Youth will be served at the 2016 Houston Culinary Awards, at least in terms of the finalists for this year's awards. Organized by My Table magazine, the awards, which are celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2016, honor the best of Houston's dining scene — everything from food to service to design.
A panel of food writers and sponsors (including this author) determine the seven finalists in each of the 23 categories, which are divided into 10 Houston Culinary Awards (Restaurateur of the Year, Chef of the Year, Service Person of the Year, etc.) and 13 Houston Foodie Star Awards (favorite bartender, favorite burger, favorite coffeehouse, etc). An online vote determines the winners.
Already, 2016's newcomers are making their presence known in a number of categories. Cherry Pie Hospitality, the restaurant group formed earlier this year by former F.E.E.D. TX partner Lee Ellis, earns a nod for Restaurateur of the Year alongside Agricole Hospitality (Coltivare, Eight Row Flint, Revival Market), Gr8 Plate Hospitality (the Union Kitchen, Jax Grill), and others. Additional 2016 newcomers who've earned nominations include Steak 48 and The Kitchen at the Dunlavy (Best Design), Hopdoddy (favorite burger), and La Table, which earned nominations in five categories.
Similarly, four chefs who opened restaurants in 2015 — Bobby Matos (State of Grace), Lyle Bento (Southern Goods), Richard Kaplan (Weights + Measure), and Richard Knight (Hunky Dory) — will compete against James Beard Award Best Chef: Southwest winner Justin Yu (Oxheart), Danny Trace (Brennan's), and Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner (The Pass & Provisions) for Chef of the Year.
The biggest winner might be the Treadsack Group. The Heights-based hospitality company that opened three restaurants and two bars since the start of 2015 earned 13 nominations across 10 categories, including Restaurateur of the Year, Chef of the Year, Up-and-Coming Chef of the Year (Graham Laborde, Bernadine's), and Outstanding Bar Program (Canard). Winners have to sit out for five years, which explains the absence of big names in most of the categories.
Black Hill Ranch owner and Ritual partner Felix Florez will receive the Legends of Houston Restaurants Awards for his "lifetime contribution to the local restaurant industry." Past winners include Donna and Tony Vallone, Chronicle food critic Alison Cook, and Saint Arnold Brewing Company owner Brock Wagner.
New for 2016, the Awards have partnered with the Grant Gordon Initiative for Chefs to award $5,000 to "a Houston-area chef or individual in the hospitality industry who has gone through a crisis or hardship, be it due to an illness or other reason." Voters are invited to suggest a nominee, and the recipient will be revealed at the awards ceremony.
This year's winners will be revealed at a gala party that will be held October 2 at the Corinthian downtown. As always, the event features a seated dinner prepared by some of Houston's best chefs; this year's participants include Addison Lee (Kuu), Bobby Matos, Jackson Hicks (Jackson & Company), Susan Molzan (Petite Sweets), and Rebecca Masson (Fluff Bake Bar). Tickets are $185.