Some folks are fortunate enough to enjoy endless travel funds and can whisk away to the south of France or the Mediterranean islands whenever the urge strikes, lucky ducks. However, this summer Houstonians have an enticing reason to leave their passports untouched and stick close to the Gulf Coast for a 12-week, edible "staycation" at SaltAir Seafood Kitchen in River Oaks. The multi-meal excursion, which kicks off on July 18, is a collaborative effort between chefs Brandi Key, Brandon Soverall and Will Ducante, who will give guests a culinary tour through some of their favorite places in the country and the world.
“The whole idea when we started SaltAir was to introduce a new original to Houston by presenting our guests with more than just the Gulf Coast tradition that you see in most Houston seafood institutions,” explains Key. “So, for our chef tasting series, we decided to take it a step further and chose places touching the water that have inspired us as chefs and shaped our skill, technique and the way we look at food.” Morocco, Vietnam, the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf Coast and Spain are just a few areas that will be showcased as part of the series’ gastronomic map.
Beginning the week of July 18 and ending the week of October 3, multi-course dinners, each featuring a different locale, are featured every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The cost is $50 per person. Complete parties are encouraged to all order the special meal so that everyone eats together, but the restaurant will accommodate mixed orders if the table is okay with staggered courses.
Optional beverage pairings for an additional charge are designed to enhance the meal and lend an additional layer of experience. The chefs took location to heart when choosing these pairings, with Key noting that if a region isn’t known for wine, then the attention will shift to beer or cocktails. Non-alcoholic beverages may be suggested in lieu of spirits depending on the food or origin, and the staff will guide diners on the merits of choosing a differing pairing for each course or settling on a single bottle to be enjoyed throughout the meal.
The series is an ingenious marriage of two goals: to transport the taste buds around the world, and to give the SaltAir chefs an avenue for sharing the cuisines that influence their approaches to cooking. Chef Ducante’s Filipino heritage is featured in September through dishes like pancit palabok, a rice noodle dish with shrimp, pork, pork rinds, cabbage and orange sauce, and the turon, which is a banana spring roll dessert served with brown sugar, caramel sauce and coconut ice cream. If these variations sound unfamiliar, that’s part of the point, as Ducante says. “It is not a focus on authenticity, but more a feeling.”
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Look for Caribbean street food in August when Soverall's home of Trinidad is featured through ingredients like pickled green mango, garlic, peppers and cilantro. Key’s time in San Francisco reflects her favorite Bay Area chefs and restaurants, such as Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse. “I am inspired by all of the places [represented] and we are using, collectively, all of our experiences to create menus that pay respect to these places while staying true to who we are,” explains Key of the series. “I want people to see these in a different light, and maybe we can inspire someone to go visit these places that we love and make their own stories.”
Twelve regions is a tremendous way to introduce a range of flavors and techniques, but not every idea made the cut, particularly because of the summer schedule. Key hopes to do a second series showcasing the flavors of cooler climes, such as Irish country fare, while expanding the menus from the region list of this very first series.
SaltAir Chef Series Schedule
July 18: Gulf Coast
July 25: East Coast
August 1: San Francisco
August 8: Pacific Northwest
August 15: Caribbean
August 22: South America
August 29: France
September 5: Spain
September 12: Morocco
September 19: Mediterranean Islands
September 26: Philippines
October 3: Vietnam