Is that Thomas Keller?
Glitzy River Oaks grand opening party lures America's greatest chef
“Everything’s bigger in Texas” is usually a tired cliche — but sometimes it’s not. Consider the February 12 grand opening party for Valobra Master Jewelers new flagship store in River Oaks.
Even recounting the details makes it sound like a bad riff on a Stefon bit (to trot out a dated reference).
“This party had everything: caviar, free-flowing champagne, models dressed up like cat burglars, three of the world’s most famous chefs, and a diamond that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.”
The glittering jewels would have probably provided a sufficient spectacle to mark the opening of the Palladian-style building that features a custom Venetian chandelier and lots of other thoughtful details designed to make shoppers feel appropriately fabulous while contemplating a six-figure purchase.
In addition to the bright yellow Golden Eye Diamond, which tips the scales at a hefty 40.14 karats, Valobra owner Franco Valobra displayed the Farnese Blue, a 6.16-karat pear-shaped diamond given to Elizabetta Farnese when she became Queen of Spain in 1714. By reputation, it also occupied a spot in Marie Antoinette's tiara.
For comparison's sake, the modern history of Texas wouldn’t begin until 1821 when Stephen F. Austin and 297 families entered the Mexican province to establish a colony. (But we digress.)
Valobra’s decision to invite three of his celebrity chef friends, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Jerome Bocuse, certainly elevated the evening above the usual Houston happening. As for how Valobra happened to be in the position to invite the three chefs to participate in the event, he explained the roots of his almost 20-year friendship with Bocuse that led to friendships with the other two chefs.
“I think it all started when we started racing Ferraris together with Jerome Bocuse,” Valobra tells CultureMap. “We always use our Ferrari as a fundraising event: whether it’s for children or a hospital. At one of these fundraisers, 17 or 18 years ago, we met and we became friends. We support each other in everything we do.”
Everyone seemed a little star struck by the culinary titans in their midst; after all, as Houston Press contributor Kate McLean observed, Keller is the Michael Jordan of American chefs, the GOAT; his book, The French Laundry Cookbook, inspired a generation of chefs. Boulud might be his equal in terms of achieving an undisputed level of success as a French chef in America, and Bocuse, as both the son of his famous father Paul and an accomplished chef in his own right, more than holds his own.
Well, everyone except for one woman who asked Keller whether he worked for Boulud. Asked about it immediately after, Keller, seemingly amused at the mixup, noted that his life would be much less stressful if that were the case.
More than the fabulous food, what stands out is the each chef’s graciousness. Boulud gleefully assembled plates of cheese and charcuterie for attendees. Keller stood at his station offering raw seafood: caviar from California, West Coast oysters (a rarity in Texas), crab claws, mussels, and shrimp. Bocuse’s dessert station featured an appropriately boozy rum baba, apple tart, and molten chocolate check. The level of personal interaction far exceeded what diners could expect if they visited any of the chefs’ restaurants.
Houstonians may still have to travel to dine at Daniel or The French Laundry, but, at least for one night, their famous founders made the city a little more special.