The Year in Culture

Houston chefs turn into celebrity spouses and I find a new partner

Houston chefs turn into celebrity spouses and I find a new partner

Reynolds Scarlett
Houston chefs do realize they're not celebrity spouses, right?
Places_Food_Yelapa Playa Mexicana Restaurant_L.J. Wiley_chef
Whether it was L.J. Wiley or ... Courtesy of Yelapa Playa Mexicana Restaurant
News_Marene_Food for Thought_Chef Michael Dei Maggi_cooking
Michael Dei Maggi or ... Photo by Gabe Canales
News_Tesar's_Austin Simmons_Jeramie Robison
the Tesars team, chefs were jumping around all 2010.
News_Marene Gustin_oysters_half-shell_lemon
It's oysters for New Year's Eve of course.
News_Marene Gustin_Maker's_whiskey_bourbon
2010 was a very good year — for drinking a lot of bourbon. Photo by Ralph Smith
Reynolds Scarlett
Places_Food_Yelapa Playa Mexicana Restaurant_L.J. Wiley_chef
News_Marene_Food for Thought_Chef Michael Dei Maggi_cooking
News_Tesar's_Austin Simmons_Jeramie Robison
News_Marene Gustin_oysters_half-shell_lemon
News_Marene Gustin_Maker's_whiskey_bourbon

Hard to believe, but 2010 is almost over. It’s been quite a year here at Food for Thought, a year of eating, chef shuffles, new restaurant openings, gaining a dining partner and, um, gaining a few pounds.

We started the year with classic grits, how to make ‘em and where to eat ‘em. Grits were the in gourmet comfort food, but hardly the last. It was a year of fabulous pot pies, Frito chili pies and just plain ol’ pies — the new cupcake for 2011 according to Rachel Ray.

Oh, we also waxed poetic about plain-Jane Texas comfort eats like cheesy queso and biscuits and gravy. No wonder I gained a few pounds this year. Sigh.

We also did wine tastings, sipped bourbon, sipped more bourbon and learned to make risotto with chef John Sheely of Mockingbird Bistro and discovered what real pirates ate. That wasn’t so pleasant. Something about maggots.

There was also pub grub, how to stock a hurricane food closet, some insanely hot pepper sauce made in Stafford, football food and haute dog fights, brains for Halloween (braaaaains!) and even skinny ballerina bakers.

It was a year that saw Houston get some national respect for our restaurants. Finally, critics on the East Coast realized Feast, Haven and Branch Water Tavern are culinary stars, glistening with duck fat in the food galaxy. Speaking of culinary stars, both Monica Pope and Bryan Caswell took turns on the telly. Though neither won the cooking competitions, they still did Houston proud.

And speaking of chefs … was there something in the water here? Chefs were changing restaurants faster than celebrity spouses.

Greg Lowry replaced Michael Kramer at Voice, Kramer found a spot at The Tasting Rooms, The Rockwood Room imploded, but talented chef Michael Dei Maggi took his knives to Caffe Bello — briefly — and then there was the sudden departure of L. J. Wiley from Yelapa Playa Mexicana.

Wiley is thinking of opening his own place but in the meantime whipped up some awesome hot mustard mash for holiday gifts. (Yes, I scored some.) After departing *17, Chip Hight resurfaced with Blue Apron Caters, pairing food and cool venues for party throwers while Jason Gould, who had a really bad 2009, joined up with Cyclone Anaya’s in 2010 to spice up the Tex-Mex.

There was the high profile closing of Scott Tycer’s Textile and Tesars disappearance in The Woodlands, although that last move left chef Jeramie Robison free to take over the restaurant at La Colombe d’Or and the Zimmerman’s new venture Zimm’s Little Deck.

For me, the best part of the year was having my father move here. There’s nothing like an 81-year-old dining companion. Good thing I’d already discovered lunner because he likes to eat early. Dinner at four o’clock? Sure I’m up for it.

I’ve dragged him to several tastings where he couldn’t believe the amount of food, eaten our weight in Tex-Mex and burgers and even had a few steaks. Sadly, he’s still a no-go for sushi and Indian food.

Farmers markets and food trucks popped up like bluebonnets in springtime and specialty food markets abounded. Oh yes, 2010 was a great year for foodies in Houston. So raise a glass of holiday cheer this New Year’s Eve and give thanks for the food.

I know I’ll be home with my typical carpet picnic of smoked oysters, pâté, cheeses and other nibbles. I’ll wash it down with a bottle of good Champagne as the Chihuahua veges out in front of the TV or, as Julia Roberts once said, “lie like broccoli.”

And if you’re out and about, do be safe. You don’t want to miss out on 2011 when The French Cowboy’s long awaited PHILIPPE Restaurant and Lounge opens along with El Real Tex-Mex, the Bryan Caswell/Bill Floyd/Robb Walsh homage to vintage Tex-Mex set to unfold in the old Tower Theatre. Oh yeah, it’s gonna be a great new year for eating.

 

Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of articles CultureMap will be running this last week of 2010 on The Year in Culture. The stories in this series will focus on a key point or two, something that struck our reporting team about the year rather than rote Top 10 lists or bests of.

Other The Year In Culture stories:

Organic, sustainable, local: The words that now dominate food

Demolishing the doldrums: Office towers somehow keep rising in Houston

Less blockbuster, more indie surprises: A call for fewer Texas-sized art exhibits in 2011

Forget The Social Network, it's all about keeping mom off Twitter

On the store front: H-E-B's final plan for Montrose market has a neighborly attitude