Foodie News

Houston chefs unwind on eve of StarChefs' Rising Star Revue Gala

Houston chefs unwind on eve of StarChefs' Rising Star Revue Gala

News_StarChefs pre-party_Will Blunt
Will Blunt of StarChefs.com leads the Rising Star winners and guests in a toast of Highland Park Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Photo by Shannon Sturgis
News_StarChefs pre-party_food
Roasted Australian Wagyu rib-eye, sweet peppers and mushroom flan by chef Mark Cox of Mark's American Cuisine Photo by Shannon Sturgis
News_StarChefs pre-party_Claire Smith_Antoinette Bruno
Chef Claire Smith of Canopy and Shade, left, with Antoinette Bruno of StarChefs.com Photo by Shannon Sturgis
News_StarChefs pre-party_Will Blunt
News_StarChefs pre-party_food
News_StarChefs pre-party_Claire Smith_Antoinette Bruno

Houston über-chef Robert Del Grande likened the gathering of Houston culinary talent who gathered upstairs at The Grove Wednesday night to the participants at a wedding rehearsal.

The more formal big event — the StarChefs' Rising Star Revue Gala — was planned for the next night, so this evening was a time to relax and do what chefs do best — they ate, they drank, and the talked about food.

Antoinette Bruno, CEO and editor-in-chief of StarChefs.com, the industry website that searches out the best up-and-coming chefs in destinations around the country four times a year, admitted that she didn't originally think of Houston as a hotbed of culinary talent. It was only after a relentless Twitter campaign spearheaded by Houston Chowhounds founder Jenny Wang drew her attention that she seriously considered the idea.

"All of a sudden I was getting tweets every day for two straight months," Bruno said. "They would send me pictures of Houston dishes and information about chefs. So I brought it up in a staff meeting. And everyone said, 'Houston — no way.'"

She says she finally convinced StarChefs.com managing editor Will Blunt to travel to Houston to evaluate the city's culinary offerings. "In the first week, he did 25 tastings and he told me the food scene is happening," Bruno said. 

"We've done 32 Rising Star dinners and this promises to be one of the most exciting ones we've done," Blunt told the audience, referring to the gala dinner Thursday night at the Four Seasons Hotel. "This market is full of passion. We've been bowled over by what they've done."

Most of the dozen Houston chefs (plus a sommelier and a mixologist) who the site has designated as "Rising Stars" were on hand to celebrate with a toast of Highland Park scotch whiskey and food samplings prepared by two veteran chefs of the Houston scene, Robert Del Grande and Mark Cox.

Both Bruno and Blunt said they were impressed by the support Houston chefs offer one another. It's seldom seen in other cities.

Del Grande, who burst on the Houston food scene in the early '80s, along with Cox and Amy Ferguson (who now lives in Hawaii) said the trio decided to be supportive of each other because then, as now, Houston's food scene was largely unrecognized.
 
"Early on we said we're better off together than we are apart. In the end you only get the recognition that the city gets," Del Grande said.
 
"We've seen Houston grow as a food city," said Cox, owner of Mark's American Cuisine. "It's time for it to be recognized."
 
He paused and chuckled. "I never thought I would stay here this long."