Having spent the last year establishing Prohibition Supperclub & Bar as one of the best restaurants in downtown Houston, chef Ben McPherson is turning his attention to two other projects. First, he's helping develop Conservatory, the beer hall slated to open later this year in Prohibition's basement. On a more personal note, he's begun a series of "Soapbox" dinners to call attention to the local farms that supply much of what's being served at Prohibition and other Houston restaurants.
"The cook’s soapbox is a chance for us to kind of get out of the norm of the every day grind," McPherson tells CultureMap. "To put us on a pedestal and show off what inspires us, what keeps us going every day."
These dinners allow McPherson, Prohibition executive chef Matt Wommack and a roster of guest chefs to use ingredients in ways that might not work on a normal menu, in front of a sympathetic audience. "I’m going to do something very different than what might be normal and turn it into a dish," McPherson explains. "Everything’s up for different interpretation. That’s what I like about these dinners; sometimes you hit a home run and sometimes it looked good but it didn’t come out. On a normal menu we don’t have that luxury."
"Everything’s up for different interpretation . . . On a normal menu we don’t have that luxury."
McPherson has already hosted Atlanta chef Daniel Chance from Atlanta's James Beard Award winning restaurant Bacchanalia for a dinner featuring lamb from The Barry Farm in Needville and Uchi chefs Brandon Silva and John Gross for a Texas wagyu beef dinner. On Tuesday, San Antonio chef Jason Dady will join Erin Smith of Main Kitchen at the JW Marriott downtown for a dinner that features products from local beekeeper Sean Pessarra of Mindful Honey.
Pessarra's beehives are located next to the Barry Farm and pollinate a variety of citrus orchards around the city. By using both the honey the bees make and fruit grown as a result of their activity, McPherson says the dinner will allow diners to "taste everything all the way through the chain."
In August, James Beard Award finalist Craig Deihl from Charleston restaurant Cypress, Andrew Vaserfirer from Revival Market and chefs from Austin's well-regarded butcher shop and restaurant Salt & Time gather at Prohibition for a charcuterie dinner. Randy Rucker from newly-opened Bramble takes a turn in September as part of a collaboration with Edible Houston magazine. Former Reef and Underbelly chef Ryan Lachaine joins forces on an oyster dinner with California chef Richie Nakano, the man behind the popular @linecook Twitter account. Prices run the gamut — from $70 on Tuesday to $150 for the charcuterie — and all meals include beverage pairings.
Menus are still a work in progress, but they'll appeal to adventurous diners who are looking for something different from a roster of talented chefs. After all, the goal is to indulge in a little culinary creativity.
"The goal is to tell a story," McPherson says. "It’s more about what inspires you. It could even be Dr. Dre’s The Chronic."