Fall's first real cool front lured over 700 people to Brenham on Sunday for the second annual Butcher's Ball. Well, that and the more than two dozen chefs — mostly from Houston with a rep each from Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas — who served a variety of meaty bites.
Rockin' Star Ranch provided an ideal setting for the event, which, in addition to food, offered drinks, live music, butchery demonstrations, and panel discussions — all to highlight local ranchers who follow sustainable practices and the quality products they raise. Still, the 16 chefs who served bites had the crowd's full attention.
Once again, Willow Villarreal of Willow's Texas BBQ emerged as the day's favorite. The rising star pitmaster's smoked beef cheeks that had been braised in brisket fat won the coveted Golden Cleaver award. Currently, diners can sample Villarreal's food every Sunday at Grand Prize Bar in Montrose, but he's working on a food truck that will allow him to serve barbecue more frequently.
Other favorite dishes from the day included a smoked brisket terrine from Nobie's chef-owner Martin Stayer, a pastrami brisket taco from Riel sous chef E.J. Miller, and smoked brisket pizzas made by Beaver's executive chef Arash Kharat. State of Grace chef Bobby Matos' barbecue crabs with bone marrow butter won the unofficial title of messiest dish, but that didn't stop people from lining up for seconds.
Those who managed to avoid filling up in tent could partake of dishes created by chefs competing in the Boucherie vs. Matanza competition. Two teams of six head chefs split a pig that had been killed on-site that morning. They created a range of dishes including andouille sausage, fried boudain balls, and a pozole that had attendees raving.
While panel discussions are frequently staid, acclaimed Houston chef Monica Pope brought some heat. According to several people who heard her speak, the chef told the crowd that she "hates" events like the Butcher's Ball and Cochon555 — apparently no one asked her why she continues to attend them — but that didn't stop the crowd from voting her roasted strip loin and potatoes as the day's second best dish.
In between bites, attendees could relax on the lawn and take in live music by headliners Dale Watson and his Lone Stars, White Ghost Shivers, and more. A silent auction that contained over 50 items — everything from chef dinners to wine packages — helped the event raise more than $30,000 for farmers and ranchers affected by Hurricane Harvey.
A number of local food personalities, restaurant owners, bartenders, and chefs turned out for the event. Spotted in the crowd: Randy Evans, Brad Moore, Linda Salinas, Alba Huerta, Cheryl Gibbs and Terry Williams, Ashley and Tyler Horne, Michael Fulmer, Claudia Solis and Matthew Wettergreen, Jarrett Karn and Chelsea Padon, Mary Clarkson, Adam Brackman and Ady Burgida. Jonathan Honefinger, Samathan Porter, Phaedra Cook, and Olivier Ciesielski.
Given the quality of the food and the diversity of the programming, the Butcher's Ball has already established itself as one of fall's can't-miss events, which is a credit to organizers Elaine Dillard, Jason Kerr, Jonathan Beitler, and Alba Huerta. We look forward to next year.