The other night, a who's who of Houston chefs gathered at Caracol to welcome acclaimed Spanish chef Joan Roca to Houston. Roca — the chef at El Celler de Can Roca, one of the world's best restaurants — will hold a three day pop-up in Houston this August as part of a five city, four country tour.
At the private reception to welcome Roca, executives from BBVA Compass (the company sponsoring the tour) mingled with the upper crust of Houston's chef community. Among the attendees were freshly minted James Beard Award winner Chris Shepherd, Haven chef/owner Randy Evans, Michael Cordua of Churrascos and Americas, CultureMap Tastemakers best restaurant winners Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan of The Pass & Provisions, legendary Houston chef Robert Del Grande and up and coming Tony's chef de cuisine Kate McLean. Osteria Mazzantini chef/owner John Sheely popped over for a brief visit as well.
The whole experience has the feel of a rock band hitting the road in three tour buses of staff and gear.
Everyone noshed on a variety of Can Roca's signature restaurant bites, precisely prepared by Caracol's staff under the supervision of Roca and his team. Each bite seemed to elicit a wow, as the simple-looking forms delivered intense flavors. Chefs raved about the white asparagus viennetta that turned the vegetable into a creamy treat and the oysters with cava dish that presented the shellfish atop a sweet gel.
"This is a tremendous moment, not only for us, but also for this great city," host Hugo Ortega told the crowd. His staff will work with members of the Can Roca team to identify the ingredients that will be served at the Houston dinners.
Addressing the crowd in Spanish, Roca stated that he considered the tour the only "honest" way to share with people who can't travel to Spain the experience of dining at his restaurant. To make the experience as close to eating at the restaurant as possible, a 30-person staff will accompany the Roca brothers, along with a massive array of kitchen equipment. The whole experience has the feel of a rock band hitting the road in three tour buses of staff and gear.
Food Network chef Ingrid Hoffmann related the experience of dining at the restaurant.
"I left there in tears. They were tears of joy," Hoffmann recalled. At Can Roca, the meal "isn't about the chef's ego. It's about you."
After the reception, Roca, Hoffman and friends dined at RDG where Del Grande prepared a special, eight-course menu of his signature Southwestern cuisine. Courses included oysters on the half shell with hibiscus and grapefruit zest, seared avocado with cocoa nibs and tortilla, chilled mussel soup with cilantro, gulf shrimp and crab barbecue in banana leaf with hominy, sea scallop with hoja santa and pumpkin seed mole, red fish with chilaquiles and sarsaparilla sauce, wood-grilled rib eye with smoked steak sauce and cipollini onions, and “rocky road” chocolate cake.