If you haven’t already heard, it’s about time to add San Antonio to your list of dining destinations, and pronto. With the plethora of restaurants in our fair city, there is no shortage of great places to eat, so let your culinary compass be your guide. But guide you as it may, we are taking it upon ourselves to introduce you to some of the highlights. Enter: our new series of Chef Interviews.
Over the coming months, we will be sharing some of the chefs and tastemakers that are doing exciting, innovative things in the restaurant industry and we hope you will read along. Do crispy fried gulf oysters with candied bacon, buttermilk chive biscuits and brown butter hollandaise sound appealing to you? How about seared sea scallops with pepperjack-white cheddar grits, sauteed spinach, avocado mousse and cilantro lime jalapeno beurre blanc? Hungry? We thought so.
Behind these delightful, blissfully concocted dishes is Mark Bliss, a San Antonio Chef who oozes culinary talent in relaxed and refreshing ways at his eponymous restaurant, Bliss. Though he’s originally from Northern California, Chef Bliss started his culinary career following his move to Texas in the early eighties, working in a handful of hotel and restaurant kitchens before opening Silo in San Antonio, a restaurant which has received tremendous national and regional acclaim over the years. Following a brief sabbatical, Chef Bliss opened his new restaurant concept, Bliss, in the bustling Southtown neighborhood of San Antonio.
The restaurant location was decided on after Mark and his wife/business partner Lisa found a hopeful home in a decrepit yet charming filling station from the early nineteen hundreds. After a good deal of renovation, the building’s original exposed brick was complemented by contemporary steel panels, beautiful landscaping, and large glass windows and sky lights to bring natural light into the space. The building, with its relaxed yet refined ambiance and contemporary spin is much like the chef who conducts business within. They are a perfect match and as a result, a dinner here is a harmonious melody of things: it’s unpretentious yet service-driven, relaxed yet elegant, comfortable yet subtly swanky, and most of all, the food is bliss.
Keep reading to learn more about Chef Mark Bliss:
MissionRS: How long have you been in the industry and when was it that you first realized you wanted to be a chef? Was it a gradual revelation or an early conviction?
Chef Mark Bliss: I have been in the business since I was 16 years old, I started as a sandwich prep at TOGO’s in Northern California. I started becoming serious about it in 1983. I worked at a small trattoria in north San Antonio for a year then went to work at the Hilton Palacio del Rio in 1984. I worked with 4 different chefs while at the Hilton. The Hilton experience really lit a fire under me professionally. I left the Hilton in 1986 to work at The Fairmount Hotel.
MissionRS: Was there one key person (or group of people) who you credit for teaching you the ropes?
Chef Mark Bliss: The first sous chefs I worked with at the Hilton, George Keeney & Louis Spost, were both extremely talented ambitious chefs who had just graduated from the CIA in Hyde Park NY. They taught me a lot about production, sauce making. They are both well respected Chefs to this day. Luckily for me they saw I had the passion for the job and put me on an intensive in house training program. Bruce Auden, the godfather of New American Cuisine in San Antonio became a huge mentor during my tenure at The Fairmount Hotel. Bruce eventually hired me as chef de cuisine at Biga in 1991.
MissionRS: For the newcomers to Bliss, what would be your ideal “first timer” food & wine pairing?
Chef Mark Bliss: Chicken fried oyster sliders & Contaldi Castaldi sparkling rose
MissionRS: Name a handful of tastemakers/ chefs/ foodies who’re inspiring you today.
Chef Mark Bliss: I recently returned from Spain and had numerous fantastic experiences in Barcelona & Donostia-San Sebastian. The food scene in Spain is world class. Pakta restaurant in Barcelona was enlightening and delicious as we navigated through 34 tiny bites or courses. Albert Adria from El Bulli & Tickets is a partner with Japanese chef Kyoko Ii & Peruvian chef Jorge Munoz. Pakta is basically a Japanese, Spanish, Peruvian fusion restaurant. The food they are creating is light, healthy & delicious. Here in the states there are numerous great young chef’s really getting into the whole farm to table concept. Jared Wentworth at Longman & Eagle in Chicago has really gotten my attention, his food is brilliant.
MissionRS: In the back of the house, what’s your most cherished kitchen tool?
Chef Mark Bliss: My chef’s knife.
MissionRS: You’re nicely nestled into the heart of Southtown San Antonio. Tell us a little bit about why you enjoy this part of town and how it is incorporated into your vision and the dining experience at Bliss.
Chef Mark Bliss: Southtown is a wonderfully diverse food & arts community. Some of the most innovative food in SA is located here. I wanted to do a concept that was comfortable, not pretentious, fun & relaxed with a professional staff & service. I am very blessed to have one of the best staffs in the business. I also have a fantastic partner in my wife Lisa who is responsible for all financial aspects of the business. We have a beautiful space, great landlords…It’s a very, very positive environment.
MissionRS: With all the innovative cooking techniques on the market today have you experimented with any that are now mainstays in your kitchen or that you’re anxious to try?
Chef Mark Bliss: Sous Vide is definitely on my radar.
MissionRS: For you, what are the secrets or fundamental staples to running a successful restaurant business?
Chef Mark Bliss: Being a fair & honest employer/restaurateur. Not being afraid to make daily changes or try new dishes on a whim. Basically keeping myself & my staff enthused so we do not get stale or dated.
MissionRS: What is the most memorable meal you’ve had?
Chef Mark Bliss: Recently at Patka in Barcelona & in 1993 at Bouley in NYC.
MissionRS: Where do you see the food industry heading and what do you see for the future of Bliss?
Chef Mark Bliss: Hopefully, the public will continue to embrace small independent restaurants. I see Bliss continuing to get better and evolve with the times. And perhaps the occasional Brunch.
MissionRS: Do you have any tips for aspiring chefs and restaurateurs?
Chef Mark Bliss: Never stop learning, don’t be too greedy. Always feed the dishwashers first and foremost as they are truly the heart & soul of a great restaurant. If you want to get a point across, do so respectfully, your staff will truly pay attention.
Bliss is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday and you can make a reservation by calling them at 210.225.2547. Bliss is also directly across the street from our showroom, which is open to the public at 1126 S. St. Marys Street San Antonio, Texas 78210. Come by and see us! Thank you to Chef Bliss and to Lisa Bliss for helping us kick off this new series!