Too many chef cameos to count at the Asian Night Market atop Post Houston


“Now this is my town!” I purred as Top Chef Houston’s 13 remaining contestants scurried through the bright aisles of towering ethnic grocery stores, picking up ingredients for this week’s Night Market Elimination Challenge.

For decades, I have visited our international markets like some people visit Disneyland. I started by prowling the grocery stores that once dotted the former enclave of Chinatown, just east of what is now the convention center. My obsession deepened once the first Fiesta Mart opened in 1972 at Bellaire and Hillcroft. Now, I count emporia like Phenicia Specialty Foods and Hong Kong Market among the city’s top tourist attractions — and personal shrines.

So after grumbling that Houston was wronged in the first two episodes of the season, I was glad to see Evelyn, our favorite city, picking up rambutan in Viet Hoa; and Jae slicing a special kind of Korean melon that she didn’t expect to see in the vast Hong Kong market. “This is so cool!” she exclaimed, sniffing the aroma of soup in the air.

Yeah. He is.

‘Excellent leader’

The Houston Season airs at 7 p.m. Thursdays on Bravo.

I burst out laughing when the three chefs responsible for preparing Indian food for the night market showed up at Shublaxmi Grocers, which housed one of the stucco-turreted, tile-roofed structures at the entrance to our district. of Mahatma Gandhi. The nutty conjunction of faux-Tuscan and sub-continental is Houston to a T.

The competitors had drawn knives to classify themselves in Asian categories: Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese. Next, they visited test cooking stations where Houston chefs had prepared dishes meant to inspire them.

Trong Nguyen of Crawfish and Noodles was on hand. The same was true for Kiran Verma of Kiran; sisters Ashley and Amiley Lai of Dumpling Haus; Christine Ha and her husband, John Suh, from Xin Chào; chef Naoki Yoshida of Shun Japanese Kitchen; and a chef I didn’t know before, Andrew Musico, whose catering company The Fattest Cow makes Filipino pop-ups that may soon turn into a restaurant. I heard him say the phrase “bagna cauda with a touch of prawn paste” and thought, whoa, better check this guy out!

I thought I saw Chef Willet Feng, my beloved Burger-chan, among the crowd. But I could never discern who he was helping. That’s how it is with these tight episodes: blink and you’ll miss a plot point.

Attendees turned to the appropriate chefs handing out the appropriate cuisines for a combination of tasting, coaching and inspiration session. I noticed again how authoritative Verma is on television. She has the dazzling smile, throat tones, easy elegance, confident sound bites. Like Irma Galvan, she has that elusive star quality.

At Ha’s station, Jackson worried that he had never cooked Vietnamese before. He worried about not being able to discern the unknown aromatics. “My tongue is pretty much back [from COVID]he said, “but not my sense of smell.

The Lai sisters were handing out samples of a soup I had recently enjoyed at Dumpling Haus: a delicate ginger and white pepper chicken broth dancing with chicken and shrimp dumplings. I wish the camera lingered longer and a caption appeared with their names. The supersonic pace of the series can exhaust a woman.

Competitors had time to shop and then prepare for an hour for the Asian night market the following evening. It was staged in a setting that made my heart sing: the rooftop garden of the new Post Houston complex, with a beautiful view of downtown at dusk. There they prepared for an hour, as the skies darkened, waiting for 100 Houstonians who had been invited to sample their wares.

Throughout the shopping, prepping, and cooking, my sense of the season’s characters had been honed. I found myself appreciating Sarah’s dry wit. When she tweeted “Ready to eat chicken heart?” when the guests arrived, my cold heart melted. I admired Jo’s centered and contemplative calm; when she opens her mouth, I have come to expect something interesting.

I gritted my teeth at Sam’s adorable and aggressive self-promotion, which had once struck me as charming. At one point, I never wanted to hear about his “Samaloo” dish again, a combination of vindaloo and his beloved potatoes. But I had to because he left his two pots of potatoes simmering on the stove in the Time’s Up prep kitchen, so he had to grill russet potato slices on the roof of the Post the next evening. You can imagine how it happened.

I chuckled as the chipper’s sound rack slowed to a groan as Buddha and Luke told Tom Colicchio they were doing dueling versions of samosas. When Damarr announced he would be flavoring his miso soup with ham hocks, I let out a “Yeah, baby!”

As guests filed past the pristine white-canopied cooking stations under strings of white lights, I made a game to see if I could spot any familiar faces. It wasn’t that easy. I’ve spotted Himalayan chef Kaiser Lashkari and food writer Eric Sandler, but these guys are hard to miss, each in their own way. I knew my colleague Greg Morago was somewhere in the crowd, but I never spotted him.

Luke turned all red and sweaty. “It’s not my time,” he observed without resentment. “Welcome to Houston,” someone joked to her. Then in the Padma Waltz proclaiming it “a perfect night in Houston,” with Tom and Gail and various guest judges including Verma and Trong Nguyen and Hung Huynh, who won Top Chef Miami 15 years ago – the first Asian chef to do it, as Sam pointed out. Like the Werewolf of London, Huynh’s hair was perfect.

It was interesting how delighted they seemed tasting around the stations, with a few exceptions. I swelled with pride when they loved Evelyn’s poached chicken salad dish with fresh rambutan, green chili and red onion, sprinkled with a little avocado cream to reflect her Mexican roots / Salvadorans, and placed on a black sesame crisp. He looked gorgeous.

Evelyn finished the evening in the top three, with Jackson’s spicy spring roll (see, he knew how to cook Vietnamese!) and Jae’s Chinese noodle dish of fluffy udon with Chinese sausage and what Colichhio called “this weird melon…that came out of left field…it totally worked. She won the night and $10,000.

The last three bosses have been something of a shock, all of them accredited high-flyers. Ashleigh’s mala beef skewer proved tough and difficult to eat, and Verma felt it needed some salt. Buddha fried a puff pastry samosa despite Verma’s wise advice to bake it instead. He flopped with the judges. And poor Sam, whose ultimate baking of the potatoes produced a vindaloo that the judges deemed too sweet and half-raw. He and his dimples were sent home.

I felt a little bad for him, but perked up when Wylie Dufresne was teased for next week’s episode. Now that I want to see.

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