The Food Life

The best Italian dinner ever? Houston's top chefs show off at Sugar Land's ultimate wine and food party

Best Italian dinner ever? Houston's top chefs show off in Sugar Land

Shannon League, left, and Haley Peck at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Shannon League, left, and Haley Peck. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Luciano Castiello, left, and Efisio Farris at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Luciano Castiello, left, and Efisio Farris. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Leslie Martin and Frank Gracely at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Karen DeGeurin and Peter Remington. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Regina and Vincent Morales at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Regina and Vincent Morales. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Dessert at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
A dessert. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Christi Love, from left, Dick Phillips and Brook Wadenpfuhl at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Christi Love, from left, Dick Phillips and Brook Wadenpfuhl. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Leslie Martin and Frank Gracely at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Leslie Martin and Frank Gracely. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Doug Goff, from left, Jim Thompson and Michael Smith at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Doug Goff, from left, Sugar Land mayor Jim Thompson and Michael Smith. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Fritz and Monica Collinet at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Fritz and Monica Collinet. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Mai Pham and Jose Hernandez at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Mai Pham and Jose Hernandez. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Robert and Pat Hebert, from left, Larry and Suzie Johnson and Gay and Jimmy Thompson at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Robert and Pat Hebert, from left, Larry and Suzie Johnson and Gay and Sugar Land mayor Jimmy Thompson. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Diane Roederer, left, and Wendy Barnhart at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Diane Roederer, left, and Wendy Barnhart. Photo by © Shannon O'Hara
Shannon League, left, and Haley Peck at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Luciano Castiello, left, and Efisio Farris at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Leslie Martin and Frank Gracely at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Regina and Vincent Morales at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Dessert at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Christi Love, from left, Dick Phillips and Brook Wadenpfuhl at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Leslie Martin and Frank Gracely at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Doug Goff, from left, Jim Thompson and Michael Smith at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Fritz and Monica Collinet at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Mai Pham and Jose Hernandez at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Robert and Pat Hebert, from left, Larry and Suzie Johnson and Gay and Jimmy Thompson at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015
Diane Roederer, left, and Wendy Barnhart at the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair April 2015

The opening night of the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair was a love letter from Italy, penned by five of Houston's most respected chefs. Luciano Castiello, the official ambassador for Castello Banfi Wines served as the evening’s spirited narrator and host, adding bits of laughter and learning to the five-course meal deemed La Dolce Vita.

 “Brunello is a work of art.You can’t tell Sangiovese what to do. If you do, Sangiovese will tell you where to go.” 

It’s been 12 years since the creation of the Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair and the opening night dinner has been held on the grounds of the red brick Imperial Sugar factory and in the otherworldly setting of the Sugar Land Museum of Natural Science, but Wednesday’s VIP dinner locale was the refined ballroom at the Sugar Land Marriott Town Square.

Soft lights and classical guitar added elegance to the dinner featuring select Banfi wines paired with dishes by Jaime Salazar of Coppa Osteria, JohnMichael Lynch of Hotel Granduca’s Ristorante Cavour, Efisio Farris of Arcodoro, Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro and Jose Hernandez of Radio Milano.

Castiello told the sold-out crowd the evening’s focus was the complementary nature of food and wine, not competing flavors.

“Wine and food go hand-in-hand. So many times people want big wine, but Banfi wines respect the food,” Castiello said.

Respecting the environment is also part of the Castello Banfi philosophy. It is the first winery in the world to be awarded international recognition for its dedication to environmental, ethical and social responsibility.

Before the ballroom doors opened, guests sipped Cuvée Aur, a sparkling wine meant to awaken the taste buds, “so you could drink more” Castiello said. Chef Salazar of Coppa sent out passed appetizers of rabbit sausage with pickled vegetables, Caesar salad with fried white anchovies, prosciutto and melon, beef meatballs in tomato sauce and bruschetta with fava beans.

Chef Lynch’s poached veal and tuna sauce may seem like unlikely companions, but the duo were more like Wonder Twins, especially paired with La Pettegola Vermentino. It looked like spring was served on a plate, vibrant and full of brightness.

Chef Farris balanced the light and the dark with his tortelli with ricotta and nettles served in a sugo of Lonestar Lobster from Maine. As if the dish weren’t already dripping in luxurious details, Farris added crispy pancetta finished with shaved Roederer USA white truffles. The inky tortelli swam in a colorful sugo that sent diners reaching for spoons to gather every last drop. There wasn’t a drop of Fonte alla Selva Chianti left on the tables either.

Italian cuisine was the theme, but you will never go wrong with beef in Texas. The grappa braised 44 Farms shanks from Chef Ferrarese were a hit, as was the truly extraordinary Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino, made from the Sangiovese grape.

“Brunello is a work of art,” Castiello said. “You can’t tell Sangiovese what to do. If you do, Sangiovese will tell you where to go.”

Chef Hernandez’s Gianduja chocolate mousse sphere with rhubarb compote and salty cashews rounded out the dinner. A Florus late harvest Moscadello added its own honey-tempered sweetness to the dolce course.

It was a sweet kickoff for the four-day event that includes the World Whiskey Tour and the Grand Tasting culinary event, however wine can’t help but take center stage. “Texans are fun and you drink a lot of wine. Thank you for that,” Castiello said.

The Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair runs through Sunday.

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