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The search for Houston's next top chef: Up-and-comers get opportunity to shine at pop-up dinner

The search for H-Town's next top chef: Up-and-comers shine at pop-up

Everyone likes an underdog story. The career bench warmer who hits a game winning home run. The disrespected small university that takes down the big powerhouse in the NCAA basketball tournament.

That holds true in the culinary world, too, but how do up-and-coming chefs get a shot to prove themselves? After all, in a kitchen, there really isn't an equivalent to Drew Bledsoe getting injured and giving sixth round pick Tom Brady the opportunity to prove he could become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. 

 "It's also really nice for them to get out of their own kitchen and work with other people at the same spot in their careers," Mason says. 

Treadsack, the bar and restaurant group behind Down House, D&T Drive Inn and four projects slated to open this year, has developed a method for providing promising sous chefs with their opportunity to shine via the Kipper Club Test Kitchen. Known as the Contenders Series, the dinners allow five chefs to display their cuisine for an audience of diners. 

Last Friday, at the third contenders dinner, the group included Oxheart's Sam Chang, Ciao Bello's Brendan Horigan and Julia Doran of Fat Cat Creamery. Rounding out the mix were two of Treadsack's own up-and-comers, D&T Drive Inn's Mara Serna and Daniel Blue of the upcoming Hunky Dory

Sometimes the chefs stay close to the style of their home kitchens, as with Chang's artfully plated kohlrabi. On the other hand, don't expect to see Serna's beef soup with poached egg on the D&T menu — it was a one night only wonder.

Treadsack director of operations Benjy Mason sees another benefit to giving these contenders the chance to cook outside of their normal restaurants.

"One of the things I've realized is that it's really nice for these chefs to do their own thing. It's also really nice for them to get out of their own kitchen and work with other people at the same spot in their careers," he says.

"I think it's really nice for them to get out, meet their peers, exchange ideas and see things that are done differently than they're done in other kitchens."

Kipper Club's winter lineup is just getting started. Contenders Four happens Feb. 6. The lineup won't be announced until the end of the week, but people willing to take a chance on being pleasantly surprised can buy tickets now.

Kipper Club Oxheart Sam Chang
Sam Chang's dish of kohlrabi, grains, baby gem lettuce and aged cheddar. Kipper Club/Twitter
Kipper Club D&T Drive Inn Mara Serna
Mara Serna's dish: Carne seca, avocado, lime, shallot and poached egg.  Kipper Club/Twitter
Kipper Club Oxheart Sam Chang
Kipper Club D&T Drive Inn Mara Serna