Gene Mann Wild Game Cook-off This time of year, charity cook-offs are as common as ants at a picnic, but this wild pre-rodeo meatfest is the queen of the colony. Prominently featured will be the Sierra Grill's chef Charlie Watkins, who holds the current Cook-off title. In the past, he's served South Texas antelope with chipotle-cherry sauce, barbecued rabbit over field lettuces and Axis venison in cranberry sauce. This year, will he be cooking that dastardly shark from his latest commercial? Afraid not: Rumor has it that wild boar anchors his new creation. Local chefs and celebrities will do the tasting and judging, but the rest of us can buy samples. Kickoff party, 8 p.m.-2 a.m. tonight; cooking and judging, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and 11 a.m.2 a.m. Saturday. Somewhere in there Perfect Stranger, Hatfield & McCoy and Billy Rutherford will perform. Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, 6111 Richmond, 974-2739. $5 (proceeds benefit Houston Proud).
Argentine Tango Workshop The tango master comes to town: Daniel Trenner fervently believes that the tango can be a vehicle for building community and a tool for sustaining energy and focus. Over 15 years, he's traveled to 75 cities on four continents to teach this passionate, detailed dance, and he'll share his optimism and experience with novices this weekend. No experience and no partners are necessary to participate. Introduction, 7-9 p.m. tonight; workshop, 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Houston Center of Dance, 5700 South Rice Avenue, 861-2243. $70 per person.
ASID showhouses The American Society of Interior Designers just loves a challenging material -- like, say, concrete. As proof of their talents, the decorators offer two Bellaire showhouses, each constructed of you-know-what. The first house, at 5106 Pocahontas, is a 3,639-square-foot craftsman-style home made of insulating concrete forms -- meaning that workers poured concrete between two panels of polystyrene foam to form six-inch walls with foam insulation on either side. Even the island top in the gourmet kitchen is made of concrete, though it's been stained to match the room. The next house, 5112 Pocahontas, is a 3,915-square-foot country-style home produced from concrete blocks. Notice those concrete floors! On view today through February 16. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; late hours till 7 p.m. Thursday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday. $8 in advance; $10 at the door. For more information, call ASID at 626-1470.
!Mexico Magnifico! Also known as Mardi Gras! Galveston 1997. The 12-day festival, this year celebrating our neighbor to the south, officially began Friday, but today is the first full day of traffic congestion and slugging it out for cheap plastic baubles. The main attractions today include the Texas A&M University at Galveston Mardi Gras 5K Run, plus performances by the Neville Brothers, Joe Ely (!), Wilbert Thibodeaux, Paul Richard & the Zydeco Rockers, the Zydeco Dots and more. Good side bets include the dangerous dancing of Voladores de Tacanhuitz, George O. Jackson Jr.'s colorful photos of festivals in East Central Mexico and of course, empanadas and margaritas. 8 a.m.-7 p.m. For more information, call the island's visitor's bureau at (800) 351-4237 or visit www. galvestontourism.com. $10.
One Minute Axe Finally, live theater for the attentively impaired: Singers, dancers and performance artists -- basically, anyone who signed up -- get 60 seconds to do their thing. If they exceed their allotted stage time, the Axe-man cometh. Starts at 7:30 p.m. with Axe-man auditions. Zocalo Theater, 5223 Feagan (at Shepherd), 861-2442. $5.
Meet the Keeper Specifically, the keeper of the Houston Zoo Orang Gang. Jennifer Lippold will reveal what her orangutans do behind the scenes -- divulging even the latest love connections among Rudi, Cheyenne, Bubba and pals. 9 a.m. Houston Zoological Gardens, Brown Education Center, 1513 North MacGregor Drive, 529-2632. $6, including regular zoo admission.
Rice Environmental Conference While meat-eaters cavort at the Rock Bottom this weekend, the more gentle of our species revel in their own earth-loving way. Students at Rice University are hosting this fifth annual conference, expo and career fair, hoping to heighten environmental awareness, promote old-fashioned grassroots activism and maybe find an environmentally friendly job that pays. Nobel Prize winner Richard Smalley is but one of the participants in the "Limits of Technology" panel. 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Rice University, Rice Memorial Center, 795-0226. Conference, free; catered vegetarian lunch, $4.
Black History Tour The Heritage Society marks Black History Month with its yearly tour of Houston's African-American communities. Stops on the way include Antioch Baptist Church, Emancipation Park, a Fifth Ward cemetery, Bediko's antique shop and lunch at Drexler's Barbecue. That last destination isn't so much for its historical significance as it is to satisfy grumbling bellies. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Meet at Sam Houston Park, Heritage Society parking lot, 1100 Bagby. To make reservations, call 655-1912. $55, including lunch.