When chef Ji Kang moved to Houston from Dallas, he didn't know what to expect. By his own admission, Houston was a last resort.
The Austin native and Dallas-trained chef hadn't planned on moving here, but -- as he said in this week's cafe review of his new restaurant, Nabi -- he's glad he did.
"If I'd stayed in Dallas or Austin, I would have been too comfortable," Kang says.
But comfort isn't the main reason Kang is enjoying his new home: It's the welcome wagon that was here to meet him when he moved to Montrose.
Established restaurant and bar owners as well as fellow chefs were quick to come and check Nabi out. But they weren't just sizing up the competition: Kang credits James and Megan Silk from Feast with helping him find local ranchers for items like his signature pork belly ramen, while folks like Brad Moore and Ryan Rouse -- the owners of Grand Prize Bar -- have sent their own friends to Nabi while becoming regulars themselves.
It's the kind of collaborative neighborhood support system that Kang couldn't have expected. But it's also what sets Houston apart. Said legendary Dallas chef Dean Fearing when asked what his city needs to make it a more interesting place to eat: "Camaraderie. If we want Dallas to move forward and become a great food city, we all have to work together. And with that, a humble attitude goes a long ways."
That type of camaraderie is increasingly present at every level of Houston's culinary scene -- and not just in our restaurants. At up-and-coming brewpub City Acre, its brewmasters are collaborating with fledgling brewery Buffalo Bayou Brewing to create a line of Chai Porters.
Coffeehouse owners and roasters Max Gonzales (of Catalina) and David Buehrer (of Greenway Coffee) are known for sharing their expert coffee techniques with baristas at other coffee shops.
Cafe Luz collaborates with The Burger Guys every Wednesday through Friday to bring the Guys' burgers to an otherwise difficult-to-broach downtown market.
Black Hole Coffee House and Revival Market offer their spaces as pick-up points for CSA programs. 13 Celsius -- among others -- offers its wine bar to chefs in need of a home for pop-up dinners.
Places like Pondicheri and Plonk invite in outside bartenders to create pairing dinners. Chefs collaborate on epic dinners like this Sunday's Umami dinner at Kata Robata, which will partner Kata chef Hori-san with Haven chef Randy Evans along with Hori-san's former sous -- and Evans's current sous -- Jean-Philippe Gaston. And these are but a few examples of many.
Simply put, the members of Houston's food and beverage industry support each other. And echoing a sentiment heard from hundreds of newly minted Houstonians, Ji Kang is happy that he chose our city after all.
Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords