For two weeks prior to the Houston Symphony's Wine Dinner & Collector's Auction, famed chef Wolfgang Puck had a team of six chefs in and out of Houston, all working with Jackson and Co.'s kitchen staff in preparation for the meal that would surpass all expectations.
Applause, applause for dinner chairs Gina and Dr. Devinder Bhatia, close friends of the celebrity chef. They convinced Puck to headline the evening which was so enticing that it had to be moved from its traditional locale on stage at Jones Hall to the Corinthian. The five-course dinner, paired with special wines including the highly-coveted Caymus 40th anniversary cabernet sauvignon, had guests swooning.
The menu — roasted beet Napoleons, handmade agnolotti pasta with black truffles, lobster with jasmine rice, short ribs with cheddar grits and a chocolate hazelnut bar with cranberry gelée, caramel and whipped cream — offered as Puck described it "a little bit of tastes from our restaurants." The wine pairings were selected by the Bhatias and Lindy and John Rydman of Spec's Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods, a regular sponsor of the event.
The dinner for 400 was paced for enjoyment, the black-tie crowd mingling jovially between courses. A number of guests took the opportunity to meet symphony music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada, who was joined at the Bhatia's head table by symphony CEO Mark Hanson and his wife, Christina.
"It takes a great team, just like it takes a great orchestra," Puck said. "All of my guys played great music tonight so it was really easy for me."
As would be expected, Symphony Society leaders were in the house including president Bob Peiser and wife Nancy, immediate past president Bobby Tudor and wife Phoebe, president elect Steve Mach and wife Joella, board chair Jess Tutor and wife Betty, vice president of volunteers and special events Mary Lynn Marks and husband Steve, Symphony League president Vicki West and collector's auction chairman Bob Weiner.
When he arrived on stage at the close of dinner, Puck proved a certain graciousness. "It takes a great team, just like it takes a great orchestra," he said. "All of my guys played great music tonight so it was really easy for me."
Indeed, we watched in the kitchen as Puck was up to his elbows in short rib gravy, congenially yet forcefully directing the team of 30 who were at work behind the scenes.
Puck made a quick appearance at the early evening VIP reception where he was greeted by Houston star chefs Carl Walker, Michael Cordua of Churrasco's and Bryan Caswell of Reef, as well as symphony patrons that included newlyweds Charlotte Rothwell Wands and Randolph Wands, Marie Bosarge, Cathy and Dr. Gary Brock, Linda and Gene Dewhurst, Tricia and David Dewhurst and Jana Arnoldy.
"Sorry, I couldn't find a black-tie," Puck quipped as he circled through the space posing for photos. The following day, he was off to Dubai, where he has a restaurant, then on to Bahrain, where he is opening an eatery. After that, he heads to Istanbul where he will open a branch of his iconic Spago in the St. Regis Hotel.