Local Spotlight

2017 Truffle Masters Event Crowns Kata Robata Winner for Second Year in a Row

Kata Robata, helmed by chef Manabu Horiuchi, wins the Truffle Master title for 2017.
Kata Robata, helmed by chef Manabu Horiuchi, wins the Truffle Master title for 2017. Photo by Mai Pham
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.    
click to enlarge Ricotta spinach truffle egg raviolo with brown butter sage sauce by Enrico Glaudo of Ristorante Cavour. - PHOTO BY MAI PHAM
Ricotta spinach truffle egg raviolo with brown butter sage sauce by Enrico Glaudo of Ristorante Cavour.
Photo by Mai Pham

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. 
click to enlarge Wild mushroom ravioli with parmesan foam, port demi-glace and parsley by Manuel Pucha of La Table. - PHOTO BY MAI PHAM
Wild mushroom ravioli with parmesan foam, port demi-glace and parsley by Manuel Pucha of La Table.
Photo by Mai Pham

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. 
click to enlarge Robert del Grande of Cafe Annie's “Scallop beach party.” - PHOTO BY MAI PHAM
Robert del Grande of Cafe Annie's “Scallop beach party.”
Photo by Mai Pham
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.
click to enlarge Seared sea scallop topped with 'nduja, bone marrow and black truffles by Sandro Scarafile of Sud Italia. - PHOTO BY MAI PHAM
Seared sea scallop topped with 'nduja, bone marrow and black truffles by Sandro Scarafile of Sud Italia.
Photo by Mai Pham
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.


click to enlarge Bacon slab topped blue cheese and finished with freshly shaved truffle honey by Tommy Elbashary of B&B Butchers. - PHOTO BY MAI PHAM
Bacon slab topped blue cheese and finished with freshly shaved truffle honey by Tommy Elbashary of B&B Butchers.
Photo by Mai Pham
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.
click to enlarge Rabbit, porcini and artichoke chaud froid tart garnished with black truffle and smoked bacon by Luis Roger of BCN. - PHOTO BY MAI PHAM
Rabbit, porcini and artichoke chaud froid tart garnished with black truffle and smoked bacon by Luis Roger of BCN.
Photo by Mai Pham

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.)
click to enlarge 1st Place: Truffle Akaushi beef banh mi with honey truffle shake by Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata. - PHOTO BY MAI PHAM
1st Place: Truffle Akaushi beef banh mi with honey truffle shake by Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata.
Photo by Mai Pham

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.
click to enlarge 1st Runner Up: Truffle Kunsei by Adison Lee of Kuu Restaurant - PHOTO BY MAI PHAM
1st Runner Up: Truffle Kunsei by Adison Lee of Kuu Restaurant
Photo by Mai Pham

2nd Runner-Up: Mark Holley of Holley’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar – Snapper Ceviche: kumquat, lime, mint and benne seeds.

click to enlarge 2nd Runner Up: Snapper Ceviche: kumquat, lime, mint and benne seads by Mark Holley of Holley's. - PHOTO BY MAI PHAM
2nd Runner Up: Snapper Ceviche: kumquat, lime, mint and benne seads by Mark Holley of Holley's.
Photo by Mai Pham
People’s Choice: Austin Simmons of Hubbell and Hudson – Oyster & Pearl: oyster and truffle potage, DR Delicacy American sturgeon caviar and DR Delicacy truffle.
click to enlarge People's Choice: Oyster & truffle potage, DR Delicacy American sturgeon caviar and DR Delicacy truffle by Austin Simmons of Hubbell & Hudson in The Woodlands. - PHOTO BY MAI PHAM
People's Choice: Oyster & truffle potage, DR Delicacy American sturgeon caviar and DR Delicacy truffle by Austin Simmons of Hubbell & Hudson in The Woodlands.
Photo by Mai Pham

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham