10 years ago

By the time Quattro’s chef Maurizio Ferrarese had served several hundred Texas Akaushi meatballs and Mockingbird Bistro’s chef John Sheely had depleted his supply of pork belly with seared scallop on sweet potato mousse, no one attending CultureMap’s inaugural Last Chef Standing competition had room for another bite.

Of the 300 guests filling the Hotel ZaZa ballroom, we would say that most of them were delightfully stuffed after sampling gourmet bites from some 16 leading restaurants and cupcakes from Whole Foods.

“This is the most successful large multiple restaurant event we’ve been to,” said David Aldrich, who worked the room with plate in hand. “The price is reasonable and the food is delicious.”

The competition began several weeks ago with an on-line bracket battle that concluded on Monday. Alto Pizzeria and chef Ryan Savoie took top honors as the Whole Foods People’s Choice champion in the Internet voting. Monday night,Sullivan’s Steakhouse and chef Teli Trikilis won the popular on-site vote for his chili-cured beef tenderloin with truffle mac ‘n’ cheese. The judges, however, bestowed top honors on Samba Grille and chef David Guerrero for his ceviche mixto with white fish, shrimp, calamari, octopus, corn, aji amarillo lime juice and sweet potato.

“Awesome,” commented Laurel Douglas as she surveyed the bustling ballroom where Saint Arnold Brewing Co., Messina Hoff and others served liquid samplings paired with the chef dishes. Clearly relishing the event, her dining buddy Susan Baker said “We’re going to tell only our really, really good friends about this event for next year.”

Guests swooned over Hotel ZaZa’s Monarch Restaurant (first runner-up against Alto Pizzeria) offering of Meyer lemon cured yellowtail with seabeans and quinoa. They salivated over Ava’s crepinette of trout  with crab, scallop and asparagus and over Blu’s spice-rubbed, charred rare tuna with citrus soy and sizzling oil.

And who could resist Valentino’s fried caper crepe with scallop and chive butter in sundried tomato sauce or The Grove’s house-cured beef with bone marrow foie gras mousse?

As guest Jasmine Aldrich noted of the various culinary experiences available on this night, “We’re sampling food from places that we would not have tried before.”

Leading the judging pool that sampled it all from Gigi’s Asian Bistro dumplings to Liberty Kitchen’s salmon was Sarah Rufca, CultureMap associate editor and foodie czar. Radio and TV foodie personality Cleverley Stone, author John DeMers, Houston Press food critic Katharine Shilcutt, Houston Chronicle food writer Greg Morago, MyTable founder Teresa Byrne-Dodge and celebrity guest Houston Texan Earl Mitchell rounded out the judging panel.

A portion of proceeds from the evening benefit Houston Food Bank and Houston Public Media.

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