In July, a diverse group of food writers, vendors and other industry professionals gathered in the community room at Central Market to submit nominations for one of the longest-running competitions for Houston’s restaurant industry. The Houston Culinary Awards is now in its 18th year and was was founded by My Table magazine in 1997.
The seven from each category that gathered the most nods from the nominating committee made their way to the public ballot. The survey went live this past Friday evening and will run until 11:59 p.m. on August 30. A Facebook account is required to vote electronically, but those who do not have an account on the popular social media web site can download a ballot, fill it out and mail it in the old-fashioned way.
Awards are grouped into two categories. There the main category for major awards like Restaurateur of the Year and Chef of the Year and the Foodie Star awards for specialized accolades, such as Favorite Bartender and Favorite Burger.
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Let’s take a look at just a few of the people who ended up on the ballot. In the Restaurateur of the Year category. Almost all the candidates have added a new place to their growing empire over the past year (or are about to do so). Nominees include the team of Ian Rosenberg and Mike Sammons (Weights + Measures, 13 Celsius, Mongoose vs Cobra); Houston icons Michael Cordúa (Churrascos, Américas and Artista); and Tony Vallone (Vallone’s, Tony’s); Shepard Ross (Pax Americana, Glass Wall, Brooklyn Athletic Club and forthcoming The Del); Treadsack Group (which will soon add Foreign Correspondents and Hunky Dory to Down House, D&T Drive Inn and Johnny’s Gold Brick); Rick & Shiva Di Virgillio (Oporto, the new Oporto midtown location and Queen Vic); and Pearland’s own celebrity chef Ronnie Killen, who will soon move Killen’s Steakhouse to a new building and turn the old one into Killen’s Burgers.
The candidates for Chef of the Year each have made their own unique contributions to Houston’s food scene. Danny Trace succeeded Randy Evans at Brennan’s of Houston when Evans struck out on his own after after a fire ravaged the restaurant during Hurricane Ike. Ja’Nel Witt stepped into her role at Corner Table after the position was vacated by controversial Bruce Molzan. After an acclaimed but short-lived role at La Balance, Jose Hernandez now helms modern Italian restaurant Radio Milano where Bistro Alex used to reside. Luis Roger left his native country to bring his vision of traditional Spanish fare to BCN Taste & Tradition. Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata helms what is arguably the most respected Japanese restaurants in town. Richard Kaplan spent years running Brown Paper Chocolates before going back to his roots as a restaurant chef to run the kitchen at Weights + Measures. Finally, Ryan Pera has received accolades (along with business partner Morgan Weber) from both Coltivare and the new dine-in focus of Revival Market.
Many familiar faces populate the Up-and-Coming Chef of the Year category, including Erin Smith (Main Kitchen), Kate McLean (Tony’s) and Justin Yu (Oxheart). David Guerrero of Andes Café is back on the list as well. He formerly helmed Samba Grille and the too-short-lived Alma Cebiche & Bar. The award is reserved for those 35 and under, so this is the last year The Pass & Provisions chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan will be eligible for the category. There are some fresh faces who have been nominated as well, including 21-year-old wunderkind Omar Pereney (Peska Seafood Culture) and 32-year-old Adam Dorris (Pax Americana).
Those are just a few of the categories and nominees. The winners will be announced at a multi-course dinner and gala at The Houstonian on October 4, 2015. Tickets are a steep $160 but it's always a good time—a glamorous Who's Who of Houston's restaurant industry. Check out the whole list at the Houston Culinary Awards web site.