, 14-hour days, for eight months.”

The down-to-earth chef, whose style is a flavorful blend of her Sicilian upbringing and other Mediterranean influences, returned to the states before the COVID-19 shutdown to begin an illustrious career working the line in revered restaurants across the country. She made lemons out of lemonade during the pandemic and found purpose in working for the Southern Smoke Foundation, vetting applications for financial assistance after being furloughed herself.

A few of chef Sasha Grumman’s culinary creations

Then the Bravo network came calling. “Top Chef was a roller coaster and a dream. I really enjoy making people laugh, performing, leading, and being in front of the camera—I don’t think that’s a shock to anyone that knows me. I told myself that if I made it onto that show, I would really hit a level with my cooking where not only I believe in myself, but others also believe that I’m at that level.”

Reflecting on the show’s impact, Grumman explains that it confirmed she was heading in the right direction. “The show helped my career immensely. It reminded me that I love my job and what I do. I was so excited to get my hands dirty and create food that other people would get to enjoy. I realized that feeding and connecting with people is largely what I love about my job.”

Today, Grumman has found her sweet spot. “My work life now is all over the place and so unpredictable, but in the best way.” The owner of SASS Hospitality shares that her company has taken her career to a place she never could have imagined. “I’m going to the Bahamas tomorrow with clients from Houston. If you told me I was doing that four years ago, I’d ask, ‘How does that even happen?’ I’ve really put myself out there and now I do a lot of private dinners, big corporate lunches, restaurant consulting, and intimate parties. Day-to-day is always different, which I really enjoy.”

Grumman finds peace and respite out of the kitchen in boxing, reading, and leaning into her newfound “homebody” status. A champion for the next generation of culinary pros, she frequently reminds up-and-comers that patience is the key. “I think the restaurant community is a safe place, and it’s always been a safe place for people who don’t feel comfortable in other situations. Anthony Bourdain says we’re a gang of misfits and we find our refuge in the kitchen. I think that’s still true. There are people in kitchens that I would have never met in other industries, because this place just attracts people that are a little wild, a little crazy.”

Keep up with Chef Sasha Grumman on Instagram @thefiercechef.

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Zach McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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