Things To Do

Society for the Performing Arts Benefit Serves Up Tastings and Chef Panel

The Society for the Performing Arts hosted a fundraiser at Jones Hall for the Theresa Mallett Scholarship for Young Artists on Sunday evening. A Taste of SPA featured samples from more than a dozen area restaurants and businesses, as well as the opportunity to pick the brains of some of Houston's most celebrated chefs.

During the panel discussion, chefs Jeff Axline of Hotel Zaza, David Cordua of Cordua Restaurants, Kevin Naderi of Roost, Monica Pope of Sparrow Bar + Cookshop and Chris Shepherd of Underbelly discussed their favorite home-cooked meals, food trends and the beauty of fresh, in-season carrots. Shepherd in particular was pretty jazzed about the orange root.

Guests had the opportunity to ask the panel questions, and perhaps the one that elicited the most interesting answers was, "If you could have any last meal, what would it be, and who would cook it?"

Axline, who recently moved from Brooklyn Athletic Club to Hotel Zaza, said his last meal would be his mom's fried chicken, while Cordua was torn between uni and pizza, but noted his last meal would definitely be a long one. Naderi talked about a traditional dish of chickpea purée with braised lamb and stewed tomatoes that his grandmother used to make. Pope kept it simple, saying her last meal would be something she used to eat all the time at home as a child as a means of using up leftover dough. She explained that her family taught her to just butter and sugar the extra dough, cook it, and enjoy the quick and delicious treat. Finally, Shepherd said he'd choose really good fish and "really shitty Chinese food."

Each of the chefs on the panel also had a table offering treats from their restaurants. Underbelly was represented by its signature braised goat and dumplings, which might have been a bit too spicy for some of the older folks in the crowd. Sparrow Bar + Cookshop served a dish called "Date with a Pig," chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, and Hotel Zaza presented diners with delectable little s'mores bites and Shiner Bock carrot cake trifles. The Zaza table also gave each guest a light-up jelly ring (to wear, not to eat), which is not only an attention-getting fashion statement, but also a great cat toy.

Cordua Restaurants, which include Americas, Artista, Churrascos, Amazon Grill and Cordua Catering, brought a huge copper bowl filled with crispy plantain chips as well as divine little cups of tres leches cake and alfajores, which Cordua describes as "melt in your mouth Peruvian shortbread cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche." He dared me to eat just one. I lost the dare.

Perhaps my favorite treat of the night came from Roost, which was serving delicate off-white macarons from decorative cigar boxes. The macarons were made with foie gras and miso, then stuffed with a sour cherry jam; they were an intriguing combination of sour, sweet and salty flavors. It was an incredibly complex creation in bite-sized form.

Hotels and clubs were represented as well, but the best food came from the restaurant tables. In addition to the panelists' tables, Mockingbird Bistro had a station serving beet salad with Texas goat cheese (perfect for a hot summer day or a hot evening benefit), while Trenza also kept things cool with fish ceviche topped with jalapeño mousse.

It was great to eat and schmooze with chefs for a good cause, but the best things I got out of the event were that I need to start cooking with carrots ASAP, and that Roost makes a mean macaron. Oh, and I definitely need to get to the theater more often, because the SPA is doing some pretty great things here in Houston.

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Kaitlin Steinberg