Photo by Thomas B. Shea

We've seen chef Donald Chang cracking jokes and busting a move while cooking and entertaining guests. But the Nara restaurant owner was serious nom nom business as he and sous chef Jojo Urbano went wok to wok with Soma co-executive chef Gabriel Medina and sous chef Cathy Nguyen in an Iron Chef-style throwdown at an Asia Society Texas Center young professionals "Leo Bar" social on Thursday.

Chang needed his full attention. Medina had meticuously detailed his dish and its execution during a two-month process. A hand-drawn sketch of the plating and a typed timeline were clues that Medina and Nguyen weren't screwing around, either, with their Texas Kobe beef-inspired dish.

Medina was inspired by how Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi treated vegetables in the cookbook Jerusalem.

As CultureMap food authority and event judge Eric Sandler explained, the trick to the luxe and expensive cut of meat is to allow its intense flavor to shine naturally. To overwhelm this delicacy with too complex of a conconction is a sin. Judges ABC Ch. 13's Katherine Whaley and Benjy's Joshua Silver agreed.

Chang, who lost power for part of the feud, prepared his Texas T Kobe strip with Korean red pepper dry rub over a dashi reduction accompanied by sake-poached shingo pears and a sharp cheddar and gruyère macaroni purse. It was all encapsulated in a hurricane of swirling applewood smoke.

Medina paced inside and out of the beautiful center, checking to ensure that his grill flames were just right for a creation that included taro and beet purée, nori yogurt, charred pickled red onions, fresh zatar and arugula.

Who earned the Golden Wok trophy?

Emcee Lily Jang of KHOU Ch. 11, who was sparkling while wearing an 18-karat rose gold Hublot timepiece with 126 diamonds (the Swiss watchmaker was a sponsor), announced that it was Medina's creativity that ultimately wowed the judges. The accomplished toque was inspired by how Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi treated vegetables in the cookbook Jerusalem.

Conceived by Asia Society director of performing arts and culture Evan Wildstein (who deserved yet another mazel tov for his recent engagement to Huda Alsheikh), the gathering welcomed some 100 young professionals including James Ozenci, Ruben Lizaola, Justin Lasiewicz, Heliz Forouzan, Christina Dang, Lien Pham, Melissa Permé, Adam Johnson and Claudia Sartori.

Lily Jang interviewing Eric Sandler.

131 The crowd at the Asia Society Texas Center Kobe beef Cook-off December 2014
Photo by Thomas B. Shea
Lily Jang interviewing Eric Sandler.
Photo by © Cameron Bertuzzi

One hot party: Young professionals get down with feathers, fangs and fins in a private evening

Party Watch

What: An artful happening for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's young professionals group Art Crowd.

Where: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The 411: Focus of the gathering for more than 100 art fans in their 20s and 30s was Fangs, Feathers, and Fins: Sacred Creatures in Ancient American Art, the unusual exhibition focusing on the way that animals are depicted in the museum's extensive Pre-Columbian collection. In addition to private evening access to the exhibition in the Beck Building, guests were invited to try their artistic talents with a variety of colorful feathers and art pieces.

The party action included music by DJ Jonny J, light appetizers and buffet bites and specialty “Triple F” cocktails inspired by Fangs, Feathers, and Fins.

Who:Priscilla Pietz, Kevin Pope, Ansan Lutzel, Jay Martin, Arianna Bermudez,Lyndsay Sweeny, Jeneanne Orlowski, Mode Gumpeni and Nicole Papandrea.

Haley Watson, left, and Tara Quell.

Haley Watson, left, and Tara Quell at the MFAH Art Crowd Party November 2014
Photo by © Cameron Bertuzzi
Haley Watson, left, and Tara Quell.
Photo by Jason Self

Hot young professionals stand up for Houston's historic buildings: Partying to fight the teardown craze

Party Watch

What:Preservation Houston's Pier & Beam #throwbackthursday party.

Where: The lobby of the historic Esperson Building in downtown Houston.

The 411: The one year anniversary of this dedicated young professional group was reason enough for a lively celebration among the city's next generation of leadership with an affinity for Houston's growing preservation movement. Party chairs Mary Hammon Lee, Dave Morris, Nick Senkel and Claire Cormier-Thielke welcomed the young preservationists some 200 strong.

Several guests grooved on the #throwbackthursday theme by stepping out in retro threads while others carried books on historic Houston. And, yes, the conversation centered frequently on historic buildings in their various neighborhoods. Good eats from Elegant Events and Catering by Michael combined with libations from five vendors kept the partygoers fueled.

The event was a home run for Cameron Management which on this night showcased the beautifully restored building. Thank you Cameron Management president and owner Dougal Cameron and Cameron marketing director Jano Nixon Kelley.

Who: Preservation Houston's executive director Stephanie Ann Jones, VP of strategic planning Elizabeth Husseini and Pier & Beam members including Laura Menges, Austin Thomas, Mike Mahlstedt, Will McCallum, Abby Noebels, Julie and Ian Rosenberg, Neal Sarkar, Rebecca Schmidt and Claudia Solis.

Mike Mahlstedt, from left, Jano Nixon Kelley and Kyle Dutton.

27 Mike Mahlstedt, from left, Jano Nixon Kelley and Kyle Dutton at Preservation Houston's Pier & Beam #ThrowbackThursday Party November 2014
Photo by Jason Self
Mike Mahlstedt, from left, Jano Nixon Kelley and Kyle Dutton.
Photo by Daniel Ortiz/Daniel Ortiz Photography

Beethoven's Fifth sets the stage for young professionals late-night bash with a skyline view

Party Watch

What: Houston Symphony's Young Professionals Backstage symphony concert and after-party.

Where: The concert in Jones Hall and the after-party at the new Houston Club.

The 411: With the powerful sounds of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 still dancing in their heads, more than 150 YPBs took to the dance floor at the Houston Club where DJ Squincy presented music of a totally different ilk.

The lively late night party for the fresh-faced symphony lovers included a flip-book photo booth, party foods and four open bars featuring beer, wine and spirits donated by Circulo Tequila and Brugal Rum. And then there were the greats views of downtown from the Houston Club's new 49th floor perch.

Symphony musicians joining the party included Adam Dinitz, oboe and English horn; Eric Larson, double bass; Matthew Roitstein, associate principle flute; Matthew Strauss, percussion; and Elise Wagner, bassoon.

Who: The YPBs included Kristin Kruse, Wesley Lotz, Juan Garcia, Allison Reid, Kristen Amundsen, Lauren Pearson, Aiesha Maxwell, Ben Sachs, Georgia Maxwell and Geoff Marolder.

David Perez, left, Laura Pearson, Geoff Marolda.

News, Shelby, Young Professionals Backstage, Nov. 2014, David Perez, Laura Pearson, Geoff Marolda
Photo by Daniel Ortiz/Daniel Ortiz Photography
David Perez, left, Laura Pearson, Geoff Marolda.
Photo by © Roswitha Vogler/Photosbyrovo.com

Globe-trotting young professional celebrates landing a new job in the most awesome way possible

Party Watch

New job celebrations come in all forms from congratulatory dinners to floral bouquets, but this young professional took the festivities a step further when he threw a red carpet bash at the Houston headquarters of his new boutique financial firm.

Clint Sosa, a former youth ambassador for the Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs, orchestrated the bash complete with red carpet arrival and a step-and-repeat at White Rhino Financial offices on Waugh Drive.

Guests dined on party fare from Sorrell Urban Bistro and Ray's Bistro while sipping on Cote Or’s gold leaf champagne. Party favors made the night even more memorable.

Celebrants included Ashley Wyatt, Vincent Powell, Brandt Jordan, Sonia Guimbellot, Olga and Jeff Kelly, Claudio Gutierrez and Melissa Huntermark and Rebecca and Cliff Koterwas.

Vincent Powell, left, and Clint Sosa.

185 Vincent Powell and Clint Sosa at the Red Carpet Soiree November 2014
Photo by © Roswitha Vogler/Photosbyrovo.com
Vincent Powell, left, and Clint Sosa.
Photo by Chinh Phan

The best young professionals groups for health minded people: Making a difference where it truly matters

Best Young Professionals Groups

With so many groups dedicated to bringing Houston's young professionals together for good causes, finding the right organization for you can be a challenge.

