Star Chefs

Ah, Star Chefs… infinity pause. The name in itself makes life worth living. Nine letters forming two words of epic glory. An event of this magnitude is easily comparable to that of bringing leaders together to discuss world peace. Needless to say, this human is happy. VIP ticket status warrants one to sashay into this gala precisely one hour earlier than… humans maintaining average ticket status… Please & Cha-Ching.

Upon arrival to the Four Seasons in downtown Houston, it is imperative to acknowledge the valet driver as the appointed keymaster, circa 89’ film… Say Anything, with John Cusack. Due to assiduous, outrageous, contagious spasticness at nuclear foodie levels, departing as the captain of my coupe is a… bad idea.

As bellmen all but break into a chorus line, the doors… open. Final destination: 4th floor by the swimming pool. This area has in its possession more star power than the Oscars… more chef coats than a James Beard Foundation function itself! More! More! More!

After quickly conquering the check-in table, the final gateway to chef heaven is only seconds away. Slow motion entered the room that very moment, as ultimate opening… began. Up above, all the way past the cumulus clouds and into the heavens, a ray of sunlight erupted causing an explosive display of… Star Chefs. Yes, that’s right.

Has anyone noticed the girl in the picture above has… no head? This was not an intentional feat in photography. Now is a perfect time to talk about the picture taking fiasco resulting in my heart being ripped through my chest, thrown on the floor, and… broken. Only a ridiculous rookie goes to a life fulfilling party and takes hideous pictures. Statistically, 98% of my pictures suck. Ouch. It hurts a lot.

All intentions of award winning photography were on the evening agenda. This was it… the one… It was on like Donkey Kong. Imagine… booths set up as if to purposely trap unassuming rising star chefs behind long tables… filled with festivity beyond the realm of restaurant possibility.

It all started with the lamest of all lame purses… the strapless super duper mini hand bag. Is it cute? Of course. Is it microscopically minute? Positive. Does it serve any feasible purpose on this planet we call Earth? Negative.

Purse Contents: 1 watermelon lip smacker lip gloss, 16 business cards, 1 driver’s license, 2 credit cards, and a valet ticket.

Dilemma: How does one hold a fancy piece of BLEEP purse, a drink, a plate of food, an iPhone for camera purposes, and a Star Chefs Rising Stars Forever Keepsake Massive Booklet with … staples? Well, for starters go ahead and place this jr. size waste of space directly into the pit of one’s arm. Um, go right ahead and get rid of the 16 lame business cards in about ten minutes. Operate iPhone camera with one hand while holding drink in the other as the plate of food rests peacefully on a rising star chefs… lap. All of these ideas are merely a premature glimpse into photo failure.

Let’s just cut to the chase… Before dark, dreams of champion snaps catapulted into the black hole due to a battery as dead as a duck living on a foie gras farm. Not only was every picture taken a disgrace to all innocent picture posing victims, but now the battery has died as well. It’s probably luck this battery went to the other side because that’s about 300 less pictures to mourn. Moving right along…

In walks the genius of all Nikon D7000 camera carrying geniuses. The real deal… the Irving Penn of our time…. an Ansel Adams in the making… the only human capable of saving the day… Chuck Cook. As he and an unidentified photobomber paraded around the party, articulate, right on shots were captured in the very best way. Champion results from start to finish, showing genuine beauty in each chef’s delicate creation.

Chuck Cook accepted my humble request to mooch his win, hence shielding my… oh so fantastic fail. His name can clearly be seen on all pictures of uncontested caliber. My insignificant collection of shots that barely make it past puke status, well, his name is indeed not attached to those. We would not want to hinder his artistic glory… not even for a moment. Please & No Thanks. Yes… Chuck Cook is my hero and can be found at Houston Foodie Adventures. Regards to you oh bitspitter, for you and sensestorm are kind… AVH is forever indebted.

P.S. Though basic at best, I’m sorda a fan of my caviar picture… Just saying.

Chef David Grossman’s resume is equally impressive as his peers. While studying at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, he spent time in San Francisco working with chef Roland Passot of La Folie. After graduating, well above champion student status, he went on to share his chefness with Alfred Portale at Gotham Bar & Grill in New York City. Branch Water Tavern continues to be a favorite brunch spot for Houstonians. Great things are headed Grossman’s way.

Hori exudes a genuine kindness that signals a sensor to your brain ultimately forcing a sudden urge to… hug him, maybe even see if he wants to hang out. The respect he’s earned through hard work and perseverance is well deserved. Kata is one of the best restaurants in Houston, with the freshest ingredients, an out of this world… manager, and amazingly talented chefs… all playing a part in making it happen daily.

Seth Siegel-Gardner oozes intrigue. How lucky is Houston to have found this uniquely talented source of excitement? Lots lucky… and super thrilled he’s decided to stay. While visiting Kata Robata last month for a tasting, Seth was quite kind. With the use of a nitrogen tank, he sent out one jaw dropping creation after another. Kata is right up there with the best of them, with Seth & Hori making it impossible not to respect their creative energy and drive.

