More than 500 truffle-loving food enthusiasts turned out last night for The Truffle Masters competition at Hobby Center. It was organized and hosted by Diane Roederer of DR Delicacy (a truffle importer) and Elizabeth Stone of Silver Stone Events, and this is the third time this truffle competition has taken place in Houston.
Working with fresh black Spanish truffles provided by DR Delicacy, 24 of Houston’s finest chefs put their best efforts forward for a shot at the grand prize: one kilogram of fresh black truffles worth an estimated $1,900.
Second- and third-place winners would not go home empty-handed either, scoring 500 grams and 250 grams, respectively, of fresh black truffles as well.
To make the competition as fair as possible, a panel of 12 celebrity judges, among them Patricia Sharpe of Texas Monthly, Katherine Whaley of ABC13 Houston and myself, were split into two teams of six, then tasked with judging 12 entries on a blind basis with no visibility as to the chef or the restaurant presenting the dish. The top three entries from each team then advanced to the second and final round of judging. The top three dishes from the second round of judging would take home the coveted prizes.
The entries this year showed a broad range of creativity and technique. There were pasta dishes, including wild mushroom ravioli with parmesan foam, port demi-glace and parsley by Manuel Pucha of La Table, and a ricotta spinach truffle egg raviolo with brown butter sage sauce that oozed decadently when you cut into it, by Enrico Glaudo of Ristorante Cavour.
Scores for presentation went to Robert del Grande of Cafe Annie for his “Scallop beach party” with black diamonds and truffles, served in a small cup on a bed of sand, and garnished with a paper umbrella.
Sandro Scarafile of Sud Italia in the Rice Village also got high marks on presentation for his seared sea scallop topped with nduja, bone marrow and black truffles.
From Tommy Elbashary of B&B Butchers came an over-the-top thick-cut bacon slab topped blue cheese and finished with freshly shaved truffle honey.
We saw technique from Kris Jakob of Brasserie 1895, who provided one single bite with his truffled yolk sphere with vanilla sugar. Luis Roger of BCN, similarly, showed off with a rabbit, porcini and artichoke chaud froid tart garnished with black truffle and smoked bacon.
On the floor, attendees were euphoric as they named their personal favorites, among them Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro’s foie gras sphere, which burst in your mouth when you ate it. Also very popular was chef Austin Simmons's version of oyster and pearl with American sturgeon caviar, East Coast oyster and black truffle potage, which was awarded the coveted People’s Choice win.
The winners were as follows:
First Place: Chef Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata – Open Faced Truffle Banh Mi with oyster mushroom, Texas kobe beef, pickled cucumber, and carrot and honey truffle ice cream with buckwheat truffle powder. (Horiuchi wins for the second year in a row.)
1st Runner-Up: Chef Adison Lee of KUU Restaurant – Truffle Kunsei: house-cured smoked salmon, maki, black truffle cream, chives, garlic bread and shaved black truffle.
2nd Runner-Up: Mark Holley of Holley’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar – Snapper Ceviche: kumquat, lime, mint and benne seeds.
People’s Choice: Austin Simmons of Hubbell and Hudson – Oyster & Pearl: oyster and truffle potage, DR Delicacy American sturgeon caviar and DR Delicacy truffle.