From tiny towns to sprawling metros, entrepreneurs from 74 cities across the Lone Star State entered this year's H-E-B Quest for Texas Best contest with the hopes of winning cash prizes and a coveted space on the grocer's shelves.
The second annual competition began with 400 items in the running, ranging from sauces and salsas to spreads and meats. After two qualifying rounds, the list has now been whittled down to the top 25 Texas-made goods based on taste and flavor, customer appeal, value, uniqueness, market potential and differentiation from products already available at H-E-B stores.
Making the final cut are six Houston-area food artisans including:
Blackbird Foods (Angela Rowley)
The kitchen at the North Side spot cranks out sweet and savory pies, all made-from-scratch with locally sourced ingredients.
Nominated product: Cajun pie (with Cajun-spiced ground beef), sausage rolls (with housemade pork sausage) and tikki masala pie (with chicken, tomatoes, yogurt and spices).
Jacqui’s Gourmet Foods (Jacqui Francis)
Chef Francis, a Jamaican native, is known for cooking up island favorites flavored with a creative mix of spices and rubs.
Nominated product: Jamaican Rum Cake with dried fruits.
Mister French’s Gourmet Bakery (Scott French)
Sugar cookies with royal icing are the bakery’s calling card. A bundle of three sweets are competing for top prize.
Nominated product: Greeting Card (a cookie decked out with a theme for every occasion), Cookie Puzzle (separate cookie pieces that, when put together, form a master shape) and Cookie Bon Bons (bite-sized treats individually dipped in rich dark, milk or white chocolate, and then hand decorated).
Monster PBJ (Jill Butler)
The focus of the Houston food truck is the classic and beloved peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Its spreadable foodstuff, good alone or smeared atop a cookie, is nut (pistachios, cashews, pecans) butter-based and mixed with jam.
Nominated product: Spice spice baby (spiced cashew, strawberry jam, baking spices), hot ziggety (pistachio, jalapeno jam, Sriracha) and zest for life (cashew, lemon marmalade, vanilla).
Natura Treats (Purnima Nabar)
The local company cooks up authentic Indian parathas (unleavened flat breads made with herbs, spices, vegetables and different cheeses), good as a snack or as a meal.
Nominated product: Multigrain roti (flat bread made from stoneground wholemeal flour), sweet corn and spinach.
Tavola Pasta (Sarah Zapien)
Vegan-friendly, artisan pasta is made using all locally sourced ingredients including mostly-organic grains, spring water and local vegetables for color and nutrition.
Nominated product: Dry pasta
The deciding round of this year’s Quest for Texas Best is slotted for August 12 and 13 at the Houston Food Bank where a panel of judges will decide who shows the most potential as a retail supplier.
Four winners will receive cash prizes with first-place taking home the $25,000 grand prize and consideration to be added to the shelves of H-E-B stores.
“We’ve been working on this for awhile. I’m thrilled and happy to be recognized as one of the top 25 finalists and am excited to see what everyone else does,“ Jill Butler of Monster PBJ tells CultureMap.
Scott French of Mister French’s Gourmet Bakery echoes, “It’s a great feeling. It’s been a long time coming from building up my business to getting this recognition from H-E-B. It’s an honor.”
The group of finalists also includes five product makers from the San Antonio and the West Texas area, seven from Dallas, four from Austin and three from the Rio Grande Valley.