With special tasting and pairing events available every weekend, Houston's culinary scene has evolved dramatically from just a typical night out at a favorite restaurant. One group that has turned eating out on its head is Aces of Taste. The core staff members include Ahrif Sarumi and Abigail Diaz (co-founders), Julie Julez (Social Media Director), Dinora Martinez (lead server) and DJ Charlee Brown (resident DJ).
The Houston Press participated in a recent Aces of Taste event to find out who this group is, what goes on behind the hype and how they're stomping all over the pop-up scene.
Co-founder Abigail "Abby" Diaz shed some light on the origin of the name, Aces of Taste. Diaz says that Sarumi actually came up with the name as a nod to Houston foodies' being "Aces" on the food scene. When asked what she felt was the biggest challenge in staging an event, she said that "in the beginning, getting people to believe in us was hard, but once we did the dinner with chef Monica Pope, the right people started to notice that we were legit."
Creating the buzz on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter is Julie Julez. Many of the guests who sign up, do so because a friend of a friend "liked" a post or a picture that was shared by Julez. She is an "ace" in her own right; enticing Aces' 8728 Instagram followers day and night with glorious food and event photos is not an easy task, but she loves the group of people she works with and finds that the reward is always the event's coming to fruition with happy guests and chefs.
Dinora Martinez, along with her son and daughter, has been with Aces for almost two years. Everyone has become family to her. Dinora says the best part of this group is the opportunity it provides to try all the spectacular food and meet new people. She says, "You get to taste so many new things, flavors that you've never thought of putting together in your life."
The Press didn't get a chance to catch up with DJ Charlee Brown, but he kept the beats going throughout the evening with just the right sounds for each accompanying course. When the main entrée arrived, the mood of the room instantly changed because of the music that was playing. He played a sexy Sadé tune that fit the dish perfectly as all the chatter stopped and eyes focused on the prime brisket barbacoa that just sashayed into the room dressed in Sichuan and green peppercorns and slathered with adobo sauce on a hand-pressed tortilla.
On this specific evening, The Color Wheel Dinner, a collaboration with food truck darlings El Topo, was presented for 40 guests. The evening was sponsored by Cointreau and featured an interactive art exhibit by local artist Matt Manalo and a special vocal performance by Corbin Dallas (who will be singing with the band Us in the upcoming Day for Night music and arts festival). The five courses were delicately presented by El Topo owners/chefs Mike Serva and Tony Luhrman. With assistance from the entire Aces team, plates were delivered to chatty, anxious diners waiting with their camera phones ready to snap and share their experience with the social media world.
Judging from the comments at the end of the evening, the event was a success and the first of many pop-ups to come for newbies at the table. First-timers Brenden Fradkin and Eden Bass shared that they signed up because they were followers of El Topo on Instagram. Bass playfully said that she "feels really hip being here and a part of this." "I feel way cooler than I really am, like I got a couple of [cool] points from just being here," added Fradkin.
Dawn Chevalier, also a first timer, heard about the Color Wheel Dinner on social media and read up about Aces of Taste before reserving her seat. "I love how they include emerging artists and chefs; I had to come out to support the food scene. Local chefs that you may not know about get a light shown on them," says Chevalier.
A veteran Aces attendee, Carrie Wirsing learned about her first pop-up dinner from Local magazine and has been a big fan of the events ever since. She's been to several dinners, and in her opinion, they get better and better.
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Founder Ahrif Sarumi shared his vision that "from the beginning, [the goal] has been to offer an interactive dining experience with a spotlight on our chefs and one-of-a-kind surprises for our guests." After hosting more than 20 events since December 2014, when it was founded, he feels Aces of Taste has hit its stride and will be executing "bigger concepts in the near future." Now that Aces has found a permanent home at the Bevy Lab in the Warehouse District and has come to be regarded as a "trusted brand" in the Houston foodie world, they are "excited to expand the Aces of Taste experience beyond pop-up dinners."
Sarumi shared an exclusive offer with the Press. Because of the positive response to the Color Wheel Dinner, they have decided to present an encore brunch featuring El Topo this coming Saturday, September 24. Seats are $35/per person with an option for additional drinks at the Korbel mimosa bar. Houston Press readers can use discount code "HP15" when reserving a seat for this brunch. Event details are available on their site and on their Instagram feed.