The crowd that gathered inside the residence of Alexis Andres, the consul general of France in Houston, enjoyed champagne, wine and sparkling water as servers walked around with hors d'oeuvres.
Then when the time came, they all circled around Fox as the ceremony began. Fox was presented with his honorary medallion by Andres, and he was gifted a portrait of himself decked out in full knight armor. The ceremony then moved to Fox’s restaurant, where his guests enjoyed a three-course meal and by the end of the night all gave him a standing ovation.
“Everybody, during their career, accepts something,” said Fox, holding back tears “I’m at the end of my career. I’m 65 years old. I’ve been working for almost 50 years, and I’ve done many different things, so this is kind of the accolade of my career. It’s incredible.”
For Fox, doing many different things is an understatement.
The Order of Agricultural Merit, at one point the second highest in importance in the French’s order of precedence, is given by the French to reward people that have made exceptional services in agriculture, which is where the culinary field lands on.
Just to be nominated for the honor is a unique process. It must be done by an officer or a commander, which are both ranked higher than a knight. After that, the French consul does a background check, followed by the French Ambassador in Washington, and then the nominee is reviewed by the French minister of agriculture, before a group of commanders vote on it, and then the minister of agriculture approves it, Fox said.
Fox’s endeavors have seen him work at several four- and five-star hotels, resorts and restaurants. In the Houston area, he was a part of the launch of Moody Gardens, worked at the Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, and most recently opened his own restaurant in Artisans.
“I try to teach my special skills to people,” Fox said. “It is what makes it fun.”
Before arriving to the U.S., Fox went through a few once-in-a-lifetime experiences. One of which was being the cook for the French national soccer team during the 1980s. He still has a picture of Michel Platini, one of the key players who led the team to win the 1984 European Championship, in his restaurant office.
However, not everything was perfect for Fox growing up. He lost his father, who died while serving France, when he was 4 years old. He was raised by his mother and his grandparents, which led to him building a strong relationship with his grandfather, Stamislas Kowalski.
After spending years working in coal mines, Kowalski retired and began working on the family’s garden, which is where Fox cultivated his strong relationship with his grandfather, who he gives credit for giving him his workaholic personality.
Back in France, when he first started working, people were required to work 48 hours a week to get paid. Fox worked those hours during the week, and then during weekends he worked more jobs to continue to develop his skills.
“It’s how I moved forward,” he said. “I was pushing all the time. I don’t know why, but I wanted to be a chef. When I finished my work, I would go help this guy, go help that guy. ... I helped everyone else in the kitchen.”
Even a day removed from the ceremony, Fox still found himself emotional when he spoke with Community Impact Newspaper. Being acknowledged for his contributions not only in the agricultural field, but also for being a representative of France in the U.S. means a lot to Fox. His night of honor will be one he cherishes for a long time to come.
“It was fantastic,” Fox said. “Everybody had fun. Everybody enjoyed themselves. It was great.”