Most of the chefs participating in the Youth Development Center's grand Bon Vivant Houston fundraiser don't need the publicity or the challenge of turning out a gourmet dinner from a makeshift kitchen in the middle of a ballroom. But each year, the event draws a handsome collection of top toques who obviously have the time of their lives, making it the foodie event of the year.
According to founding co-chair Richard Flowers, the chefs bask in the limelight of a single table (some cook for two tables) of 10 to 12 where they can interact with the guests as well as work the culinary magic before approving eyes. The menu and presentation are entirely in the chefs' hands. Table decor was handled by The Events Co., which created floral arrangements to match the restaurant themes.
Twenty-three masters of the propane stove — L'Olivier's Olivier Ciesielski, Boada Cuisine's Arturo Boada and SilverStone Events' Elizabeth Stone and the like — signed on for the fundraiser chaired by Flowers, Bryan Caswell, Sabrina and Rob Hallett, Kirby McCool and Candice Wells. Fun and fabulous were the operative words as guests wined and dined and traded quips and compliments with the chefs who took over the Royal Sonesta Ballroom.
Joslin and his team began "painting" the surface with sauces, sprinkling in dessert bites, popping balloons containing blue berries and pouring dry ice over the incredible eat-right-off-the-tabletop dessert.
Few put on a show like that of Max's Wine Dive's Michael Pellegrino, who this year created a TV-style game show for his table. It was divided in half and teams competed to win upgrades in food and wine. Pellegrino brought along 17 staffers to add a convincing note to the food-themed shenanigans.
New to the scene and to Houston was chef Jerrett Joslin of the Wild Mushroom Steak House & Lounge in Weatherford, who made a lasting impression on his table especially with dessert. With a fresh white cloth on the table and "food is art" as his motto, Joslin and his team began "painting" the surface with sauces, sprinkling in dessert bites, popping balloons containing blueberries and pouring dry ice over the incredible eat-right-off-the-tabletop dessert. Joslin is a fave among Fort Worth gourmets who regularly make the drive for his creations. (He's considering the possibility of opening a place in Houston.)
Proceeds from the sellout evening topped $300,000, thanks in no small part to the handful of chefs who volunteered to cook a fab dinner in the highest bidder's home. They sold it twice for $40,000 each and then again sold another in-home dinner for $20,000. With Ralph McIngvale handling the auction gavel, the chef team of Bryan Caswell, Danny Trace, Chris Shepherd and Hunky Dory's Richard Knight guaranteed to wow those who made the buy.
Rounding out the tables were Sylvia Caceres of Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, Luis Rubio of La Griglia, Oceanaire Seafood Room's Skip King, the Capital Grille's Ricardo Vargas, Mark Holley of soon-to-open Holley's, Peter Laufer of the Royal Sonesta, Randy Evans of Haven, Jonathan Jones of Hotel ZaZa's Monarch Bistro, Chris Williams of Lucille's, Staci Davis of Radical Eats, Kaz Edwards of Uchi, Mark Decker of Down House, Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro at the Four Seasons Hotel and Kevin Naderi of Roost.