Special Events

Truffle Masters 2023: Black Gold in Houston

Musaafer's stunning puri won the people's hearts.
Musaafer's stunning puri won the people's hearts. Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

The aroma of black truffles filled the humid Houston air earlier this week as Truffle Masters 2023 took over the elegant space at The Revaire on Old Katy Road. Some of Houston's finest chefs created spectacular  creations from one of the world's finest, and priciest, ingredients. With the diversity of restaurants and chefs in our melting pot city, it was only natural that the culinary bonanza would be a variety of distinctive, global flavors.

The event was hosted by DR Delicacy which supplies Houston and its chefs with high quality foods such as truffles, caviar, foie gras, cheeses, tapas and more. Truffle Masters picks a different non-profit each year to benefit from the event's proceeds and the Houston Symphony was the recipient for 2023. This was the ninth year for the culinary extravaganza, founded by Diane Roederer, CEO and owner of DR Delicacy.
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I am still dreaming of you, wagyu.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

I was fortunate to have a seat at the judges' table for Truffle Masters 2023. It was a selection of luminaries in the food world of Houston and Texas and I was humbled to be among them. We were divided into two groups and I found myself seated with other food writers such as Mai Pham (Femme Foodie), Emma Balter of the Houston Chronicle and Phaedra Cook, owner and editor of Houston Food Finder. We were joined by Juan Gonzales (Central Market) and Chef Manabu Horiuchi of Kata Robata.

It was the first time judging Truffle Masters for Chef Hori. He's usually one of the competitors and usually one of the winners. Much gushing was done by our table about his culinary entries over the past years and he accepted it with genuine modesty. This year, he was able to relax and enjoy the 14 different plates put before us.
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Brian of Amrina serves its tasty cremini mushroom bites to guests.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
To describe all 14 entries in the blind judging for our table would be a novella. To be honest, remembering the details of each one would also be beyond my memory skills. The dishes were coming fast and furious. One of the first plates was a truffle-cured smoked Texas wagyu short rib accompanied by Kennebec mille-feuille, Earthnut potato mousse and a truffle haystack. The meat was fork tender and smoky and I wanted to eat the whole thing but I knew there was much more to try. Later we learned that the dish was an entry from Masraff's and the chefs, Greg Shade and Brandon Jolley-Samples, took home second place out of the entire event for their beautifully composed plate. I might have put it first on my list.
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Judging is tough work.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
A plate with an upside down champagne glass appeared with a truffle gougere filled with smoked lobster mousse on top on top and, if I remember correctly, a beef tartare crostini on the bottom. I thought it was delightful treat from Liberty Kitchen. Another fun dish was Money Cat's truffle cheesecake which was served with matcha Pocky and had little chewy bits that reminded me of the tapioca in boba tea.

Musaafer's entry was served on a heavy plate, adorned with stones and a hefty crystal orb in the center. The presentation was stunning but I was overwhelmed by the multitude of varying flavors in the Angus Kachila Puri. Still, taste is subjective and the melding of diced raw filet, truffle paste, cilantro, coconut, avocado and lemon zest won the upscale Indian restaurant the People's Choice award for the night.
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My friend and I loved the pretty pavlova.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
And for further proof that everyone has different taste buds, some of my fellow judges did not find the passionfruit compatible with the truffled pavlova we received. I loved it and I would later discover that my guest for the evening thought it was one of the best dishes, too. Several of my companions found the truffled chicken ballottine from The Lymbar to be the standout dish while I thought it delicious but not fabulous. Our chef judge was very impressed by not only the dish, but the bravery to serve something as simple as chicken at such a posh event.
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This was a two bite dumpling.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Phat Eatery served a lobster dumpling in a bamboo steamer paired with a mini ice cream cone on the side. The creamy ice cream was a pleasant reprieve from the potent truffles, though I'd be hard-pressed to describe the flavor. I nearly embarrassed myself, however, by trying to eat the dumpling in one bite. The chunk of lobster inside was huge.

Besides being enchanted by the food that was coming out, we judges were also charmed by some of the serving containers. Nobu's black truffle grilled rice with parmesan dashi and wagyu lardon arrived in a little urn. When the top was removed, the unmistakable aroma of black truffles rose into the air. Some thought the dish a tad salty but it was the dish's odiferous elegance that won it the top honors this year with Chef Joe Murphy of Nobu Houston earning first place for Truffle Masters 2023.
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The judges loved the use of truffles in Chef Joe Murphy's dish.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
The other table of judges also tasted 14 dishes. They included Pat Sharpe (Texas Monthly), Bao Ong (Houston Chronicle), Daniel Renfrow (Houstonia), Melissa Stewart (Texas Restaurant Association), Charles Carroll (River Oaks Country Club) and Katherine Whaley, journalist and emcee for Truffle Masters 2023. They received dishes that we did not including the foie gras iced cream with truffled Chantilly, which won third place overall. It was from Chef Russell Kirkham at Artisans.

After the judging, we headed out to join the well-heeled attendees. I tried to sample more dishes but it was not an easy task. My companion talked me into a bite that looked like a cinnamon roll but was a savory bread with some sort of truffle cream on top. She was swooning from happiness. I was swooning from truffle overload. A glass of champagne reset my taste buds and I was able to enjoy a couple of more plates.
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Davanti gets an attendee's vote.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
The truffled panettone from Davanti was a shocking surprise. I don't normally care for the sweet version, though being married to an Italian, I know I should. However, Davanti's savory bread was so light and easy on the truffles, it was a treat worthy of getting one of my friend's coins.

We also received a fried cremini mushroom from Amrina that was a perfect, yummy bite. Don't ask me what was in it, it was getting late. One thing I know for sure, it had truffles.
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The amazing chefs of Truffle Masters 2023 deserve praise all around.
Photo y Sergio Trevino
Truffle Masters 2023 Winners:

1st Place: Nobu - Chef Joe Murphy
                 Black truffle grilled rice with parmesan dashi and wagyu lardon

2nd Place: Masraff's - Chef Greg Sahde and Chef Brandon Jolley-Samples
                  Truffle cured smoked Texas wagyu short rib with Kennebec mille-feuille, Earthnut potato           mousse, truffle haystack

3rd Place: Artisans - Chef Russell Kirkham
                 Foie gras iced cream with truffled Chantilly

People's Choice Award:
Musaafer - Chef Mayank Istwal
                                     Angus Kachila Puri- diced filet, truffle paste, cilantro, coconut, avocado and lemon zest
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.