Truffles were the the name of the game last night as 20 of Houston’s top chefs competed in the Second Annual Truffle Chef Charity Challenge benefiting Les Dames d’Escoffier. Organized by truffle importer, DR Delicacy, the premier event gave chefs an opportunity to battle each other in a friendly in a double blind judging competition while competing for a grand prize of one kilogram’s worth of fresh imported black truffles valued at approximately $1,500.
The walk-around event was held at the beautiful new venue, The Astorian, lending an air of elegance to the evening’s festivities. An well dressed crowd of attendees — limited to 350 — paid $150 (general admittance) to $250 per person (VIP) for a chance to taste all 20 chef creations. Attendees also had a chance to bid on silent auction, as well as a raffle with a chance for privately cooked meal by chef David Cordua.
As a media guest covering the event, I started with dessert at The Tasting Room booth, where Michael Mann Pellegrino was offering samples of what he called Double Truffles. “We took Himalayan honey and infused it with black truffles, combining it with homemade marshmallow wrapped in dark chocolate, with graham cracker crumbs, freshly shaved truffle, sea salt,” he said. Biting into the round dark chocolate bonbon yielded a sweet, truffle-honey infused center with good marshmallow plush, a sweet way to start the evening.
Early favorites quickly emerged, among them Arturo Boada’s hearty beef stroganoff cooked with porcini and radiori pasta, finished off with black truffle freshly shaved at the table, which scored points as one of the best “comfort food”-type dishes of the night.
Richard Kaplan’s white chocolate panna cotta with black truffle “caviar” pearls, topped black peppercorn, salt crystal, and one single piece of freshly shaved truffle, also made a strong impression with beautiful, creamy textures and a wonderfully balanced blend of savory and delicately nuanced sweet.
Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata offered a delightful Japanese-esque take on the truffle theme, combining cold soba noodles, mixed mushrooms, fresh uni (sea urchin) and uni foam with generous amounts of freshly shaved black truffle.
Some of the more creative dishes included the small bowl of truffle foam with sous vide, pan seared pork jowl and quail egg by Luis Roger of BCN, notable for its decadently smooth texture; a truffle blue crab cheesecake with oxtail meuniere sauce by Danny Trace of Brennan’s; an octopus carpaccio by Enrico Glaudo of Ristorante Cavour at the Hotel Granduca; and a “Sunday Dinner” plate of freeze dried caesar salad and steak pillow (stuffed with mushrooms, black truffles, black truffle pearls on top), black truffle sabayon by David Skinner of Eculent.
The “Breakfast of Champions Eggs & Truffles” by Robert del Grande of RDG + Bar Annie — French eggs with sabayon huitlacoche and fresh black truffle served in little egg cups wowed for its for beautiful excellent presentation.
Several meat-centric dishes were offered, including a wagyu truffle sushi roll from Benjamin Berg at B & B Butchers, a fun, one-bite canape-type offering of wagyu rolled around spinach, arugula, fried taro root, Italian truffle cheese, truffled citrus vinaigrette.
There was oxtail: smoked oxtail with fried, sweet and purple potatos, shaved truffle, chervil, and texas olive oil Mike McElroy, Durham House; oxtail bordelaise over yukon parsnip mash, topped with sweet potato hay and shaved black truffle by Brad Lampert of Corner Table; as well as a one-bite braised oxtail patty rubbed with truffle, topped with fried quail egg and slice of truffle, over a crisp disk of brioche by David Denis of Le Mistral, the night’s People’s Choice winner.
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Beef and veal cheeks were also popular, including Philippe Verpiand of Etoile’s fantastic rendition of truffle celery root mousseline, braised beef cheeks and carrots topped with truffle; Manuel Pucha of La Table's decadent, melt-in-your-mouth braised beef cheeks with celery root purée and celery remoulade topped with truffle; Monica Pope of Sparrow Bar + Cookshop's star anise braised veal cheeks, truffles polenta, radish sprouts; and Efisio Faris of Arcodoro's Texas 44 Rance beef cheeks with Sardinian fregula sarda pecorino fonduta and black truffle shavings.
Rounding out the offerings were Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro at the Four Seasons Hotel with spoonfuls of bread and parmiagiano passatelli topped with shaved black truffle; Brandon Soverall of Triniti Restaurant with bone marrow panna cotta, truffle aoili, roasted mushrooms, fresh grated truffle, rye crumble; and green eggs and ham sliders made with truffled basil egg salad and jalapeno bacon jam offered by Levi Rollins of Urban Eats.
People’s Choice: David Denis of Le Mistral
1st Place: Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata
2nd Place: Robert del Grande of RDG + Bar Annie
3rd Place: Michael Mann Pellegrino of The Tasting Room