Amazing collaboration dinners happen all the time in Houston. But sometimes, the stars align and the synergy works out to where the sum of the parts end up being greater than the whole, and that’s what happened last night in The Woodlands. For the first time ever, executive chef Austin Simmons of Tris and Cureight in The Woodlands teamed up with executive chef Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata, and magic happened.
To understand why this was such a special night requires an understanding of what brought these two chefs together. Simmons, who lives in The Woodlands, and is a new father, and oversees three restaurants, rarely has time to make Houston appearances. The first time he did, in 2016 for the annual Truffle Masters Competition hosted by DR Delicacy, he took home a People’s Choice Prize. That same year, Horiuchi (“Hori-san” for those who know him) triumphantly took won the judges prize — voted on a blind basis by a panel of 12 judges no less—for the second time in a row. So that’s two wins at this very prestigious food competition for Hori-san. But wait, it gets better. The following year, Hori-san did not compete, and a new winner was crowned. The winner? Austin Simmons. Score two for Simmons.
And so, even though last night was an an entirely friendly collaboration, the subtext of two brilliant, competitive, creative chefs — each winners in their own right — took the collaboration to the next level.
The dinner itself was the second in a series of collaboration dinners called “Collaboreight,” that Simmons is hosting at Cureight, his tasting menu-only restaurant in The Woodlands. The Cureight experience is basically a chef’s table experience. Offered on Thursday, Friday and Saturday only, it’s an eight-course prix-fixe menu in a dining room with an exhibition-style sliding glass door with a direct view into the kitchen. Collaboreight brings in a guest chef for a night, and Simmons and the guest chef work together to come up with eight courses.
As the theme last night was black and white truffles — supplied, of course, by Truffle Masters Competition host DR Delicacy — the chefs each took one type of truffle, marrying it to their style of cuisine. Simmons went classic French and took black Perigord truffles from Burgundy. Hori-san took white Alba truffles, and went classic Japanese.
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It worked out beautifully. Simmons’ richer, heartier French dishes — a black truffle tart, chicken liver tortellini with black truffles, and beef wellington with black truffle — were offset by the lighter, more delicate Japanese preparations — pan-seared Hokkaido scallop with caviar and white truffles, Japanese mackerel and bluefin tuna belly with white truffles, and chawanmushi (Japanese egg custard) with white truffle — by Hori-san, with the dishes alternating so that you would get a rich dish, then a lighter dish, back and forth, back and forth, in total harmony.
Highlights of the night included Simmons’ Black truffle tart with Perigord black truffle, spinach and housemade ricotta filling, topped with a gratin of gruyere and parmesan, whole mustard seed and black truffle, and Hori-san’s award winning chawanmushi savory custard, with white Alba truffle inside the custard and shaved on top.
For more information on the Collaboreight dinner series hosted by Tris in The Woodlands, visit triswoodlands.com