If every cliché about the importance of making a good first impression contains at least a kernel of truth, then Jennifer and Bryan Caswell ought to feel very good about themselves. In order to launch the Southern Salt Foundation, which is dedicated to the "holistic preservation of the Gulf Coast habitats through education, conservation and exploration," the Caswells tapped four of their chef friends for an epic seafood dinner they dubbed "Salty Supper No. 1" that took place Sunday at Caswell’s popular Midtown restaurant Reef.
The sold-out event featured two local chefs: CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Pastry Chef of the Year Rebecca Masson (Fluff Bake Bar) and Ryan Lachaine, Caswell’s protege who will open Riel Restaurant in Montrose later this year. While that’s a talented duo, attendees also eagerly anticipated the courses from two chefs who hail from beyond the Red River: Louisville chef Edward Lee and New Orleans chef Ryan Prewitt.
Lee — a multi-time Beard Award finalist whose television appearances include Top Chef: Texas, Iron Chef America, the current season of Masterchef, and PBS’s award-winning Mind of a Chef — kicked things off with wok-fried squid served with bacon, green apple ginger, peach, and a tahini vinaigrette. Lachaine followed up with a Texas blue crab salad that featured collard greens, Asian pear, and bread and butter mirliton.
New Orleans chef Prewitt’s grilled fish collars with pickled chili vinaigrette demonstrated why he won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: South and his restaurant Peche earned the award for Best New Restaurant (in America) in 2014. Caswell contributed an inventive riff on surf and turf: crispy softshell caramel paired with Texas-raised Strube Ranch skirt steak and radishes. Masson finished the meal with pickled plums paired with hazelnut milk chocolate ice.
In addition to delivering an epic feast, the night had a serious component as well — raising money for conservation efforts along the Gulf Coast. After speeches by Prewitt and both Caswells touting three different projects that attendees could choose for the night’s proceeds, Bryan Caswell’s selection of a group that converts offshore drilling rigs into reefs that support marine life won overwhelmingly. After the speeches, Astros mascot Orbit provided a bit of levity by dancing to Beyonce’s hit “Single Ladies” and posing for pictures.
As for the future, Caswell told CultureMap after the meal that he has plenty of other friends from out of town who want to support the cause and cook for Houstonians. Hugo Ortega indicated he would like to host a dinner at his Galleria-area restaurant Caracol. Brennan's executive chef Danny Trace suggested he would also be amendable to hosting. Guess that takes care of Salty Suppers two and three. We can't wait.