“This is such a great cause,” a woman standing at one of the cocktail tables where I’d stopped for a moment, declared. It was her second year attending Taste of the Nation Houston, a culinary event by the non-profit Share Our Strength that took place last night. The charity’s tagline, “No Kid Hungry” was the reason she was there. “We found out that our friend, the one who introduced us to this event, grew up hungry,” she said. And with that, she went off to buy last night’s version of a raffle ticket, a key that could unlock some sort of prize, sold for just $30 each.
Taste of the Nation Houston is an annual culinary event held throughout the country to raise awareness about the problem of child hunger. It’s been coming to Houston for years — my first experience of it was in 2011 when it was held at the Houstonian. Though it’s always been a high end event — tickets this year were $125 for general admission and $200 for VIP entry — for a few years, there were so many culinary events happening in Houston that it didn’t get as much attention that it should.
This year’s culinary committee — chef Ryan Pera of Agricole Hospitality, Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar, and Alba Huerta of Julep — did a fantastic job of curating the event, ensuring that it was a night to remember for all attendees.
My friend Stephanie and I made a valiant attempt to hit every single table at the Silver Street Venue, but after about an hour and half of non-stop eating and drinking (the event promises unlimited samples and drinks), she looked at me and said “I’m done.”
Here’s what happened to get us to that point. The evening started out at the Coltivare’s table, where Sarah Crowl was doing a refreshing zero proof (e.g. non-alcoholic) “Melo fresco” mocktail of cantaloupe orange, lime and coconut water with a salt rim. Served with crushed ice, it was so delicious (very close to a margarita in taste), I would come back for second and thirds.
Things moved rapidly after that. At the JW Marriott Table, chef Josh Mouzakes of Main Street Kitchen had braised beef short rib and tiny roasted potatoes that were served like lollipops. JD Woodward of the new 1751 Sea and Bar had delicious spoonfuls of confited scallop with calabrese aioli and chervil.
Drake Leonards of Eunice Restaurant brought one of the biggest crews of the night to make and serve cornmeal crusted deep fried oysters topped with caviar and buttermilk. Felipe Riccio and Adam Garcia of the upcoming Rosie Cannonball offered a preview of what was to come, a dish of chistorra sausage over smoked and stewed lentils.
Moving on, Travis Lenig of Field & Tides had tastings of scallop crudo marinated in serrano chili, mint, basil, cilantro, lime, fish sauce, topped with avocado mousse. Phat Eatery’s Malaysian Kerabu prawns —topped with pickled green papaya, toasted black sesame, peanuts and sweet tangy sauce, was a knockout.
Speaking of knockout, One Fifth Houston’s kibbeh nayyeh, a Lebanese lamb tartare (made with lamb sourced from Black Hill Meats), was such a one bite wonder, I couldn't help myself; I had two.
This was before we stumbled upon Louis Mueller BBQ which had come to Houston via Taylor, Texas outside of Austin, to serve huge chunks of the their barbecue beef ribs. Succulent and crazy good, with this beautiful salt and pepper crusted bark, it was definitely one of the best bites of the night.
But there were so many others: Bobby Mattos of La Lucha was serving freshly shucked oysters topped with one of the tastiest campechana’s I’ve had to date; Ryan Lachaine of Riel served pickled shrimp and shaved fennel; Evelyn Garcia, who currently doing a residency pop-ups at Decatur Bar, served up crisp lettuce wraps topped with Thai larb; Chris Davies of Uchi had a king crab dish; Nobie’s Martin Stayer served something called “24 carrot magic,” (made with roasted carrots, of course); Roegels BBQ had banana bourbon pudding and a barbecue pork sundae; Richard Kaplan of Weights and Measures did mini duck confit banh mi.
There were mini cheese enchiladas by Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen; hamachi crudo by chef Adison Lee; turkish dumplings by Nancy’s Hustle; whole fried duck wings by Paul Lewis of Indianola; artisanal bread by the new Magnol French Baking, and so much more.
By the time we were supposed to have dessert, were were pretty much stuffed. Which meant we only had room for one alfajore from among the assortment of goodies at Michael’s Cookie Jar. We missed out completely on Fluff Bake Bar’s adorable “Call me maybe” ice-cream cone shaped confections. We could barely take a bite of pastry chef Jillian Bartolome’s caramel banana key lime stuff dessert. We couldn’t do justice to Shake Shack’s vanilla and chocolate concretes, Dolce Neve’s chocolate and caramel gelato, or Cacao and Cardamom’s gorgeous selection of hand-made artisanal chocolates.
At final tally, the event raised $205,592 to end child hunger. Cheers to that.
We leave you with a few more pictures from last night.