CultureMap has created a breakdown of the leading young professional groups for those interested in improving the lives of those with health problems to make the process of choosing one much simpler. Whether you're looking to promote awareness about those living with disabilities or to support children with illness, there is a young professionals group in the health realm that fits your interests.

Camp For All

What do they do?Camp For All is a unique camp working to enrich the lives of children and adults with challenging illnesses or special needs and their families throughout the year.
Perks: Membership includes access to the group's quarterly happy hours and discounted tickets to the Camp Culinary Challenge. The group also has two Camp Care Days a year where YPs get the chance to go to Camp For All and volunteer as a group.
Upcoming event: Young Professionals’ General Meeting and Holiday Party at Under the Volcano on Dec. 3 at 5:30 p.m.
Cost: $35 for individual membership, $50 for dual membership

Friends of DePelchin

What do they do?Friends of DePelchin is a group of young professionals committed to supporting DePelchin Children's Center's mission through community awareness, philanthropy and volunteerism. Funds raised through the group's programs benefit the DePelchin, which helps strengthen the lives of children by enhancing their mental health and physical well-being.
Perks: The group organizes many networking opportunities, two annual fundraisers and unique volunteer opportunities.
Cost: $35 for individual membership, $45 for dual membership

Bo's Buddies

What do they do?Bo's Buddies is a group of service-oriented young professionals committed to promoting awareness, raising funds and providing volunteer service to support the efforts of Bo's Place, an organization which helps grieving children.
Perks: Bo’s Buddies members volunteer and attend social fundraising events with other young professionals, hosted by and directly benefiting Bo's Place.
Cost: $40 for individual membership, $70 for dual membership

Young Urban Professionals of Easter Seals (YUPES)

What do they do?YUPES is a group formed to support the Easter Seals organization in accomplishing its mission, which is to provide exceptional services for people with disabilities and their families so they can live, work, learn and play in the community.
Perks: The organization gives young professionals the opportunity to meet and socialize, while also helping raise awareness and resources for Easter Seals.
Upcoming event:Holiday Soiree and Toy Drive at Armandos on Dec. 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $25 annually

Easter Seals knows how to keep its important mission fun for the young professionals dedicated to it.

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Photo by Chinh Phan
Easter Seals knows how to keep its important mission fun for the young professionals dedicated to it.
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Where to celebrate Pride Month in Houston: Party loud n' proud with bar bashes, pride rides, takeovers, and more

where to celebrate pride

Houston has always been a bastion of pride, and this month, venues around the city are waving their flags in unity and celebration. A local hot spot pays tribute to a legendary institution, while some local gay institutions party all month long.

Also look for food and drink specials, cultural celebrations, pride rides, and more. Here are your best bets for loud and proud parties this Pride month.

Tuesday, June 6

Trash Panda Drinking Club will pay homage to three iconic gay bars throughout the month of June, starting with New York's legendary Stonewall Inn for one night only. Chef Adriana Maldonado will curate a special, New York-themed menu featuring chopped cheese, New York-style pizza by the slice, and more, starting at 7 pm. Look for appearances by Stonewall bartenders Mel Albaladejo and Mike Salanari, DJ Chauncey D, and an appearance by Ms. Stonewall 2023. The parties continue on June 13 with an homage to New York's Cubbyhole, and on June 24 with a revival of the much missed La Strada brunch.

Thursday, June 8

Pride Chorus Houston will return to the Moody Center for the Arts for an a cappella performance of uplifting pop favorites. DJ Krazzy Kris will get the party started. 5 pm.

Friday, June 9

Hamburger Mary’swill have a Pride Month celebration/fundraiser, which will include a costume contest and door prizes. It’s free and open to healthcare professionals. 6 pm.

Saturday, June 10

Snoozewill host “Yappy Pride,” a fur-filled day of fun, love, and support for the LGBTQ+ community and their furry companions. There will be a prize wheel and merch for sale. 10 am.

