360 West — September 2010
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In The Kitchen
Marilyn Bailey

They seem too young to have already experienced the fast track and hopped off in search of something more satisfying. But Jason and Miriam Harper, the owner-chefs at Trio in Colleyville, have done just that.<br /> <br /> They met in the kitchen at one of Dallas’ highprofile restaurants, Abacus, the flagship of Kent Rathbun’s empire. Jason was the sous chef there, working under Tre Wilcox, of Top Chef fame. Miriam was assistant pastry chef, a job she landed fresh out of culinary school. Given a few years’ time, one or both might have expected hard-won promotions.<br /> <br /> Instead, when the opportunity to buy and run their own more modest place presented itself early in 2009, they took the leap. Today, Jason, 28, and Miriam, 24, are running the lunch-only Trio Cafe and catering business in a pleasant, out-of-the-way strip center in Colleyville (the third owner, general manager Warren Norsworthy, deftly handles the customer service side of things at this unusually friendly business). For continuity’s sake, they kept the previous name, Simply You, for a while before changing it to Trio. The food, however, changed overnight. Though Jason kept many customer favorites on the menu, he began making them from scratch, adding his own dishes and giving everything a chef’s twist. The Rustic Caesar Salad has the classic flavor profile, but the Parmesan cheese is fashioned into a tuille instead of just being grated on top. Flatbread pizzas change daily with seasonal toppings, and daily chef’s specials might include Wild Mushroom Risotto or a lush Zucchini-Sausage Toscana soup.<br /> <br /> Miriam makes the desserts, which tempt you from cake stands near the register at this counter-service cafe. Her cupcakes are light, bright and perfect, including the Citrus Squeeze and a giddy Strawberry Fairy with a heap of fresh sliced berries on top. Her everyday cookies are pretty enough for the fanciest wedding.<br /> <br /> The concept has proven popular with the ladieswho- lunch crowd, and midday is especially busy during the school year. But catering is a major sideline, with holiday parties and weddings (starring Miriam’s cakes). They’ll transform the dining room for special events like rehearsal dinners, doing buffets or seated meals.<br /> <br /> In between all that, Jason teaches occasional cooking classes, both in the kitchen at Trio and at the Dish cooking school at Market Street in Colleyville. It’s a familiar role: Just before buying Trio, he headed the cooking school at Central Market Fort Worth, while still in his mid-20s — impressive for a person who never went to culinary school. <br /> <br /> Jason grew up all over the Dallas area, where his grandmother (“kind of a chef in her own right”) was his chief inspiration. His stepfather was general manager at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Dallas, and Jason spent time in that kitchen, though informally. Amidst some rebellious teen years (ahem), he joined the Army at 17. After leaving the service, he moved to San Antonio with a friend and took jobs at various chain restaurants and hotel kitchens before landing at Biga on the Banks (see page 66) under superstar chef Bruce Auden, who showed him the ropes and let him work his way up the ranks, starting with lowly prep duties.<br /> <br /> Jason is quick to acknowledge how important those big restaurant jobs were in opening doors. <br /> <br /> “Because of Kent Rathbun, I’ve done a wine dinner in Napa Valley.” Thanks to that Abacus connection, he’s also cooked a seven-course private anniversary dinner for Troy Aikman and his wife in their home. <br /> <br /> But it’s nice being out on his own, “no longer working for the man,” he jokes.<br /> <br /> Miriam, a Fort Worth native, discovered her calling at the Culinary School of Fort Worth and Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, where she was most inspired by the pastry side of things. The couple lives just a few minutes away in Keller, with a beloved Yorkshire terrier named Remy (after the lead character in Ratatouille, naturally) and their new Yorkie puppy, Portabella (Bella for short).<br /> <br /> Life will get more hectic if Trio adds dinner service, which Jason aims to do someday, believing that Colleyville needs more options.<br /> <br /> But for now, the Harpers have a good thing going, with gentler hours than in the Abacus world. They’re free to be creative, and they aim to be as versatile as possible, really showing their chops when called upon to create a catered menu. “But if people just want a good apple pie, there’s nothing we’ll say ‘no’ to,” says Jason. <br /> <br /> THE DETAILS <br /> <br /> Trio Cafe 8300 Precinct Line Road, Suite 104, Colleyville; 817-503-8440; www.triocolleyville.com