Friday night provided a culinary event that Houston’s dining community will be talking about for months. Celebrity chef Enrique Olvera — the only chef in the world with two restaurants, Pujol in Mexico City and Cosme in New York, on the prestigious World’s 50 Best list and part of the elite group of culinary talent featured in Netflix's Chef's Table documentary series — hosted a pop-up to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Cosme chef de cuisine Daniela Soto-Innes, who won the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award in 2016, and Pujol chef de cuisine Alex Bremont joined Olvera at the event. Together with chefs from Cosme, a couple of local ringers, and a group of volunteers organized by the Aces of Taste pop-up series, the team served four tostadas to a sold out crowd of 300 diners: black seafood aguachile with yams and red onion; mussels and chorizo; scallop with jicama, avocado, and nuts; and an apple-ginger tostada with a brown butter crumble.
Bremont and Soto-Innes gave the event a homecoming atmosphere, as they have both worked in Houston before moving on to their high profile roles. Soto-Innes’s resume includes stints at Brennan’s, Triniti, and Underbelly, while Bremont worked with Andes Cafe chef-owner David Guerrero at Alma in the Energy Corridor and with Justin Yu at Oxheart.
Soto-Innes told CultureMap that she thought it was Olvera’s first trip to Houston, but it turns out he had been here once before. “I was here 30 years ago to see an Astros game,” Olvera said. “It was sixth grade. I remember because I got in an accident, and my leg was in a cast.”
It was their influence, and that of Adam Goldberg, the writer and photographer behind the popular A Life Worth Eating blog (and a must-follow on Instagram for anyone who’s passionate about food) who convinced Olvera to come to Houston for Friday’s event.
“I’ve always thought that Adam is a good person,” Olvera said. “He has a good sense of importance, and that’s why we’re here.”
According to one of the organizers, Soto-Innes and her team flew in over 100 pounds of ingredients from New York to create the dishes for the event.
“How we do it is we try to use local ingredients with dry ingredients from Mexico like corn, chiles, beans,” Soto-Innes told CultureMap. “Most of all we want people to have a lot of fun and create a really friendly ambiance.”
Tequila cocktails created by Julep owner Alba Huerta to pair with each course certainly helped create the friendly atmosphere. The event attracted a who’s who of Houston’s culinary community, highlighted by Hugo Ortega, Tracy Vaught, and Ruben Ortega. The newly minted James Beard award winner accepted a steady stream of congratulations from the crowd throughout the evening.
Others who attended the event included Killen’s Steakhouse executive chef Joe Cervantez, Gringo’s owner Russell Ybarra, chef Mark Cox, BB’s Cafe owners Maricela and Brooks Bassler, The Pit Room owner Michael Sambrooks with executive chef Bramwell Tripp, and Aqui chef de cuisine Gabriel Medina.
Judging by the reaction, Houston diners would like to see more of Olvera’s cuisine, and the chef said he would return for more pop-ups in the future. Unfortunately for Houston, he told CultureMap that constraints on his time mean the location of Cosme he plans to open in Los Angeles that will likely be his last new restaurant.
“I don’t want to become a restaurant empire. We’re almost there now,” Olvera said. “LA will be our tenth restaurant. I’m happy with that. I feel like I can see most of them.”
However, we could still see Olvera’s influence in Houston sometime in the future.
“Maybe Daniela,” Olvera said. “She’s young, too. She’s 14 years younger than I am. She still has a lot of drive. Maybe not me, but her. Together. She loves it here.”
Hopefully the restaurants she dined at during her visit, including Kata Robata, Himalaya, Underbelly, Uchi, The Pit Room, and a couple of Vietnamese restaurants, leave Soto-Innes longing to come back to Houston soon. Between the tostadas and the corn meringue she served Sunday night at the Big Brothers Big Sisters Big Taste fundraiser, she created a demand for her and Olvera’s distinctive take on Mexican cuisine that’s not likely to be sated without a dedicated outpost.