Sunday, June 11

Congregation Beth Yeshurunwill host a Pride Playdate, complete with a bubble truck and a splash pad. You can also enjoy rainbow snacks and will have lots of time to play. 10 am.

Unbound Productionwill present the Drag Queen Reverse Brunch Show. This knock-your-socks-off show is the perfect mix of classy entertainment and raunchy comedy. 1 pm.

Thursday, June 16

Therapy Lounge will have a Pride celebration with live poetry, R&B music, and a drag show. There will also be food, hookah, drinks, vendors, and you can BYOB. 8:30 pm.

Saturday, June 17

Chapman & Kirbywill have a Pride Month Queen Brunch. Enjoy a delicious buffet while being entertained by some of the most talented drag performers in the city. Noon.

Houston Eaglewill host Houston’s Annual Pride Ride. There will be vendors, a drag show and raffles, followed by a bike ride through the old Pride Parade route through Montrose. Noon.

BUDDY’Swill have its 6th annual Pride Bar Crawl, with stops at Kiki, Pop Soap, and other spots. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to local Pride organizations and The Trevor Project. 4 pm.

The Montrose Centerwill celebrate Pride Month (and its 45th anniversary) with the Community Pride Celebration. There will be live entertainment, special surprises, and more. 4 pm.

Thursday, June 22

Numbers Nightclubwill welcome many drag performers for its Space City Pride 2023 party. Marcia Marcia Marcia, Salina EsTitties, Jasmine Kennedie, Landon Cider, and Jax will be in attendance. 8 pm.

Ripcordwill have a four-day, Unapologetic Pride Party, where people can celebrate and still remain aware of current events affecting the LGBTQ+ community. There will be a full lineup of acts, along with vendors, kink demos, and speakers. 9 pm.

Saturday, June 24

The Pride Run, the inclusive, synchronized 5k/10k walk and run, will go down in downtown Houston. It’s dedicated to bringing people together to have fun, be active, and support the LGBTQ+ community. 7 am.

The 45th Annual Official Houston Pride Celebration, featuring the Houston Pride Parade, will take place in downtown Houston on Smith and Milam. It’s free and everyone can register. 7 pm.

Talented Houstonian wins James Beard Award for Best Chef: Texas

Houston's newest Beard winner

A Houston chef has won one of the food world’s most prestigious awards. On Monday, June 5, the James Beard Foundation awarded Best Chef: Texas to Street to Kitchen chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter.

Considered the Oscars of the food world, the awards recognize chefs and other culinary professionals in a wide range of categories ranging from Outstanding Chef to Best New Restaurant. Winners are selected by the foundation’s Awards Committee that is made up of media members, former winners, and others. See the full list of winners here.

Painter — known as “Chef G” to friends and admirers — is the first Houston chef to win Best Chef: Texas, which was created after the 2019 James Beard Awards. She joins Robert Del Grande, Chris Shepherd, Justin Yu, and Hugo Ortega as the only Houston chefs to win a regional award in the foundation’s annual Restaurant and Chef Awards. Last night’s win means back-to-back victories for Houstonians in the awards, following Southern-inspired cocktail bar Julep’s win last year for Outstanding Bar Program.

“I always dreamed it would happen,” Painter told CultureMap shortly after her win. “It proves to me I can do it. I’m new to this country and new to this business, but if you have a belief, you can do it.”

The story of Street to Kitchen’s rise in the food world almost reads like a Hollywood movie. After growing up in Thailand where she learned to cook Thai food from her family, chef Painter and her husband Graham moved to America eight years ago. She worked for James Beard Award winner Justin Yu at Theodore Rex before starting Street to Kitchen to serve the “unapologetically Thai” flavors she couldn’t find at restaurants in Houston.

The Painters launched Street to Kitchen with a series of pop-ups and a weekly stand at the Urban Harvest farmers market. They leased a former fried chicken restaurant next to an East End gas station — far away from a prime location in a neighborhood like Montrose or the Heights — to bring Street to Kitchen to life.

Despite opening at the height of the pandemic in the summer 2020, people immediately began to discover Street to Kitchen. It won both Restaurant of the Year and Rising Star Chef of the Year in the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, paving the way for this year’s James Beard Award nomination.

