The Big Winners Of The 2018 CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards
After nomination by a panel of industry experts, CultureMap Houston hosted its annual Tastemaker Awards at Silver Street Studios. Guests nibbled on bites from nominated restaurants including Himalaya, Field & Tides, Yauatcha, Star Fish and Roka Akor. For beverages, the award party included a showcase where Bartender Of The Year nominees mixed drinks using Woodford Reserve bourbon, an event sponsor. Stuart Humphries of The Pass & Provisions, Sarah Troxell of Nobie’s and Kristine Nguyen of Nancy’s Hustle each presented a signature cocktail.
Unlike other awards, CultureMap editor Eric Sandler says that most of the nominees aren’t picked by the general public. The first step is coming up with a list of over 20 possible candidates for each category, then handing it off to a group of industry professionals for consideration.
“The committee basically consists of last year’s winners,” Sandler explained. “Then, I round that out with two or three people who I know are in the industry and attuned to the comings and goings of the restaurant scene. This year, that was Felix Florez [of Black Hill Meats and forthcoming Cherry Block Craft Butcher and Seasonal Kitchen], Jonathan Horowitz [of Legacy Restaurants, which owns The Original Ninfa’s On Navigation and Antone’s Famous Po’ Boys] and Brandi Key [new concept chef for Lasco Enterprises, which operates Max’s Wine Dive and The Tasting Room].”
The exception is the Best New Restaurant award. For that category the committee picks the finalists and then readers participate in bracket-style voting to pick the winner.
Houston rap legend Bun B was emcee for the evening. As host of his own cooking series, Trill Meals, and as a longtime fan of locally owned restaurants and food trucks, Bun B is no stranger to the Houston food scene. Although he didn’t give guests a sneak peek from his new album, he did get the crowd hyped up during the winner announcements.
Based on the serving stations where the crowd tended to hover, the most popular bites and sips of the evening were served by previous Tastemaker Hall of Fame winners: State of Grace (2017 Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year) and Leslie Ross Krockenberger (Bartender of the Year). State of Grace served Murder Point Oysters as well as a Lox and Bagel “ice cream cone.” Krockenberger poured two different Woodford Reserve cocktails: an Apple Mignonette Cobbler and D’You Got A Good Sarsaparilla.
Beaver’s on Westheimer was also a crowd favorite—as well as Sandler’s. “The TasteMaker Awards are a little bit like my own wedding for me. I don’t get to eat,” he said a bit ruefully. “I will say though, I was impressed by [Beaver’s chef] Arash Kharat’s smoked beef tartare. He smoked it onsite and rigged up a little device that let him do that. Also, Bun B said he really liked Field & Tides’ crudo.”
CultureMap Houston presented Tastemaker awards to culinary professionals in over ten different categories. Here are the 2018 winners:
- Restaurant of the Year: Xochi
- Chef of the Year: Chris Shepherd, 1100 Restaurant Group (of recently closed Underbelly, One Fifth and the forthcoming UB Preserv and Georgia James)
- Rising Star Chef of the Year: Jason Vaughan, Nancy’s Hustle
- Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Paulie’s
- Best New Restaurant of the Year: Field & Tides
- Poke Restaurant of the Year: Izakaya
- Pastry Chef of the Year: Jillian Bartolome, Aqui
- Bar of the Year: Better Luck Tomorrow
- Bartender of the Year: Alex Negranza, Better Luck Tomorrow
- Brewery of the Year: Eureka Heights Brewing Company
- Wine Program of the Year: a’Bouzy