By Terrance Turner
Houston’s Black Restaurant Week (running from April 14 through April 28) offered a series of events meant to promote awareness and support for black culinary professionals. In keeping with this theme, the City of Houston featured its first-ever NOSH Culinary Showcase on April 24. The event, which took place from 6-10 pm at the George R. Brown Convention Center, featured Houston’s premier black chefs, bartenders, and caterers. Restaurants at the event included Phil and Derek’s, Craft Burger, Houston’s This Is It Soul Food, Fleur De Licious Catering, Peacock’s Kafe, Frenchy’s, and Mikki’s Café and Catering. Each offered unlimited free samples.
The expo’s 36 stations tantalized patrons with African, Caribbean, and black American cuisine. Phil and Derek’s, a jazz lounge featuring Cajun-Creole fare, stood out with what looked like boudin balls. Not true: crawfish, lobster, and macaroni and cheese were rolled in seasoned flour, dipped in buttermilk and then in basil pesto panko, then deep-fried. Also unusual was the Baked Potato Stuffed Factory (6362 Martin Luther King Boulevard). The restaurant has over 100 different varieties of stuffed baked potatoes. One, the “Swamp Monster” — featured at the expo — has shrimp, crawfish, chicken, sausage with etouffee sauce, bell peppers, and onions over a cheesy potato. Another, the “Geaux Shrimp,” sautéed shrimp cooked in unsalted butter, parsley, garlic bits, flakes of parmesan cheese over an already cheesy potato.
The desserts were no less impressive. Corrupt Cupcaquiri is an online gourmet cupcakery that specializes in bold flavor profiles (some of which are liquor-infused). According to its displayed menu, creations include the “Belle”: buttermilk vanilla cake filled with rum-spiked peach cobbler, topped with brown sugar buttercream and housemade whipped cream. Another, the 24K, is a chocolate hazelnut cake filled with Hennessy VS praline sauce and topped with golden chocolate buttercream and Hennessey ganache. The “Queen of the South” is banana cake filled with fresh banana pudding, topped with housemade shipped cream and ‘Nilla crumbs.
Heavenly Kreations is a pastry/cake shop led by Chef Tarethia Osborne. She specializes in creating made-to-order cupcakes, cakes, and desserts for weddings, birthdays, corporate events, and other special occasions. Accordingly, her station featured pecan-topped cupcakes and fruit tarts (blueberry, strawberry, or raspberry toppings on miniature cheesecake bites). Also on hand was her alcohol-infused banana pudding.
Speaking of alcohol, one station featured Korbel-sponsored champagne. Patrons received unlimited refills of champagne glasses with raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries (to soak up the alcohol). The bartender was a TSU student named Hailey. She offered a nifty pro tip: freeze liquor in an ice tray, then place the cubes in your glass to avoid watered-down drinks.
Also notable on the alcohol front was the Power of the Palate Bartender Competition, sponsored by Jack Daniels’ Gentleman Jack. VIP guests sampled various concoctions and then voted on which one was the best. The VIP section presented several different cocktails, including Courtni Boozer’s “The Blacka The Berry”: Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey, lemon, sparkling apple cider, sugar, and muddled blackberries. (Boozer represented Trap Social HTX, a cocktail hour that showcases minority businesses.) Another prominent cocktail was Houston restaurant Lucille’s “The Royal Unity”: Gentleman Jack, lemon, Pallini Limoncello, agave, and “blue butterfly pea tea” — a caffeine-free herbal tea extracted from the leaves of a tropical Asian plant.
One of the first stations at the showcase was “Not Jus’ Donuts,” located at 2020 Emancipation Avenue. The bakery offers a wide variety of homemade goodies: pound cakes, lemon cakes, wedding cakes, Bundt cakes, sheet cakes, cheesecakes. Also offered: cookies (baked fresh daily), pies (apple, cherry, lemon meringue, key lime, pecan), donuts (of course), and many other treats.
Displayed next to the station was a sign by the founder and CEO, Myrtle Zachary Jackson. “I come from a long line of great bakers and those very same recipes my ancestors used were passed down to me,” the sign read. It went on to say that some of the recipes are over 180 years old.
“My grandmother Rosie Zachary and Aunt Johnell taught me at an early age how to bake,” the sign continued. Jackson credited her aunt with teaching her “the true art of baking,” noting: “Everything she knew about baking she learned from her grandmother Delia.”
Here, Jackson presented some intriguing family history. “Great-grandmother Delia was from the Igbo tribe off the island of Cameroon. She was brought to America as a slave and at some point, in time found herself on a plantation in LaGrange of Fayetteville County, Texas. She was a tall dark woman whose task was working in the field. Though she worked the fields by day, in the evenings she cooked for many of the slaves on the plantation. Word got around to the plantation owner about her good cooking and he and his family experienced just how true it was. He demoted the current cook to work the fields and promoted my great grandmother to be the cook and live in the big house. She was their cook for many decades until she retired.” This family history and love of baking inspired Jackson to open her own retail bakery in 2000.
The event featured an unexpected guest. Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke briefly at the event, thanking the participants and the organizers of the event. “Several months ago, they came to City Hall and they talked to me; they told me about this event. They wanted the city to work and partner with them,” he said, and “you all have really done it. It looks great!” Mayor Turner said. He added that he was hosting several African-American mayors — “we’ve got a number of black mayors, from Atlanta to Birmingham [to] Flint, Michigan, that are all here tonight, and so I want to encourage them to come and check it out as well.” He thanked the organizers for doing what he called “an exceptional job.”
“We have some incredible restaurants in our city: incredible, black-owned, doing a tremendous job,” the mayor continued. “It’s good to patronize them.” Turner anticipated that patrons would try to visit all 36 stations but cautioned against trying to take food home: “I know many of you, if not all of you are going to try to hit all 36 stations. That’s okay, as long as you don’t bring any aluminum foil,” he joked. “But this is what it’s all about, and I’m so glad you’re right here in the George R Brown. You got plenty of space to walk around, to enjoy high-quality, first-class [food], but that’s the way we do it in the city of Houston,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to partner and work with all of you, to just continue every year to take it higher and higher and higher.”
Though Houston’s Black Restaurant Week is over, the fun doesn’t have to end. New Orleans is hosting its own Black Restaurant Week from June 28 until July 7th. According to neworleans.com, the festivities will include a NOSH culinary showcase. Registration for restaurants and vendors is now open.