“After I won, I feel like this is crazy,” she added. “No matter how hard I was working toward this day, it was worth it. I’m so proud to bring it to Houston. I’m really proud.”

While the night belonged to Chef G, it ended in disappointment for Houston’s two other finalists. Neither Nancy’s Hustle nor Tatemó took home the awards for Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program and Best New Restaurant, respectively. Overall, Texas bars and restaurants earned 13 finalist nominations, but only Street to Kitchen won its category.

While the atmosphere throughout Monday night’s ceremony was jubilant, controversy had erupted over the past few weeks over the James Beard Foundation’s decision to disqualify Best Chef: South finalist Timothy Hontzas after it investigated anonymous complaints about his behavior towards staff and customers. Judges, including New Orleans-based food writer Todd Price and chef Vishwesh Bhatt, publicly resigned from the Restaurant and Chef Awards committee to protest the decision. In a lengthy article, the New York Timesreported that the foundation also investigated Best Chef: Southeast finalist Sam Fore, but ultimately allowed her to remain a nominee.

Popular Indian restaurant adds second location offering exclusively vegetarian fine-dining experience

Delicious Dedication

Foodies in the know have been visiting Nirmanz Food Boutique in Sugar Land for the past six years, drawn by its wide variety of Indian cuisines that include Punjabi, North and South Indian, Indo-Chinese, Indian street food, and even Indian fast food.

Now, hungry Houstonians and visitors seeking bright flavors and high-end hospitality can flock to the second location in Richmond, which opened at 11143 Harlem Rd. in fall of last year. It will feature an exclusively vegetarian menu.

It's the first of many planned expansions, says chef Nirman Shah, who runs the brand with his wife, Niyati, and three daughters: Manushi, Aayushi, and Sreyanshi. “These girls of mine are my truest of assets,” he often expresses.

Shah and his family have always followed the path of vegetarianism, and it has long been a dream to have a restaurant that showcases only vegetarian cuisine.

"In the Indian culture, there’s a large population that follows vegetarianism and there is a lack of fine-dining vegetarian, Indian restaurants here in America," says Shah. "Our goal is to place a spotlight on this particular genre and spread awareness of this cuisine that's growing in popularity."

Shah revealed that all Nirmanz locations will be converting to exclusively vegetarian soon, and there will be an additional menu that features gluten-free, vegan, jain, and swaminarayan options for those with dietary restrictions. In the near future, there will also be additions to the menu featuring cultural root dishes, which are often not found outside of India

"Ultimately we want to create a dining space that is inclusive, where there is something for everyone," Shah says. "As professionals in the hospitality industry, nothing makes us happier than having loved ones dine in our restaurants, celebrating a joyous time, while leaving satisfied."

A graduate of Indian Hotel Management in Ahmedabad, Shah has more than 25 years of U.S. restaurant experience.

Before arriving in the U.S., Shah earned accolades working as a head chef at the renowned Rambagh Palace Hotel in Jaipur, now a luxury Taj Palace Hotel, and also studied food technology.

The new location in Richmond is a celebration of Shah's culinary journey throughout his time in America. Beautifully adorned with antique furniture and pieces that were brought over from the city of Rajasthan, the restaurant's ambiance helps tell the story of the chef and his family.

The authentic menu tells its own delicious tale with comforting favorites like palak, tikka masala, and koftas, plus some unexpected fusion creations.

Thanks to both its food and its family spirit, the beloved restaurant brand is a popular choice for weddings and has catered at some of the city's most stunning venues.

Shah also believes in giving back — community is extremely important to him. He has gone out of his way to deliver free meals to medical offices and clinics during the pandemic, and helped feed locals during Hurricane Harvey and the devastating ice storm.

Bringing cuisine and culture together has always been Shah's goal, and now there are twice as many opportunities for his fans to experience that.


Nirmanz Food Boutique's original location is at 16338 Kensington Dr., suite 160, in Sugar Land (832-532-0699). Its new location is at 11143 Harlem Rd. in Richmond (832-281-9990).

Nirmanz Food Boutique

Photo courtesy of Nirmanz Food Boutique

The second location in Richmond is now open.