By Industry For Industry: Houston Food Pros Develop Monthly Networking Night

Being in the restaurant and bar industry comes with a set of unique problems. For those who work the dinner and late-night shifts, there’s often nothing good or healthy available as a quick meal. (There’s a reason why so many industry pros love Whataburger.) Also, the long work hours can contribute to an insular environment. It’s tricky to get a brutally honest opinion from people whose livelihoods hinges on maintaining good relationships, and there’s little time for peer reviews from the outside. Chef Kenten Marin, front-of-house professional William Schrom and William’s brother, Grayson Schrom are working with area chefs and restaurants to host one night a month that addresses those issues.

It’s called “BIFI,” which stands for By Industry For Industry. For the host, it is an opportunity to experiment with food and get feedback from peers. For attendees, it’s a chance to eat a real meal at a nominal price, network with fellow professionals and ask questions that most people won’t know the answer to or care about. “One night we might talk about how to dispose of restaurant trash,” said Marin. Topics like these might not be sexy, but are still real concerns for the industry. Future topics may include plating or how to recruit good cooks.

It’s a concept that Marin says he and  William Schrom have talked about for two years. With Marin currently between restaurant gigs, now there’s time to implement it. The idea was inspired by a group in the Basque region as well as by a New York restaurant that purposefully stayed open late for industry pros. “When I was in Spain four years ago, I learned about txokos. Those in the industry would get together, discuss food ideas and cook for each other. When I went to New York there was a gyro restaurant that would have late night dinners for chefs to get together, talk, see how their days went and stuff like that.” While that happens informally among small groups, BIFI applies a level of organization to it.

Marin and Schrom Bros
BIFI was conceived of by (from left to right) chef Kenten Marin, Grayson Schrom and chef William Schrom. Kenten Marin photo by Paula Murphy; Schrom brothers photos by Kenten Marin

For the hosting restaurants and chefs, Marin says, “It’s a chance to show maybe not what you are known for, but what you want to do. An example: I’ve had an idea of making vegetarian oysters for years. I’ve gotten close, but not that close. So, I want to tell the idea to everybody and hopefully somebody will be like, ‘Oh, I’ll try to do that, too,” and later be like, ‘Hey, I figured it out.’ It’s a way for the industry to grow together.”

The first session is scheduled at Southern Goods, where chefs Lyle Bento and JD Woodward will test out “Southern Dim Sum.” (One can pretty easily imagine some kind of riff on a barbecue bun using biscuit dough.) It is on Sunday, March 26 from 5:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Future sessions will likely be scheduled much later in the evenings on weeknights, but for this first one Marin says it’s open for others to comes see what it’s all about.) Tickets to attend and dine are only $20 and can be purchased online. Cocktails are available at the bar at an additional cost.

The tickets are at such a reasonable price because Marin isn’t looking to make a profit. “We’re only charging the cost that it takes to cook,” he says. “You’ll get five small dim sum dishes for 20 bucks. You should be full, but if you want more than that, you can buy extra for 5 bucks each dish. We just want it to be beneficial for everyone.”

In time, Marin says the group might host some public events. For now, industry pros can keep up with this and other BIFI events on their Facebook page.

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  • March 25, 2017 at 10:38 amBob Choate

    Sounds like a great idea! Is this for chefs/mixologists/operators only, or may suppliers participate? Before you roll your eyes, this seems like a good opportunity to visit, chat, discuss, learn. Exchange of business cards with a supplier professional who can bring a solution or two to the table (no pun intended) ain’t a bad thing, either. Hey! We got kids to feed and mortgages, too!