You never know who you're going to meet behind the Genius Bar at Apple. It was during a techie emergency — read that: Dropped my iPhone in the bath tub — when a long-haired happy chap didn't rest until he had cut through corporate red tape to hook me up with a replacement lifeline.
During the hour or so ordeal, I came to know Victoria-native James Nelson as an aspiring Houston entrepreneur on the road to establishing Bravado Spice Company, a foodstuff enterprise that focuses on crafting locally sourced, Texas-made, all-natural and organic hot sauces. Alongside partner Jeremiah Tallerine, Nelson launched the business last October.
Much has changed for Nelson since we met roughly one year ago.
The 27-year-old went from regular dude to amicable national celeb when he landed a spot on season four of Fox's reality television show MasterChef, in which he's still in the running as one of the top five contestants. He's had good days, bad days, and unlike other contestants (I'm looking at you Krissi Biasiello), Nelson hasn't allowed the pressure of competition to tarnish his character.
"The most important lesson I learned from MasterChef is having the courage to take a chance at anything. Apathy and fear restrict people from being able to do what they really want in life."
"The most important lesson I learned from MasterChef is having the courage to take a chance at anything," Nelson tells CultureMap. "Apathy and fear restrict people from being able to do what they really want in life. I would never have been on MasterChef if I didn't take a chance, I wouldn't have started Bravado Spice, either."
His involvement in the series obliged Nelson to postpone his nuptials to Jessica First, a commitment he honored in July in Houston followed by a same-day raucous celebration at the casual Wakefield Crowbar. The happy couple welcomed a hoard of guests for a second ceremonial white-themed bash plus honeymoon in Las Vegas that included a Rob Zombie heavy metal concert.
And despite all these remarkable simchas, Nelson is staying close to his Houston roots and supporting the same community that nurtured his career.
Bravado Spice was born out of his desire to invest back into his own local economy, he says. The company sources ingredients from small family farms, contracts a local printer to issue labels and purchases glass bottles from a local supplier. The finished product is currently available at Revival Market, Pepper Palace, A Moveable Feast, Ruggle's Green on West Alabama.
Nelson's second venture, Brave Kitchen Project, hosts pop-up dinner services, caters and offers cooking classes — what the chef calls the fun part of the food industry.
Nelson's third endeavor is what he hopes grows into a series of parties that laud Houston's grit. Think of Bravado Spice's "Good Vibes" parties as late-night farmers/artisan market shindigs, the first, held in July, was thronged by 300 people.
"I pull Houston food trucks, local vendors who make everything from pickles to jewelry and then I bring in some kick ass Houston acts," Nelson says. "We take over a location and we just throw a big gala event."
The next "Good Vibes" affair, set for Friday from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. at Liberty Station, gathers vendors such as Jolly Roger Gourmet Jams, Real Dill Pickles, Mustachestuff.com, Urban Izzy, Man Ready Merchantile and Shoe Bar with Muiishi Makaritos and Phamily Bites food trucks. By adding a trio of bands that includes Bruce Hansen and the Racket, A Thousand Colors and Thrill of Seconds, Nelson's ambition is to encourage a different crowd, one that may not attend traditional farmers markets, to learn about and shop local businesses.
"One of my guests described the event as 'everything that's awesome about Houston in one party,' " Nelson adds.
When asked about his newly achieved celebrity status, Nelson reminded me that he's still working at Apple fulltime, although he moved from the Galleria to the Highland Village location.
"Is your phone still working?" he asked jokingly.
All I could do was laugh.