Almost every weekend, restaurant fans flock to events where a group of local chefs serves one-off dishes for various worthy causes. The pace quickens in the spring and fall when organizations try to take advantage of Houston's too few weekends of pleasant weather to stage large outdoor events.
No one — not even a professional — can attend all of them, and even the ones that are well-executed start to blur together after awhile. Still, some events stand out enough that, at least in the moment, it feels like people will be talking about them for a long time.
Such was the case with I'll Have What She's Having gala, Something for Everyone. Held at Evelyn's Park in Bellaire, the event, held on behalf of an organization formed last year by women in the restaurant industry with physicians to raise awareness of women's health issues, united almost all of Houston's top female culinary talent to raise over $100,000 for four health organizations: Legacy Community Health, Texas Children’s Hospital, The Rose, and Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.
As testimonials during the evening noted, these organizations needs funds to make up for the loss of state and federal resources that have been lost to budget cuts. Legacy will use its share of the proceeds for Liz Fenton's Purse Snacks, a fund for women in the restaurant industry which is named after the popular local foodie who recently lost a battle with a rare form of cancer. In light of the efforts of the #MeToo Movement, IHWSH also provides an important resource for women in the restaurant industry to receive female mentorship and make professional connections.
Celebrity chef Carla Hall (Top Chef, ABC's The Chew) served as emcee. Her high-energy presence facilitated some serious donations during the live auction, including $2,300 for a table to have truffles shaved on their entrees and $15,000 for a pig roast and cocktail party coordinated by a number of event participants.
It's rare to see so many chefs, pastry chefs, bartenders, managers, and restaurateurs in one place. Sunday's gala featured dishes from industry veterans like Monica Pope (Sparrow Bar + Cookshop), Lynette Hawkins (Giacomo's), Jamie Zelko, and Anita Jaisinghani (Pondicherri), as well as rising stars like Erin Feges (Feges BBQ), Sharon Gofreed (State of Grace), Valerie Trasatti (Benevento Bake Shop), and Tastemaker Awards Pastry Chef of the Year winner Jill Bartolome (Aqui). The pre-dinner Amuse Bouche event featured drinks created by prominent bartenders such as Julie Rogers (Night Heron), Sarah Troxell (Nobie's), Lindsey Rae (Grand Prize), Linda Salinas, Lainey Collum, as well as light bites created by even more chefs.
Picking favorites among the dishes would be difficult, but a consensus formed around Hawkins' sformato di cavolo nero (kale cake topped with cheese and nuts) and Zelko's lacquered salmon, which balanced the fish's rich flavors with just a little sweetness.
While the night's focus was squarely on the women making and serving the food and drinks, a number of men from the restaurant industry showed up to support their colleagues, including Chris Shepherd, Ryan Pera, Morgan Weber, Bobby Matos (State of Grace), Drake Leonards (Eunice), Drew Gimma (Better Luck Tomorrow), Patrick Feges (Feges BBQ), Alvin Schultz (eat.drink.experience), Richard Knight (Harold's in the Heights), and Chris Poldoian (Camerata at Paulie's). Other VIPs included IHWSH's founder Dr. Lori Choi, Ting Bresnahan, Tracy Vaught (H-Town Restaurant Group), Mary Clarkson (L'Olivier), Sherry and Gerald Merfish, and Anna and Scott McLean, whose daughter, former Tony's chef Kate McLean, both helped organize the night's service and read a poem to the attendees.
Food events come and go, but the gala represented the next step towards raising awareness and funds for these important causes. Topping it next year won't be easy, but it's a challenge that the women of I'll Have What She's Having are fully capable of meeting.