More than 1,000 haute and hungry Houstonians packed the 2023 CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards to toast the city’s best at Silver Street Studios.
Houston’s hottest, biggest, and preeminent food event is the crowning moment of our annual, weeks-long program that highlights and celebrates the hottest, most innovative, and most visionary of the city’s culinary, wine, and bar scene.
A who's-who party for the food world, the awards are a favorite for Houston's hospitality A-listers. Past winners become judges, star chefs chat and exchange numbers and snap selfies. The event is taken so seriously that RuchitHarneja, executive pastry chef for luxe Indian palace Musaafer, left his honeymoon to attend this year's ceremonies and host the restaurant's table.
This year’s Tastemaker Awards benefited Chris Shepherd's Southern Smoke Foundation, which he founded in 2015 to offer emergency relief funding and access to mental health services to members of the food and beverage industry. Through his popular Southern Smoke Festival, the organization has provided more than $10.4 million in grants to food and beverage workers in need. The nonprofit's reach extends through California, Louisiana, Illinois, New York, and Texas.
Fittingly, Shepherd, a James Beard Award winner and CultureMap's Wine Guy, served as emcee for the evening.
As always, a host of sponsors helped make the night a rousing success, including Dripping Springs Vodka, Goodstock by Nolan Ryan, Topo Chico, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey.
Guests pregamed at the VIP bar and lounge, others posted up in Silver Street's grand hall, while many snapped pics at the selfie stand and photo booth from Lucky Shots — a fave for Instagram stories and reels.
Ready to raise a glass, the crowd hit the bar for speciality sips and cool cocktails courtesy of the aforementioned liquor and drink sponsors. Libations included a Basil Sour, Lavender Lemon (a party pic fave), The Blinker (a refreshing whiskey/grapefruit cooler), a Cherry Old Fashioned, and a Strawberry Fields Mocktail.
Then, party people lined up for the city’s best bites and libations and hydration stationing courtesy of Topo Chico. Delectable and dazzling dishes included:
- Blue Crab & Shrimp Campechana and Campanella from d’Alba Craft Kitchen & Cocktails
- Mini Carrot Cake and a Carrot and the Stick Cocktail from Bludorn/Navy Blue
- Smoked Snapper Ceviche with wonton crisps from Loro
- Horchata Berlinesa & Pink Berry Corn Cake Donut from Papalo Mercado Ema
- Riz a Djej: Lebanese rice with rotisserie chicken, roasted nuts, and garlic aioli from Craft Pita
- Kobe Beef Nigiri with yuzu kosho and truffle aioli from Aiko
- Chilled Crawfish Bisque with spring petit pois from Le Jardinier
- Spicy Sesame Wontons with impossible meat from Dumpling Haus
- Bluefin Tuna Pastor from Quiote
- Spanish Octopus Salad with smoked piquillo pepper salsa and papas arrugadas from GJ Tavern
- Quibani: Apricot compote scented with rose and cardamom, vanilla whip & almond tuile from Musaafer
- Ceviche and Smoked Salmon from Golfstrommen
- Braised Pork Belly and Sticky Rice from Dinette
- Hazelnut Brioche with jivara glaze from EaDough Pastries & Provisions
- Mushroom Swiss Kolache (made with Goodstock by Nolan Ryan beef) from burger-chan
- Himalayan Heat Sliders (made with Goodstock by Nolan Ryan beef) from Cowboys & Indians
- The Hottie Melt (made with Goodstock by Nolan Ryan beef) from The Waffle Bus
- Cheeseburgers (made with Goodstock by Nolan Ryan beef) from b'tween Sandwich Co
- Lira Rossa Corn Ricotta, Honey Cake, Praline Chouquette, and Pine Nut Orchidea from Goodnight Hospitality (Rosie Cannonball, March)
- Couch Potato Cookie, Unicorn Bait Cookie, Star Crossed Lovers, Pistachio Cherry Financier, Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Cookie, Lemon Tarts, and Bacon Fat Gingersnaps from Fluff Bake Bar
- Salted Egg Yolk Bread Pudding from LuLoo's Day & Nights
After a quick welcome, intro, and thanks to sponsors and staff, CultureMap editor Steven Devadanam gave a well-deserved shout out to our food editor Eric Sandler and then handed the mic to Shepherd, who led the awards ceremony with his signature casual vine.
The crowd packed the stage and roared for nominees including Pop-up of the Year, Pastry Chef of the Year, Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year, Bar of the Year, Best New Restaurant, and the hotly anticipated Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year.
Winners were chosen by a judges panel of restaurant industry experts — except Best New Restaurant, which was voted on by CultureMap readers. Get the full list of winners here.
Mark Clayton of Squable scored Chef of the Year; his partner Justin Yu notes that Clayton's "attention to detail on those very normal, overlooked flavors and textures on dishes that most diners take for granted that makes his food sing..."
For the grand finale, Shepherd called out Bludorn for the coveted title of Restaurant of the Year. Chef Aaron Bludorn and his managing partner Cheríf Mbodji gratefully accepted the award and hugged it out with Shepherd.
"We're going to Bludorn!" the chef/owner told us regarding his post-party plans. And why not?
Since its launch in 2014, our Tastemaker Awards have been the city’s defining food event where A-list dining names mix with casual fans. The electric crowd and eager participants made 2023 one of the biggest and brightest awards ever.
Our hearty congratulations to the winners and our thanks to the sponsors, participants, and fans. We’ll see you next year.