Oh, Jeramie… sudden uncontrollable bottom lip bite. This executive chef of Restaurant Cinq, as well as Zimm’s Little Deck, is one of the easiest choices for a rising star chef. Sinfully handsome & overflowing with natural talent, his gift is rare. Not only is he one of THE most talented rising star chefs in Texas, he is a replica of what every boy should aspire to become… a true southern gentleman. After meeting his parents and sister, Melanie, at the gala, it’s refreshing, to say the least. His parents raised him to be genuine and sincere, with the highest values in life. Jeramie’s character is stellar in every way. Trying to fathom such early success for this chef is incredibly simple. His earnest commitment and unwavering work ethic will launch him all the way to the top. I am proud to call Jeramie my friend.

Let us side skip past all commoners and keep on walking down, down, down to the right end slash one o’clock side of the pool. Andddddddddd… It’s Randy Rucker. Complete jumbo size tear squeak & infinity sniffle, this is better than my 16th birthday! Standing as though he had just foraged all ingredients graciously gathered about his table, he quietly said… Hi…

Me: Curtain call & bow, with a side of curtsy.

Rucker’s concept of what a restaurant should be runs through his veins with a vengeance. It’s nothing I’ve ever witnessed before and his standard sets the bar high for what now feels truly satisfying. Tastings should be this beautiful everywhere, with all ingredients being par for his course.

His entourage is clearly working as if their tattoos were expected to produce sweat at any cost… if only for the sake of producing just one more miracle. Bootsie’s Heritage Café is the source for what is now. This guy makes sense. His groovy baby kinda Widespread Panic way simply shines. I enjoyed writing about Bootsie’s a few months ago more than any restaurant thus far. Every part of the connection these guys have, to the light in their eyes, or simply for the love of the food… It just makes sense.

Chris Leung’s ingenious ideas enable him to own his talent. He’s established his very own league, surpassing all obstacles needed to maintain super fabulous pastriness. Leung offers dessert tastings at Bootsie’s periodically, which are always a huge success. Let the accolades flow, this endearing dessert making marvel has everyone in a tizzy.

Finally meeting Jamie Zelko of Zelko’s Bistro was a major highlight of the night. She is an authentic jean & ponytail wearing machine, simply gorgeous & uncontrollably talented. She has worked with some of the best, from Bryan Caswell of Reef to Carl Walker of Brennan’s, no time has been wasted in achieving her dreams.

While writing about Catalan a few months ago, I interviewed Chris Shepherd. He was headed out the door for a magazine interview, yet still took the time to chat it up with AVH, as well as recommend the shrimp & grits… minus the bacon.

Shepherd’s newest venture is the restaurant, Underbelly, which will be located adjacent to Hay Merchant. Bobby Heugel, from Anvil, will partner with Shepherd, as well as Kevin Floyd. Great anticipation awaits its arrival. I recently sat down with Charles Clark, managing partner of Catalan, to discuss Shepherd’s move and the future of Catalan without him. His feelings are positive in every aspect of Shepherd’s continued success. Without any warranted worries, a bit of reinventing will occur with Catalan… and the show will go on.

After always imagining Bobby Heugel as an old man with drink master making skills, it is surprising to see he’s actually such a young buck mixologist with astronomical talent, as well as one of the brightest futures in the industry. Being a part of the Underbelly location, as he will be, has Anvil regulars foaming at the mouth. It’s quite clear there are no limits to Heugel’s aspirations.

Let us not waste a second before asking, how does Chef Randy Evans get his hair AND his beard to be all that and a sassy bag of chips? His locks flow like a feather, even with sweaty chef duties daily. Its magnitude of greatness has the ability to send one into a trance. Evans is an inquisitive delight… with a garden out back to boot!

My recent visit to Haven for a tasting was perfect in every way. The sous chef sat down to discuss the many options suitable for AVH. He made the decisions and delivered an exquisite array of fantastic food. Chef Evans surpassed all expectations imaginable.

Here he is…. Bryan Caswell. To say he is living large is about right. Just about as good as it gets is what’s going on in Bryan Caswell’s life. With recognition from all spectrums, there is more to come with the opening of his new Tex-Mex concept El Real in Montrose. Having been open only a week, the buzz is all good and getting better. While dining on day 1, cookbook author and retired Houston Press food critic, Robb Walsh, spoke with me about El Real and his excitement over this new venture.

Mad house munchers pack the inside of Tiny Boxwood Café during lunch service. Rising Star pastry chef Vanarin Kuch offers dessert tastings during the evening that will knock your socks off. His inviting smile enters and sticks around for the long haul. Every inch of his body is proudly glowing with happiness.

The success of Star Chefs in Houston began with editor in chief, Will Blunt, coming in for about three weeks with an assistant to interview many chefs in and around the Houston area. A meaningful moment with this editor produced shivers with a smidgeon of the shakes.

It began with a moment of silence, as I was only a side shadow to his real conversation with that of a man wearing a flamboyantly flashy blue suit. Waiting in the wings was the only place to be. My vast hopes of editor enlightenment soon arrived…

He started by stressing the ultimate goal of Star Chefs is to be as truly authentic as possible. Further stating that in the restaurant industry, anything that’s done well is valid. “We don’t just write about these people, we write about everything we experience.”

Ten thousand please & thanks go out to Star Chefs… See you in Chicago!