The mood was festive Sunday evening among the Who’s Who in the Houston restaurant world. You could barely take a few steps without bumping into someone who played a vital role in the Bayou City’s culinary scene: restaurateurs, chefs, beverage professionals, service, management and support staff. Everyone was dressed to the nines for Houston’s culinary equivalent of the Oscars: My Table Magazine’s Houston Culinary Awards 2016, now in its 20th year, held at the majestic Corinthian venue downtown.
It was a night for celebration. Attendees were greeted with glasses of Bollinger champagne. Chefs Richard Knight of Hunky Dory and Alex Padilla of Ninfa’s on Navigation provided the evening’s appetizers during the cocktail hour: Knight with a montadito de matrimonio (sweet white anchovies and salt cured black anchovies topped with citrus herb gremolata on a tomato and garlic toast); Padilla with suckling pig blue corn tostadas topped with black beans and bright magenta-colored pickled shallots.
Specialty cocktails — three total — were served, including a Bad News Planter’s Rum Punch by Justin Burrow of Bad News Bar; a bourbon-based Kentucky Sunshine by Richard Middleton of Brennan’s of Houston; and a Paloma with Tequila Ocho Plata by Rob Crabtree of Goode Company.
An ice sculpture shaped like an armadillo provided endless fun because the armadillo’s tail had been carved into an ice luge. Those up to the task placed their mouths at the end of the tail to catch shots of tequila by Tequila Ocho as it was poured down the luge.
As is the custom each year, a team of chefs — each responsible for one course — prepared the evening’s four-course repast. Adison Lee of KUU Restaurant in Memorial City offered a first course titled “Peachy Tuna,” combining cubes of Ahi tuna with fresh peaches, lime zest and watermelon vinaigrette.
Bobby Matos of State of Grace did the second course, an ambitious lasagnette di crespelle, a white lasagna with foraged mushrooms in a creamy sauce finished with brandy and Taleggio. The main entrée came from Adam Paul of Jackson and Company with a braised lamb in lemon thyme reduction, followed by a fudge brownie sundae by Susan Molzan of Petite Sweets.
And then it was time for the awards ceremony. Hosted by My Table Magazine founder Teresa Byrne-Dodge, it began with an emotional speech by Paul Michael Gordon on behalf of the Grant Gordon Foundation, followed by the presentation of a $5,000 monetary award on behalf of The Grant Gordon Initiative For Chefs, Inc., to David Guerrero, a Houston chef who has been battling a brain tumor for several years.
The 18th Annual Legends of Houston Restaurants Award was presented to Felix Florez of Blackhill Meats. Then came the announcement of the 13 Houston Foodie Star Awards and ten Houston Culinary Awards.
Treadsack, the group that owns Down House, Hunky Dory, Bernadine’s, Foreign Correspondents, D&T Drive Inn, Canard and Johnny’s Gold Brick, was the big winner of the night with multiple awards, including Restaurateur of the Year, Favorite Bartender Chris Morris of Hunky Dory, and Pastry Chef of the Year Julia Doran for Bernadine’s.
Chris Cusack, Treadsack’s co-founder and CEO, accepted the award. “It’s very gratifying," he says. "We've been working especially hard over the last few years, and being recognized is wonderful. I'm particularly proud for our 250-plus employees and our vendors — who really make this possible.”
State of Grace, the River Oaks restaurant by Atlanta restaurateur Ford Fry (who grew up in Houston), took home back-to-back awards for Best New Restaurant and Best Interior Design. During his acceptance speech for Best New Restaurant, Fry said, “This is my town. But this award is really Bobby’s [Matos] and Matt’s [Crawford]. I can’t tell you how proud I am of these guys.”
Shawn Bermudez and Matt Pak of The Burger Joint took home two wins as well, one for Favorite Burger and another for Favorite Outdoor Dining.
Interestingly, several of the evening’s big winners had a connection with Brennan’s of Houston. Danny Trace, the current executive chef of Brennan’s, took home the award for Chef of the Year. But several Brennan’s alums also took home awards, including Joe Cervantez of Killen’s, who won Up-and-Coming Chef of the Year; Patrick Feges of Southern Goods, who won the Favorite Barbecue category; Bobby Matos of State of Grace; and Legend winner Felix Florez.
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Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Houston Culinary Awards and Foodie Star Awards.
The winners are as follows:
Houston Culinary Awards:
Restaurateur(s) of the Year: Treadsack
Chef of the Year: Danny Trace (Brennan’s of Houston)
Up-and-Coming Chef of the Year: Joe Cervantez (Killen’s Steakhouse)
Outstanding Wine Program: Brasserie 19
Pastry Chef of the Year: Julia Doran (Bernadine’s)
Outstanding Bar Program: Backstreet Cafe
Service Person of the Year: Jeb Stuart (Coltivare)
Houston Classic: Benjy’s in the Village
Best Interior Design: State of Grace
Best New Restaurant: State of Grace
Houston Foodie Star Awards
Favorite Bakery: Fluff Bake Bar
Favorite Barbecue: Southern Goods
Favorite Bartender: Chris Morris (Hunky Dory)
Favorite Breakfast: Common Bond
Favorite Burger: The Burger Joint
Favorite Coffeehouse: Morningstar
Favorite Farmers’ Market Vendor: Texas Hill Country Olive Co.
Favorite Food Truck: Cousins Maine Lobster
Favorite Late Night Spot: Velvet Taco
Favorite Mom & Pop Ethnic: Fat Bao
Favorite Outdoor Dining: The Burger Joint
Favorite Pub or Bar: Poison Girl
Favorite Sweets/Ice Cream: Hugs & Donuts