Reef's Bryan Caswell was on a culinary high Monday night as he and 21 other chefs gathered in the Royal Sonesta Hotel ballroom for the annual Bon Vivant Houston dinner party benefiting Youth Development Center.
Caswell was coordinating chef for the evening that is so popular among H-Town's top toques that they actually volunteer for the dinner benefit. "It's extremely unique," Caswell explained. "You have 22 chefs cooking 22 dinners all at the same time and they're completely independent of each other."
The draw of this evening for both chefs and diners is that each chef cooks for only 10 paying guests (20 if a table is sold twice) and it's up to the chef to create to heart's content. Thus, Corner Table's Ja'Nel Witt took her diners on an international journey, complete with passports at each plate. Each of her five courses represented a different international cuisine.
Oceanaire's Rocco Nankervis featured Chilean sea bass with lemon risotto and purple cauliflower while L'Olivier's Olivier Ciesielski served pan seared scallops on beluga lentils and lamb chops with baby ratatouille.
"It's so special that we really get to cook out of the box with only 10 people. With 10, you really get to showcase what you do."
"I participate every year," said Silver Stone Events' Elizabeth Stone. "It's so special that we really get to cook out of the box with only 10 people. With 10, you really get to showcase what you do." Her entrée course — bone-in, herb-crusted veal chop.
The event, at which each chef has his own station with teaching mirror overhead so that diners can see the preparation, was chaired by Kristen Barlen, Richard Flowers, Sabrina and Rob Hallett, Kirby McCool and Candice Wells.
Bon Vivant is basically one big party with the chefs having as much fun as the guests. Consider Max's Wine Dive's carnival atmosphere with a fire eater, knife juggler and lighted hula hoops as dinner entertainment while Radical Eats' Staci Davis, aka Lady Gaga on this night, created a rock star backstage experience for her diners.
As Brennan's Danny Trace noted, "It's awesome. It's a great cause for the children. All of our brothers are out here. We all have a good time raising money for a good cause."
Rounding out the entourage of chefs were Mark Decker of Down House, Ricardo Vargas of Capital Grille on Westheimer, private chef Soren Pedersen, La Griglia's Luis Rubio, Mark Holley of Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, Antoine Ware of Harold's Restaurant, Peter Laufer of the Royal Sonesta, Tanner Lucas of 1600 Bar+Grille, Jonathan Wicks of Hotel ZaZa's Monarch Bistro, Randy Evans of Southern Son Consulting, Jacques Fox of Artisans, Brian Evans of the Tasting Room at CityCentre, Richard Knight of Hunky Dory, Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro at the Four Seasons Hotel, Greg Martin of the new Bistro Menil and Kevin Naderi of Roost and Lillo & Ella.