It was a gorgeous summer night in the gardens of a stately West University mansion, and Monica Pope was serving a most unlikely dish to the well-to-do types at the table: scrapple. A dozen enraptured guests had their first taste of the dish - a luscious but decidedly down-home mishmash of a hush puppy, grease and pork trimmings - which is nearly impossible to find unless you make it yourself at home. With the scrapple happily consumed, they settled in to the rest of the five-course feast ahead of them.
The dinner was put on by last week by Recipe for Success, the local non-profit dedicated to combating childhood obesity through education. The organization, founded by Gracie Cavnar in 2006, aims not only to reduce childhood obesity but also to teach kids about food's path from the garden to their plates. To that end, Recipe for Success offers courses to students in elementary schools across the Houston Independent School District, teaching them how to grow food, plan meals, eat right and cook.
Recipe for Success has partnered with Mayor Bill White and Houston "celebrity" chefs such as Philippe Schmit, Bryan Caswell, Ryan Pera and Randy Evans. The chefs serve as instructors in the elementary school classrooms and cook meals at each Gala in Small Bites, a weekly series of intimate fundraising events held in board members' homes or at venues across the city.
This Gala in Small Bites was held at the home of Mary Fay and Peter Way. Along with culinary school assistants from the Art Institute, Pope, owner/chef of t'afia and co-owner of Beaver's Ice House, designed, cooked and served the meal, which went for $500 a person.
The dinner was made with organic produce donated by Central Market and free-range meat donated by Recipe for Success volunteers Glen and Honi Boudreaux, owners of Jolie Vue Farms.
The first course featured hot dogs made from free-range Berkshire pork, raised at Jolie Vue, alongside the scrapple in maple syrup.
The second course was a chilled carrot vichyssoise soup. A dollop of cool crème fraîche and a sprinkle of dill accented its refreshing nature.
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The third course was a departure from the coolness of the soup: a spicy, earthy venison tartare with berbere, served alongside a spoonful of champagne-mango chutney.
The fourth course was playfully called "spaghetti and meatball" on the menu but was in fact a giant Scotch egg on top of handmade egg noodles. The Scotch egg, a British favorite, featured a hard-boiled egg wrapped inside more of the Jolie Vue Berkshire pork, lightly breaded in panko.
The fifth and final course was dessert: a silky, delicately sweet buttermilk panna cotta topped with grilled beets and candied marjoram. It was the ideal dessert for a hot night, and an interesting way to showcase the sugary grilled beets.
Although no more Galas in Small Bites are planned for this season, Recipe for Success is still offering plenty of donation and volunteer opportunities. And there's always next year.