It was the perfect setting for the launch of a group dedicated to all things Texan: Saint Arnold's beer on tap, Americana tunes from Band of Heathens and Texas bites by a quintet of local chefs. It all came together Tuesday night at Goode's Armadillo Palace where over 200 supporters gathered to celebrate and raise funds for Foodways Texas.
Foodways Texas (FTX) was offically founded in July, when 50 Texas food lovers and advocates gathered at Texas A&M, defining their grassroots organization as "dedicated to the preservation, promotion and celebrations of the diverse food cultures of Texas."
Robb Walsh, one of FTX's 14 directors, said the project has been a long time coming. He began to approach universities about working together on the project three years ago, but it was never able to get it off the ground.
"What made it happen was that Bryan Caswell and Jim Gossen and some other folks, a lot of them from Houston, became members of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Jim Gossen was donating money to pay for oral histories of shrimpers and fisherman across the Gulf Coast but none of them were from Texas, and he kinda felt like, gosh, I wish we were doing work like this in Texas. And so we decided to try it again," said Walsh.
Foodways Texas is offically affiliated with the University of Texas' department of community engagement, with Texas A&M's extension service offering to hold symposiums on their campuses and the University of Houston contributing experts in oral and public histories.
Their first planned event — a symposium on Gulf seafood culture — will take place in Galveston on Feb. 25-26.
"It will be like a Southern Foodways Alliance symposium, having academic speakers and experts of various subjects come and talk as well as having some famous community seafood events like oyster roasts and shrimp boils as our food events. And A&M-Galveston also has a ship they use as an educational exhibit for marine biology, and it'll be the peak of oyster season so there's a lot going on," said Walsh.
"We want to do something in the valley about citrus someday, we want to do something about cowboy and cattle ranching.... We've already signed up to do a FTX Texas A&M barbecue summer camp the first weekend of June. People will come from all over the country to take a course with A&M meat scientists on what's really going on with barbecue and anatomy, meat cutting, that sort of thing. We'll show some of our movies about barbecue, hire a barbecue person to talk about regionalism, probably have a barbecue legend like Bryan Bracewell of Southside Market in Elgin or some other member of our organization who's in the barbecue business to come talk to the students about doing barbecue."
Guests at the launch — including Walsh, Lousiana Foods CEO Jim Gossen, Jenny Wang of Houston Chowhounds, Feast's Richard Knight, L.J. Wiley of Yelapa Playa Mexicana, Lance and Jennifer Gilliam and J.C. Reid — got a taste of what Foodways Texas is all about.
Reef's Bryan Caswell, Chris Shepherd of Catalan, Haven's Randy Evan and pastry goddess Rebecca Masson joined Goode Co.'s Levi Goode in serving up small bites that reflected Texas traditions and used Texas ingredients. In addition to beer from Saint Arnold's, a refreshing signature cocktail called the Carolina was passed around with Dripping Spring vodka and tons of refreshing grapefruit flavor. The band even took a break for an exclusive preview of "Good, Better, Best," a documentary by Keely Steenson on the making of sorghum syrup.
But while this was a great party — we actually prefer the term "hootenanny" — the foodies present were serious about the work of Foodways Texas.
"I think growing up in this region there are a lot of people who share a similar story to mine, grew up going fishing on the coast, going across the border to Mexico and eating all the food that south Texas has to offer, barbecuing and eating all the dishes that really make up texas cuisine, texas food," said Levi Goode.
"There's a lot of good memories, there's a lot of good times shared experiencing those kinds of food. So it's important that we get behind it and preserve things. As the world continues to change and get more fast-paced, it's important to pay homage to what it's all about and preserve something that so many Texans hold dear. You want to make sure that’s around for your kids and grandkids to experience."