Houston’s culinary diversity and abundance of talented chefs is no longer a secret. The Bayou city is popping up more and more in national food magazines and TV shows, and every time the hosts and journalists are “surprised” that Houston is a cradle of global cuisine with an intimate village feel.
And now Bravos top chef televised cooking competition has made its way to Houston, filming on location throughout the city and featuring some of our chefs, restaurants and local celebrities as contestants compete for the title of Top Chef. Houston has only one chef in the current league and that chef is Evelyn Garcia (Kin HTX). So far, she’s still a strong contender and the most recent episode of Episode 9, Freedmen’s Town, shows she has the potential to rise to the top of the pack.
Our city’s chefs and restaurateurs have received many accolades over the past decade, including nominations and awards for the James Beard Award. And while female chefs have always been a part of our culinary make-up, lately the sisters are doing it for themselves on the national stage and making their skills known. last season’s Top Chef Portland featuring two of Houston’s top chefs, Dawn Burrell (Kulture, late August) and Sasha Grumman (Rosalia, Sasha’s Foccacia). Burrell reached the top three.
So someone came up with a great idea to bring the talents of these three Top Chef contestants, Burrell, Grumman, and Garcia, together for one night, not in the heart of downtown Houston, but in the northern part of Spring at CityPlace Marriott . While many walk-ins hate a ride to the suburbs, those who did for The Butcher’s Ball Spring 2022 Farm to Table Dinner, held on April 29, found a spectacular four-course dinner in a fairytale setting. The diner also launched the inaugural HTX Whiskey Weekend at CityPlace, a three-day event of whiskey and chef-driven food.
I’ve often confined myself to the farm putting items on the table that occasionally pop into my . to appear Food and wine or Enjoy your meal Magazines. I’ve seen countless television shows about chefs abroad and portable parties, drooling not just over the food, but the whole atmosphere of an outdoor party. The Butcher’s Ball dinner that night came straight out of a magazine shoot with beautiful floral displays, long wooden tables, and weathered ivory chairs. It was like going to a rich cousin’s wedding, but with much better food.
And the weather couldn’t have been better. Overlooking the man-made lake, which also had a nice breeze, it was a perfect setting for dining fresh and a blessed relief to the teams working on the live fire grates. The chefs and their crews were at work while the guests wandered around with a glass of prosecco from California’s Jonata or an old-fashioned from MKT Distillery of Katy, Texas. The prosecco was drier than most with less sugar and a slight crunchy taste for an aperitif. The Old Fashioned was beautifully smooth and made my companion a whiskey fan.
We were offered empanadas as an appetizer, which was a bit odd considering that the event list stated that the appetizers would be provided by Sushi Rebel’s chef Daniel Chang. I go out and say the empanadas, which were perfectly serviceable, weren’t a Chang creation. They could have used a little more of the spicy green sauce to give them the needed flavor.
Dinner itself was a little later than we expected, so we took advantage of another glass of prosecco, generously offered by Natalie Vaclavik, National Sales Manager at Jonata and also The Hilt, who would arrange the wine pairings for the evening. Vaclavik was the perfect ambassador for the wines. She was a vineyard nymph who kept glasses filled and… bonhomie flowing.
Finally the first course was served and it was a vibrant and colorful Snapper Aguachile from Garcia. Edible flowers and thinly sliced radishes were a perfect complement to the bright green liquid. The crispy plantains added a crunchy texture to the soft snapper slices. I could have only had the broth and felt happy and healthy. It was a wonderful way to start a meal and the 2018 Hilt Estate Chardonnay was a perfect combination, allowing the dish to shine. The chardonnay was more citrus and honey than butter and oak, something I really appreciated.
Each chef appeared before her course to describe it. The second dish belonged to Grumman, whose name of Kudos, The Fierce Chef, suits her. She is a burst of energy and a believer in using local ingredients. Her course was a plate of funghi from Lone Star Mushrooms, which is located in Tomball. The King Oyster mushrooms were smoked and several of my table companions thought they were eating meat when they bit into it. They were accompanied by potatoes and topped with preserved lemon-dill yogurt, a kick of spice from the ? zhug, a Mediterranean herb and spice blend that complements Grumman’s culinary style. The 2018 Hilt Estate Pinot Noir had a soft fruitiness that counteracted the spice, but was bold enough to pair with the meaty taste of the mushrooms.
It was a long, languid affair and the band finally took the stage. The Sophia Johnson Band hails from Austin and the tunes of Texas Swing fit the farm-to-table vibe perfectly. Born in Birmingham, England, Johnson’s sweetly plaintive voice is accompanied by her mean guitar skills, whether she’s singing a Patsy Cline tune or jamming a Bob Wills song along with her bandmate’s steel guitar. We enjoyed the band enthusiastically and Houston Press readers can expect Classic Rock Bob Ruggiero to have more (and more knowledgeable) stories to say about them in the future.
Chef Burrell took the stage to introduce her dish, a plate of Suya-dusted beef cheeks that we’d seen cooking on the fire before. While suya is the name of a West African skewered dish, it is often used to describe the mix of spices which can vary but usually contains dried peanuts, garlic powder, ginger and chili peppers for heat. Burrell’s version definitely had some heat and the application of live fire gave a nice crust while the meat was still tender inside. The tomato-corn curry was a flavorful addition, as was a dipping sauce for the meat. The 2016 Jonata Fenix Red Blend held up with the strong flavor of the herbs.
Burrell described her dish as a taste of what diners can expect at her upcoming restaurant at the Ion in late August. While diners will find flavors reflecting the African diaspora, chances are Burrell’s past stints at places like Tyson Cole’s Uchi will also mean some Asian influences. As for when the restaurant will open, my dear diner friend and Burrell’s sister, Valerie, said she thinks it’s, fittingly, the end of August this year.
The final treat of the evening was a Berry Crumble from Grumman, topped with a Sweet Corn Ice Cream from Burrell. There was also a Fish Sauce Caramel from Garcia on the menu, but if there was one, I didn’t really taste it. It was a home dessert for a farm-to-table experience and I wish my appetite wasn’t so completely satisfied that I couldn’t do it justice with more than a few bites.
The band finished their set, the chefs made the rounds, and the evening ended with guests heading to the lake for cigars and whiskey tastings. The next day there were more whiskey tastings and chefs creating tasty bites. The first HTX Whiskey Weekend had gotten off to a good start and the CityPlace area was a pleasant retreat for the evening. The development is a bit behind in adding all the restaurants and businesses that were planned due to the pandemic. However, the CityPlace Marriott itself gets five-star reviews online, and there are plenty of wooded trails for a city escape. See if it becomes a destination in the future.
And the event organizers were wise enough to bring in three of Houston’s top chefs and the folks at The Butcher’s Ball to give the guests a night to remember.