I was not sure what to expect from our tasting tour with StarChefs’ 2019 Rising Stars in Houston. I have to confess that I was blown away with the food quality, the level of creativity and the attention to detail at all of the locations.

On the culinary side, I would like to share some of the rice dishes we had the pleasure to discover.

Indigo – Chef Jonny Rhodes
What we Ordered: If Earth Could Talk

First we stopped at Indigo with Chef Jonny Rhodes. The exclusive and homey restaurant only offers two daily seatings at a modern, communal u-shaped counter and has the option of two tasting menus: "Carnivore" and "Herbivore".

With the trend of "plant proteins" and "veggies at the center of the plate" we opted for the "Herbivore" tasting menu.

"If Earth Could Talk" was the name of the dish that we all loved. Its menu description lists; Carolina Gold Rice warmed in milk and butter, preserved leeks, and foraged allium extract. This dish was amazing on all fronts: colors, art of plating, and contrast of textures and its celebration of local ingredients.

Eunice – Chef Drake Leonards
What we Ordered: Cajun Duck Poppers, Gulf Shrimp & Grits, and Cajun Duck Poppers, Gulf Shrimp & Grits

Then at Eunice with Chef Drake Leonards we experienced the traditions from New Orleans with Cajun Duck Poppers, Gulf Shrimp & Grits and the delicious "Drew's Smoked Chicken & Sausage Gumbo with okra, tasso, and popcorn rice".

Popcorn rice is a rice variety grown in Louisiana that has a unique taste and aroma, with a rich nutty flavor and a popcorn-like aroma.

Uchi – Chef Tyson Cole
What we Ordered: Hamachi Nabe

We went to Uchi restaurant in Houston because of the Rising Star Pastry Chef Meredith Larke, but we couldn't pass on the creative dishes from Chef Tyson Cole and we were not disappointed.

I would like to highlight the rice dish called "Hamachi Nabe" with yellowtail, koshihikari rice, soy broth, and egg yolk. All cooked in a searing hot pot producing a crispy and burnt rice that tastes wonderful. It arrives at the table in a ceramic dish smoking and extremely hot. The rice is sizzling with an uncooked egg on top of bonito flakes. The result is a tasty dish with a strong soy, dashi, and sesame oil.

In Houston, the cocktail scene is buzzing. We visited Anvil Bar and Refuge, a well-established cocktail bar with a deep list of exciting drinks and a shelf filled with a wide range of classic and hard-to-find spirits. The current bar program at Anvil is run by Mixologist Tommy Ho, a StarChef Rising Star. Tommy’s team poured us three cocktails, Sanskrit Sour, Fifty First, and Cease and Desist.

Cease and Desist: Christian Drouin Selection Calvados, La Guita Manzanilla Sherry, Warre’s Fine White Port, Sage

The Cease and Desist features sage, a savory herb, which is not often found in beverages. This is a clear example of Symrise’s Wild Taste Trend, where mixologists leverage herbs from their own backyard to add another dimension of flavor.

Fifty First: Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon, Tempus Fugit Kina L’Aero d’Or, Medjool Date, El Candado Pedro Ximenez Sherry

Fifty First stars Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon, one of the favorite flavors of the South and a key aspect of Symrise’s Southern Revival Initiative. In addition to its spirit base, this cocktail gets its sweetness from the Medjool date, a healthy upgrade that we’ve seen as part of Symrise’s Carefree Joy trend.

Sanskrit Sour: Brugal Especial Extra Dry White Rum, Lime, Sandalwood, Cardamaro Vino Amaro

Finally, Tommy’s team made us the Sanskirt Sour that features Cardamaro Vino Amaro, an Italian Amaro. Over the past few years, we’ve seen an affinity towards more bitter spirits as drinks like the Negroni and Aperol Spritz have become increasingly popular.

Lastly, let’s take a look at the indulgent sweets we enjoyed during out time in Houston.

Uchi – Pastry Chef Meredith Larke
What we Ordered: Blueberry Taro

Uchi’s Blueberry Taro consists of pickled blueberry, taro namelaka, and coconut lime sorbet. This captured one of our 2019 trends Old Habits, New Tricks where we see chefs, pastry chefs and mixologist pushing and saving flavors in new ways. Meredith Larke, Rising Star Chef Award recipient, showcased flavor preservation by pickling the blueberries in her Blueberry Taro, showing homage to an age old style of preservation with a fun combination of bold coconut lime flavors.

Koffeteria – Pastry Chef Vanarin Kuch
What we Ordered: Cassis Sanagria, Coconut Caramelized Vanilla and White Peach Ginger Beer Sorbets.

During our time in Houston we stopped at Koffeteria to visit Pastry Chef Vanarin Kuch at his newly established, upscale bakery that showcases food as whimsical as it is ambitious in bringing bold flavors into balance.
While all three sorbets were delicious, the White Peach Ginger Beer Sorbet stood out to us the most as an unusual flavor combination in the sorbet world. This flavor matched a trend we see across categories in 2019 which we like to call The Doctors Kitchen. This is where we see consumers turning towards Earthly Antidotes such as ginger for the functional benefits often associated with the root.

Sweet Cup Gelato – Chef Jasmine Chida
What didn’t we try?

SweetCup Gelato & Sorbet is a Gelato shop churning out seasonal flavors inspired by family values and the experiences that Owner Jasmine Chida has had while traveling and growing up in Texas. The stand out scoop was a Pomegranate Rose Sorbet. This dessert features trends from our 2019 research called The Future Looks Super coupled with Floral Explosion. Here, the rose stole the show and provided a strong smooth floral finish to the upfront tartness of the pomegranate.

Stay tuned for more insights from our 2019 StarChefs Houston Rising Stars event – subscribe to In-sight!

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