ICW Returns

Acclaimed chefs hit Houston with return of this hot indie food festival

Acclaimed chefs hit Houston with return of this hot indie food fest

Indie Chefs Week group pic
Happy chefs make better food. Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Indie Chefs Week food
Expect signature dishes from top chefs. Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Indie Chefs Week plating
Diners watch the chefs plate their dishes. Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Indie Chefs Week food
Creative cuisine is the norm. Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Indie Chefs week wine cheers
Full service and wine pairings are included. Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Indie Chefs Week group pic
Indie Chefs Week food
Indie Chefs Week plating
Indie Chefs Week food
Indie Chefs week wine cheers

One of country's hottest traveling food festivals comes to Houston next month. Indie Chefs Week returns to the Bayou City on May 3, 4, and 6 at Riel restaurant in Montrose. 

Founded in 2013 by chef Ned Elliott (formerly of Austin's Foreign & Domestic), each Indie Chefs Week recruits 24 chefs from across the country to serve 12-course, prix-fixe dinners to adventurous diners. On the first two nights, each chef prepares his or her own dish, typically a signature item from their restaurants. For the finale, the chefs pair up to create one-off creations.

From the diners' perspective, it's a more refined experience than a tasting event at a food festival. Rather than waiting in line at various stations, diners sit for a formal meal with full service and wine pairings. VIP buyers sit where they can watch each course being plated. 

"It's an incredible experience that's evolved even since the last time we were in Houston," Indie Chefs Week partner Grover Smith tells CultureMap. "The chef/guest interaction, the stories, and the overall positive environment are one of a kind for a culinary event. I'm the first to admit the tickets aren't cheap, but the value is there when you consider the products we're serving. It's a culinary tour of 12 to 24 restaurants in [two hours]."

For the chefs, ICW is an opportunity to travel to a different city, interact with high-profile peers — six chefs who participated in the last 12 months are finalists in various categories for a James Beard Award — and operate in a supportive environment. In prior interviews, chefs like Ryan Lachaine (Riel) have described the lasting friendships they have built from the event, and Rebecca Masson (Fluff Bake Bar) has recruited any number of Saturday morning bake sale participants from ICW alumni. 

While January's lineup featured chefs from all over the country, this version shines the spotlight on Texas talent. Local participants include Ross Coleman and James Haywood (Kitchen 713), Richard Knight (Harold's in the Heights), Masson, Drake Leonards (Eunice), Brandon Silva (The Kirby Group), Erin Feges (Feges BBQ), Niki Vongthong (Aqui), James Beard Award winner Justin Yu, and, of course, host chef Lachaine. Austin participants include Callie Speer (Holy Roller), Philip Speer (Bonhomie), Sarah Heard (Foreign & Domestic), and others. 

"The focus [of recruiting participants] is always on casting a wide net, but we're at the mercy of the chefs' schedules," Smith says. "Austin chefs received invites this time, because we hadn't invited many chefs from that market in a couple of years. Also, I wanted to get Callie and Philip Speer, Sarah Heard, and Jules Stoddart involved."

Still, Smith notes that he has pulled some serious talent from beyond the Red River, including newcomer Beau Schooler from The Rookery Cafe in Juneau, Alaska, as well as ICW veterans like Richie Nakano (IDK Concepts in San Francisco) and B.J. Smith (Smokehouse Restaurants in Portland, Oregon). Altogether, it should make for a memorable series of meals.  

Tickets are available on the ICW website for $195 (VIP $225) for May 3 and 4 and $205 (VIP $250) for May 6.