Special Events

The Truffle Masters 2022 Returns to In Person

Chef Luis Roger and his team earn the top honor.
Chef Luis Roger and his team earn the top honor. Photo by Emily Jaschke
I could smell the earthy aroma of truffles before even walking into the rooms that held the tables and work stations of the 27 chefs competing for the title of Truffle Master 2022. Located in the C. Baldwin Hotel in downtown Houston, The Truffle Masters returned in person March 7,  after being held as a virtual event in 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
click to enlarge Musaafer had a pretty display of its decadent truffle dish. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGGIERO
Musaafer had a pretty display of its decadent truffle dish.
Photo by Lorretta Rugggiero
The posh celebration of the highly-prized black truffle was hosted by DR Delicacy, the Houston-based luxury food importer and distributor. And few foods can be considered more luxurious than truffles, though caviar was available to guests who sprung for the Patron VIP tickets. The proceeds from the event benefitted Texas Food & Wine Alliance, a non-profit with a mission to foster awareness and innovation in the Texas culinary community.

The Truffle Masters originally began as the "Truffle Charity Challenge" in 2015. The Truffle Masters 2022 was the eighth challenge for DR Delicacy and its founder, Diane Roederer. Many of the competing chefs were return competitors and and they brought their T-game.
click to enlarge Alba Huerta puts the finishing touches on the Sunset Spritz. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Alba Huerta puts the finishing touches on the Sunset Spritz.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
To complement the vast offering of truffle-forward dishes, there were two cocktail stations set up with Julep owner and cocktail maven, Alba Huerta, creating a Truffled Gibson and a tequila-based Sunset Spritz at her bar while Riel's Derek Brown was wowing guests with his Espresso Martinis. Josh Cellars Prosecco was flowing and Kagan Cellars was providing attendees with some of its wines.

I started my evening off with Huerta's Sunset Spritz, a fruity and refreshing blend of tequila blanco, lime juice, pineapple juice and hibiscus liqueur with a splash of club soda. It was a welcome antidote to the sometimes heavy taste of truffles. That may be sacrilege to some, but truffles can be overpowering, especially if you are a person who lacks the funds to enjoy them on a regular basis. I am one of those people.
click to enlarge Tris delivered a hefty Ahi Tuna Tostada. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Tris delivered a hefty Ahi Tuna Tostada.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
I was fortunate to hook up with Chef Cuc Lam, who used to be a food writer here at the Houston Press before she was lured away by the restaurant world to help open restaurants such as SING and Yelo. Our first truffle stop was at Kata Robata where a young man, who shall be referred to as Jacob, because that was his name, came out to us and offered a plate with a deconstructed hand roll, which basically meant it was DIY. It was a sheet of nori with fatty tuna belly topped with Burgundy truffles. Lam and I rolled them up and ate them. Lam said it melted in her mouth but I wasn't overly impressed. The tuna had a strong flavor and the generous shaving of truffles got lost in the mix.
click to enlarge Who wouldn't want to be stalked by a guy with truffles? - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Who wouldn't want to be stalked by a guy with truffles?
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Jacob found us again and brought the other truffle offering at Kata Robata, a Monaka cookie sandwich filled with truffle ice cream. It was heavenly, with the cool cream tempering the pungent flavor of the truffle and the light cookie bringing to mind the ice cream cones of my youth. Both Lam and I thought it was one of the best creations of the evening. Others must have felt the same way because Kata Robata won the People's Choice award.
click to enlarge The C. Baldwin Hotel was the scene of The Truffle Masters 2022. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The C. Baldwin Hotel was the scene of The Truffle Masters 2022.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

We made our way around the tables trying various concoctions, some more successful than others. The shrimp dumpling from Alex Au-Yeung's Phat Eatery was a perfectly-made bite though the truffles didn't make much of a difference. Chef Billy Kin at 5Kinokawa was coy about his dish, telling me to eat it first before he described it. It turned out to be shirako, a delicacy of cod sperm. It was interesting, if not a little chewy. Le Colonial had a choux pastry filled with foie gras mousse and the citrus pop of the yuzu gel gave it a nice vibrancy. 
click to enlarge Le Colonial's dish resembled a real truffle. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Le Colonial's dish resembled a real truffle.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Another highlight was a little truffle ball with chocolate discs from  MAD and BCN Taste and Tradition. It was a take on its Basque Cheesecake with a tangerine and apricot filling. It earned Chef Luis Roger and his team the much-desired Truffle Master 2022 First Place from the judges, a mix of local food journalists, chefs and television personalities. Pat Sharpe, from Texas Monthly, also joined the panel.

The Second Place designation went to Money Cat, the upcoming restaurant from Sherman Yeung. It was an A5 Wagyu topped mushroom and truffle oil rice served with a truffle ice cream and chocolate tree. I missed out somehow on that one and was bummed when I later saw a photo of it posted by Hot in Houston Now's Valerie Sweeten. We had been making the rounds together, but in a moment of separation, she had chanced upon that beauty. I, unfortunately, did not.
click to enlarge The trio from Hidden Omakase was a winner. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The trio from Hidden Omakase was a winner.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Hidden Omakase, last year's Truffle Masters winner, received Third Place from the judges. While some chefs offered two different takes on truffles, Chef Niki Vongthong took it to three. There was a wagyu and Thai rice, a warm, tiny cup of drinkable consomme plus a taro and corn custard with truffle coconut cream. That little custard shot to the number two on my list of favorites, barely being bested by the truffle ice cream cookie from Kata Robata.
click to enlarge The caviar was stunning. The chips not so much. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The caviar was stunning. The chips not so much.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
For a respite, Lam, Sweeten and I headed to the Patron VIP Lounge. There we found the caviar offerings and chocolate truffles included in the Patron VIP ticket, plus liquor from Meticulous Spirits. Oddly, the caviar service set-up and the Mostly Chocolate table were off in a dark corner which felt as if we were involved in a shady drug deal. Part of me wanted to whisper, " Do you have the good stuff?"
click to enlarge Mostly Chocolate provided chocolates with real truffles. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Mostly Chocolate provided chocolates with real truffles.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
And indeed there was the good stuff, sustainably-farmed White Sturgeon caviar from Tsar Nicoulai, served with sour cream and potato chips. Unfortunately, the chips were jalapeno-flavored and salty, not a particularly good foil for the sturgeon. Our new tablemate Barbara decided to forego the chips and just load up on the delicious caviar. I grabbed a glass of cabernet from the lonely bartender in the back and a couple of pretty chocolate truffles from Mostly Chocolate.
click to enlarge Truffles, bubbles and music get the party going. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Truffles, bubbles and music get the party going.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
We gathered our strength and headed out for more truffle hunting, though we didn't need a hound or a pig to find them. There was a second room of fabulous fungi which included some beautiful displays from Musaafer, truffle quail from A'bouzy and a deejay adding a vibe to the space that was missing from the other room. People were dancing and drinks were in no short supply.

Soon, I was nearing my limit on truffle consumption. I knew my feasting was done when the sole of my left high-heeled shoe and I parted ways. I grabbed it and shoved it into my purse as discreetly as possible. Then, like a middle-aged Cinderella, I left the ball.
click to enlarge We need more of this in our lives. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
We need more of this in our lives.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Lamenting the fact that I had wasted a perfectly good Uber ride home by missing out on some of the specialty cocktails, I still felt very lucky to have enjoyed such an abundance of creative dishes.

And I need Jacob to bring me another one of those truffle ice cream cookies.
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.