Chef Bryan Caswell has gotten a Best New Chef nod from Food & Wine magazine, been a James Beard Award nominee, and is currently vying for the position of Next Iron Chef. He also co-hosts radio show Southbound Food, is the chef/owner of Stella Sola, REEF and two outposts of Little Bigs, and will be opening a fifth restaurant - El Real Tex-Mex Cafe - with Texas food-writing legend Robb Walsh in 2011. He gets reeeaaaalllly cranky when his beloved Houston is overlooked by the food media.
We dig the folks at Eater.com, the site Caswell is citing, but let's give the man a chance to stand his ground for H-Town. Take it away, Caz.
Yesterday, I began my ritual surfing through the better-known food blogs and happened upon Eater.com where they are promoting their 2010 Eater Awards for the best restaurants and chefs in the seven cities that Eater.com covers: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Miami and Austin. Once again, my hometown of Houston has been omitted – and not just from the award competition but from an entire site dedicated to good eats across the country.
And it’s not just Eater.com that ritually snubs the fourth largest city in the U.S . - it’s endemic of all the major national publications, both in print and on the web.
Well, I’m sick of it.
– In the past 10 years what U.S. city has grown 24% (five times the growth rate of San Francisco, Boston and NYC)?
The answer to all of these is Houston. That’s right, you heard me: H-Town, baby.
Those who write about food, music, culture and art are supposed to be in the know. Obviously, they’re not paying attention. Well, I’m here to put you in the know: Houston’s restaurant scene is thriving as fast as the city is growing.
What is it going to take for Houston to get the recognition it deserves from the nation’s top culinary publications? If you base your decisions on cultural diversity, I dare you to say we are not at least within the top five cities in the country in that category. Our proximity to the Gulf definitely gives us an edge on the Farm to Market phenomenon; that glorious body of water is the greatest patch of farmland I have ever set eyes on.
If it is diversity of cuisine, I will walk you through a typical day any “foodie” could easily experience in this town. Pop some Texas Star Ruby red grapefruit sections for a snack on the way to grab a few jalapeno, sausage and cheese kolaches. Wolf down a chicarron, al pastor and nopales taco to tide you over as you hit an oyster house to knock back a dozen with some cheap, frigid beer. Plunge ahead for a quick bowl of Pho and an abundant, shattering crust Banh mi as you decide on what cut from the brisket (I prefer deckle) you want for a light lunch.
An afternoon snack might include a pizza made with Tipo 00 flour and smothered with Burrata - no more then two days old - flown direct from Puglia. Dinner could range from myriad New American offerings to an Indian restaurant touted as the most creative in the United States.
Houston has it all. Our extensive and diverse food culture goes beyond restaurants and into the supermarkets. Yes, we’ve got local farmers’ markets but we also have one of the largest Asian supermarkets you can find anywhere. And when I say large, what I really mean is giant. And when I say giant, what I really mean is bigger than any I have seen in San Francisco’s Chinatown or Inner and Outer Sunsets combined, with an entire aisle devoted to different brands of fish sauce. The produce section would give a copy of 'Demystifying the Asian Grocery Store' a serious run for its money.
Of course, there is more that I could tell you about why Houston is a great town to eat, and live, in - but very few people outside of here know this. Talking to people who don’t live here about our food culture is like a true outdoorsman trying to explain a visit to Alaska to a puffy coat-wearing tourist who thinks “roughing it” is a weekend at a cabin in the Poconos.
Now that you’re “in the know,” Eater.com (and everyone else), I think it’s high time you gave Houston a permanent place in your round-up of cities worth watching, writing about and voting for.
Does your town deserve a culinary shout-out? State your case in the comments below.