Downtown Houston Restaurant is Hosting a Celebrity Chef Dinner to Raise Wildfire Recovery Funds

Executive chef and owner Troy Guard of Guard and Grace in downtown Houston

Update, 4/1/2024, 2:05 p.m.: This event has been canceled.

In August 2023, the Hawaiʻian island of Maui was beset by wildfires, with the cities of Kula and Lahaina especially devastated. According to the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health, 98 people died, and the destruction in Lahaina alone cost over 5 billion dollars. Maui’s rebuilding is still incomplete, so Guard and Grace steakhouse in downtown Houston is hosting a fundraiser called  Maui Wowie on Thursday, April 11 from 5 to 8 p.m. The restaurant is located on the ground floor of One Allen Center at 500 Dallas. A limited number of tickets are available for $125 (before tax and gratuity) via OpenTable.

“We’ve always liked doing fun things for our staff and guests. It’s something that breaks things up, and it’s fun to bring in great chefs doing something for people who need help,” says Troy Guard, owner and executive chef of Denver-based TAG Restaurant Group, which owns the Houston location of Guard & Grace, said, “We’re doing this for charity for Maui. That’s where I’m from.”

Guard was born in Maui before moving to San Diego at age 10. He returned to “paradise” to train under influential chef and restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s Kaanapali and Humble Market Kitchin in Maui, among others across the Hawaiʻian Islands. A previous collaboration with celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern netted $35,000 to heal some of the Maui wildfire damage. He pulled from his childhood and lessons from Yamaguchi, whom he still regularly visits, to help develop the “exciting flavors and foods” for this upcoming fundraiser.

Maui Wowie Guest Chefs Spike Mendelsohn and Tom Cunanan. Photos by Karen Henry.

The special Maui Wowie menu also features contributions from Guard and Grace executive chef Adam Vero, chef and restaurateur Spike Mendelsohn, who owns several businesses, including Good Stuff Eatery in Washington D.C., Tom Cunanan, the 2019 James Beard Award Best Chef Washington D.C winner for his work at now-closed Filipino restaurant Bad Saint, and Wailea-based chef Chris Kulis of The Market Maui

Guard plays coy when it comes to disclosing the details of what the team has planned, but says that one dish will be a Whole Roasted Opakapaka — sometimes referred to as the “Hawaiʻian pink snapper” — served with “mango, coconut, fiddlehead ferns and fresh hearts of palm.” (Opakapaka also happens to be Guard’s favorite fish.) Hawaiʻian Maui Venison is also on the menu. “Texans like game meat,” said Guard. The fresh hearts of palm have him particularly excited, though.  

“These are so delicious — crunchy and nutty and vibrant. We actually get a shipment every Wednesday to both of our [Guard and Grace] restaurants,” Guard said. “They cut it fresh, wrap it and send it to us every Wednesday from the Big Island.”

Stunning Interior of Guard and Grace. Photo by Karen Henry.

He notes that even those unable to attend the Maui Wowie event can still enjoy a little taste of his hometown on the main menu. The Bubu Bowl, a popular dish first served at the original Guard and Grace location in Denver, is a best-seller during lunch at the Houston outpost. Consisting of hamachi, salmon and tuna sashimi, raw vegetable salad, shrimp and sesame soy sauce atop a bed of sushi rice, Guard laughs about how he “thought Houston was a steak town,” and yet it came to pass that “the number one dish for lunch is this sashimi bowl!” (However, unlike the Maui Wowie dinner proceeds, purchases of the Bubu Bowl do not go toward the Maui wildfire relief fund.)

Regardless of whether or not Maui Wowie meets or exceeds Guard’s previous $35,000 fundraiser, event attendees will be able to enjoy some expertly crafted dishes and put their money toward a worthwhile endeavor. Maui lost much of its material history and cultural sites to the wildfires, particularly among the indigenous population. Any amount donated to rebuilding efforts helps locals move forward and continue crafting and preserving their history and culture.

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