No disrespect to any of Houston’s restaurants and wine bars, but the T. J. Martell Foundation's Best Cellars Dinner Wednesday at Hotel ZaZa was the ultimate destination for those who appreciate inventive food and incredible wines. Throw in live music performances and a crowd dotted with country music stars and it was the recipe for a record-breaking night.
The seventh annual event has quickly become a must-attend dinner, raising money for cancer research and giving guests an all-around good time, thanks to wine hosts who dig into their own personal cellars, pairing wine with food concepted and prepared by Houston’s finest chefs. The event raised a record-breaking $250,000 for The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Even before the ballroom doors opened, champagne flowed and guests mingled with country music stars Randy Travis and Chris Young, both of whom were happy to take pictures with fans. Houston native and The Voice winner Sundance Head was also popular with fans. Head took to the stage after dinner, showing off his winning pipes singing “Love Can Build A Bridge,” an old Judd favorite, and Etta James’ “At Last,” among others.
But before the music, there was food, glorious food, prepared by chef chairman Mark Cox who collaborated with guest chefs Bobby Matos of State of Grace, Luis Roger of BCN Taste and Tradition and Frederic Perrier, French Master Chef for a multi-course dinner menu.
Roger started the evening with a grilled wild Branzino sautéed with green peas, avocado, blood oranges, pine nuts and warm mayonnaise. Perrier followed with a crispy duck confit, chou farci stuffed with melt-in-your-mouth foie gras and Normandy apples. Matos appealed to the meats lovers and red wine drinkers, serving Beef “Pot-a feu” hearth roasted filet with with braised short rib, marrow and and wild herbed potatoes.
Guests knew to save room for dessert, and Roger provided a trio of desserts that definitely satiated the sweet tooth, with the Gypsy’s Arm sponge cake being the light and airy end to the meal.
Each of the tables in the sold-out ballroom were helmed by passionate wine lovers who also have a heart for philanthropy. Chairman Franelle Rogers along with honorary chairmen Carolyn Faulk, Jeanie and Jim Janke, and Dean Putterman brought together all the elements for a memorable evening, and wine host chairman Robert Sakowitz worked in concert with wine hosts who brought out the very best for the guests. The wines were a true delight, and hosts such as Putterman poured over every vintage and varietal for each course. The mood was indeed festive and the toasts sincere.
Those raising a glass included T.J. Martell Foundation CEO Laura Heatherly, Mary Travis, Cyndy Garza Roberts, Dr. Robert Bast, Jr. and Blanche Bast, Stephanie Baird, Ed Finger, Hallie Vanderhider, Cathy and David Herr, Mark Bermann, Gaye Lynn and Stuart Zarrow, Elizabeth and Alan Stein, Caroline Kenney, Laura and Jerry Kent, Lori and Darryl Schroeder, Kimberly Stout, Bill Baldwin and Fady Armanious, Kim and Mike Weill, Chantell Preston, Chip Beavers, Becky and Michael Harris, and Sharleen and Ron Walkoviak.