Houston Charity Guide
worth the wait

Houston fine dining palace serves up comfort food for foodie fundraiser

Houston fine dining palace cooks up comfort food for foodie fundraiser

Austin Waiters Tony's Tony Vallone
Chef Austin Waiter. Photo by Emily Jaschke
Urban Harvest produce
Both menus feature a salad of fresh, local produce. Courtesy of Urban Harvest
Austin Waiters Tony's Tony Vallone
Urban Harvest produce

Urban Harvest is mixing things up for the spring edition of its Sunday Supper fundraiser. Typically, the local nonprofit assembles a team of top Houston chefs for an epic, family-style feast featuring local ingredients sold as its weekly farmers market — just as it did at both Kiran's and St. John's School in 2019.

Of course, that's not possible during the coronavirus pandemic, when social distancing, stay-home orders, and common sense prohibit large gatherings. Still, the fundraising must go on. The restrictions have inspired an innovative format that features menus created by one of Houston's top up-and-coming culinary talents, Tony's executive chef Austin Waiter.

This spring's Sunday Supper gives people two options for supporting Urban Harvest. The first, held on Sunday, May 3, features a three-course, family-style meal that will be served hot for pickup at Tony's. Option two centers around a live, interactive cooking class led by Waiter on Sunday, May 10. 

"Obviously at this time, we wanted another way to support our local farmers and ranchers," Urban Harvest executive director Janna Roberson tells CultureMap. "Additionally, Tony’s is impacted by everything that has transpired. We wanted to support their staff and give them a stipend and compensate them for their time. For us, it checked all of the boxes of what we’re trying to do during this difficult period."

Waiter's menu for the May 3 dinner includes a farm salad of lettuces, watermelon radish, citrus, and pink peppercorn vinaigrette followed by double-brined fried chicken with carrot veloute, mashed potatoes, and "cream-less" creamed spinach with crispy pancetta. Parker house rolls from Bread Man Baking Co will be served on the side, and dessert will consist of salted caramel pecan bars. 

"[Waiter] wanted something that was homey [and] comforting," Roberson says about the decision to serve fried chicken. "It happens to be close to Mother’s Day. He wanted something that tied people’s heart strings and was a Texas piece of the puzzle."

Cooking class participants pick up their ingredients at Urban Harvest's market on Saturday, May 9 for a class the next day. The menu features brick chicken with gastrique, buttered Carolina gold rice, and a fresh salad. 

Tony's may seem like an unlikely choice to participate in an Urban Harvest fundraiser. After all, the restaurant has always prided itself on sourcing high-quality ingredients from around the world, and fried chicken doesn't seem like a fit for a restaurant best known for delicate, handmade pastas and dry-aged duck ala presse. 

Things are changing at Tony's. Roberson says Waiter has been a regular presence at Urban Harvest's weekly farmers market. She adds that both the chef and owner Tony Vallone are excited to be participating in a family-style event that's different than a normal meal at the fine dining restaurant. 

"I’m amazed at what [Waiter] has done with the menu and what he’s trying to create," Roberson says. "He’s super open to being supportive and doing all that he can. He has just been a delight to work with."

The May 3 prepared meal costs $175 and must be ordered by 5 pm on Thursday, April 30; May 10's cooking class costs $75 and must be ordered by 5 pm on Thursday, May 6. Both options are available for purchase on the Urban Harvest website. Tony's sommeliers have suggested wine pairings available for an additional cost.