Local Spotlight

Recap: The Woodlands Wine Rendezvous Grand Tasting & Chef Showcase


The 11th Annual Wine & Food Week took place last week in The Woodlands. It’s definitely one of the premier food events of the year — several days of wine, food, beer and food, which culminates at the Wine Rendezvous Chef Showcase and Grand Tasting, which always lands on a Saturday evening.

Houston has numerous throw down events these days, but this one is the biggest every year, not only because most of the judging is completed blind (where the judges are not given the identity of the chef who makes the dish), but because the winners get a cash reward. The grand prize winner in the savory category is awarded $5,000; 2nd place gets $750; 3rd place gets $500; and the dessert winner receives $1,000. As a result, all of the competing chefs (usually between 50 and 60 each year) come prepared to wow. This was the first year I judged the event, which means I was part of a panel of nine. Judging was split up among the panel into three groups, with each group tasting and judging one third of the entries. The highest scoring entries went through a second round of judging after that by another super panel of three judges. The blind judging and dual panel makes the final, unbiased reward that much sweeter.

The entrants are judged on three categories: Taste, which was weighed at 10; Presentation, which was weighed at 5; and Creativity, which was weighed at 5. A perfect score was a 20. My panel saw a lot of lamb and pork belly that night. Of the lamb dishes, the offerings ranged from Australian lamb loin with hummus, a petite Greek salad, and local feta cheese, to lamb chop stuffed with blue cheese. On the pork belly front, one of my favorite dishes was a deconstructed pork belly tamale with beautiful presentation and textures, served with a small container of aromatic broth to wash down the flavors. I also really enjoyed a roasted mini bone-in pork shank that had been glazed with Korean barbecue sauce and laid on a bed of Kim chi red chile slaw. The contrast of hot and cold and the crispy crunchy textures of the creamy spicy slaw were delicious.

A couple things about this event worth noting. There is a mind boggling amount of wine. If you buy a VIP ticket, you gain access to a premium assortment of wines with bottles in the $30 range and up, and it’s definitely worth it. I love Old World red wines, and got to taste several from Burgundy and Bordeaux, including a Chateaux Les Trois Crois 2010 Bordeaux, along with several notables from California, like the Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, and the Sanctuary Cabernet Sauvignon, also from Napa. But honestly, there were plenty of delicious wines on the main floor, including the fine wines of Duckhorn Vineyards and Jordan Winery, two of my personal faves.

Congratulations to all the winners and here’s to another great year!

Wine Rendezvous Grand Tasting & Chef Showcase Winners:

1ST Kris Jakob, Executive Chef Culinary Institute LeNôtre
DISH: Foie gras creme brûlée with ginger snap cookies.
$5,000 cash prize and Waterford Crystal Chef of Chefs Trophy

2ND Ja'Nel Witt, Executive Chef, Corner Table
DISH: Summer Yellow Gazpacho  -An heirloom tomato gazpacho with crab and cucumber salad finished with jalapeño honey.
Received a plate trophy and $750.

3RD John Brazie, Executive Chef , The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center, representing Robard's
DISH: Candied bacon French toast with champagne pickled cherry, roquefort ice cream and toasted bourbon syrup.
Received a plate trophy and $500.

Just Desserts Winner:

Kyle Evans, Executive Chef Bob's Steak & Chop House
DISH: New Orleans style bread pudding  topped with candied Nueske's bacon and brandy butter sauce.
$1,000 and trophy.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham