Food Network Chef Alex Guarnaschelli Talks "America's Best Cook" & Houston Restaurants

Categories: Chef Chat, TV

Photo courtesy of Food Network
Alex Guarnaschelli coaches one of her home cooks during filming of "America's Best Cook."
Lately, Food Network seems to be adding a multitude of new shows, pitting professional chefs against each other and against Food Network stars. But now, the culinary channel has added a series that showcases amateur home cooks. "America's Best Cook" is a cross between Master Chef and The Voice. Home cooks auditioned to join one of four teams led by four Food Network chefs representing a specific region of the United States: North, South, East and West. Chef Michael Symon represents the North; chef Cat Cora represents the South; chef Alex Guarnaschelli represents the East; and chef Tyler Florence represents the West.

After the auditions, each team now consists of two home cooks, who will go head-to-head in various challenges with the other regional teams. The last cook standing will receive $50,000.

We spoke with the chef mentor for Team East, Alex Guarnaschelli, about her role on the new show; she even told us what she likes about Houston's restaurant scene.

Guarnaschelli is the executive chef of Butter in New York City and is most often seen as a judge (and sometimes a competitor) on the popular cooking competition, "Chopped." Her ever-increasing knowledge of the culinary arts makes her not only a fierce competitor in the kitchen, but also an intimidating judge. However, in "America's Best Cook," Guarnaschelli will have to take on another role -- being a mentor.

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Verts Introduces Houstonians to Germany's Most Popular Street Food: The Döner Kebap

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Chicken kebap on the left, veggie kebap on the right.
Schwarma. Gyro. Trompo. Döner.

The popular fast food has many names, but only one of them is taking Houston by storm: The döner kebap, a German street food staple brought to the Bayou City by two Austinites who own the restaurant Verts. Sound complicated? It's gets more tangled.

The Germans claim the döner kebap was invented in Berlin in the 1970s by a Turkish immigrant named Mahmut Aygun. According to an obituary in The Telegraph from 2009, Aygun was born in Turkey and moved to Germany at the age of 16. He opened a snack stall there and sold kebab meat cooked on a rotating spit and served over rice. After noticing drunk people struggling to stumble home with the food in tow or reticent to sit at his counter and eat, he decided to invent a more handy means of edible transport. He stuffed the meat into a pita and sent diners on their merry way.

The Telegraph reports that the first such sandwiches--if you can call them that--was served at Aygun's restaurant, Hasir, on March 2, 1972. Today, Verts Kebap is serving the same sort of meal right here in Houston. The first location on Yale north of Washington opened last week, and the owners are planning on opening at least four more locations in the coming weeks and months.

But Houston has Turkish food. We have trompo and gyros. What's the big deal with the döner?

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We've Narrowed Down the Most Underrated Pizza...Vote Now!

Photo by Leonel Nerio
The pizzas at Pizaro's are amazing and definitely not underrated. Check out the poll to see which are!
Last week, we talked pizza. No, Houston isn't generally recognized as a great pizza city like New York or Chicago, but your responses to our query about the most underrated pies in town reminded me of just how many pizza joints we have here. You even alerted me to some spots where I can get deep dish--a style I've been craving since I moved here from the Midwest (home of mediocre thin crust, but pretty good Chicago-style).

As usual, the votes were all over the place. Some of you love the convenience of delivery, while others go gaga over unusual toppings like crawfish and tandoori paneer. Some of you like wood-fired pies with thin crust, while others prefer thick, doughy pizzas or deep dish stuffed with toppings.

Thankfully, no one mentioned stuffed crust or breakfast pizza. Those are best left back in the '90s where they belong.

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Largest Food and Wine Fest in Texas Returns to Sugar Land Next Week

Categories: Edible Events

Photo courtesy Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair
In just a few days, indulge in Sugar Land at the 11th annual event.
The 11th Annual Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair is back with a slew of events sure to tickle your taste buds and whet your whistle. As always, the event, which organizers describe as a "celebration of all that is good, gooey, sweet, savory, bubbly, hoppy and simply irresistible," will feature numerous food and wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, seminars, cookbook signings and a bartending competition.

Check out the schedule of events, and get your tickets fast. The kickoff dinner is already sold out, but there are plenty of other opportunities to sip and sup in Sugar Land.

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The 5 Best Things to Eat or Drink This Weekend: Easter Egg Hunts & A Bunny Bar Hop

Categories: Edible Events

Photo by Joshua Justice
Saint Arnold Pub Night features a special cask of Icon Blue.
Pub Night @ Saint Arnold Brewery
Friday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
2000 Lyons

Pub Night is back at Saint Arnold Brewery! During this month's Pub Night the brewery will serve Bishop's Barrel No. 5, Divine Reserve No. 11, Pumpkinator 2013 and a special cask of Icon Blue, which is Brown Porter with hints of toasted coconut and vanilla. Pair any of these brews with some scrumptious bites from the kitchen, including the Jerk chicken sandwich and pulled pork nachos -- you know, greasy food. Along with the beer and food, you'll have the chance to purchase a Santo T-shirt directly from the T-shirt press; Burning Bones Press makes them for Saint Arnold and will be on-site to make a custom one for each guest. Remember, there's no entry fee for Pub Nights; drinks and food are purchased as individual items, just like you would do so at a bar.

Crawfish Cajun Friday @ Kemah Boardwalk
Friday, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
215 Kipp Ave., Kemah

Hit up the Kemah Boardwalk tonight for some crawfish and live Zydeco music during Crawfish Cajun Friday. Landry's Inc.'s new crawfish food wagon will be serving up the mudbugs and boudin while Rusty Metoyer & Zydeco Krush provide the rockin' tunes for the evening. Purchase a pound and a half of crawfish for $11, then grab a beer from one of the concession stands for an excellent way to kick off the weekend.

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Upcoming Events: Take A Culinary Trip to Italy & the 3rd Coast

Categories: Edible Events

Photo by hedvigs
Get your pancakes at Ouisie's Table every Tuesday.
Start your Tuesday mornings off right with pancakes at Ouisie's Table. Every Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 10 a.m., Ouisie's Table will offer a multitude of pancake choices paired with two eggs made however you prefer, bacon, fruit, coffee and juice for $17; pancakes are available a la carte for $6. Satisfy that sweet tooth with the chocolate chip flapjacks topped with whipped cream or the banana pancakes with Nutella; some fruit options include blueberry buttermilk and mixed berry with whipped cream; and of course there are traditional pancakes like the buttermilk and Ouisie's Table's special, Lucy's cornmeal.

The Galveston Wine & Food Festival begins on Thursday, April 24, and lasts until Sunday, April 27. One of the major events is The Grand Tasting, which takes place on Saturday, April 26, from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. Guests will receive a wine passport to be stamped at each station where they sample wines from around the world; guests will also taste food from various restaurants, and craft beer (a new addition to this event) at the Craft Beer Bar. Each guest will receive a souvenir glass, and an event program listing the wines and foods available to sample; tickets to The Grand Tasting cost $65 per person.

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Openings & Closings: The Food Truck Expansion Continues

Categories: Restaurant News

It's been a busy time for the Heights neighborhood as several restaurants and bars have opened their doors and some have announced future plans to set up shop.

The newest Piatto Ristorante opened in the Heights on Monday, April 14, at 1111 Studewood. The newest Carrabba's location joins Liberty Kitchen and Ruggles Green on the same intersection. This Piatto's location, like the other one in the Galleria, features dishes from recipes passed down by John Carrabba's family and his wife Janice's. Both locations will feature several new menu items as well; and the Heights restaurant has an expanded bar offering craft beers, boutique wines and specialty cocktails, like a frozen Bellini cocktail titled the Piattolini.

Swamplot notes that the previous location of Country Kitchen on West 11th Street has been transformed into Warehouse Bar & Chill. Eater reports that the new Heights location where you can enjoy a gourmet burger and local beer on an expansive outdoor patio will be open in about a week and a half.

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Recap: The 2nd Annual Big Taste of Houston

Photo by Mai Pham
Uchi Houston took home the grand prize for presentation and best dish overall at Big Taste of Houston. Pictured here, "Machi cure."

"This is such a great event -- so many of Houston's best chefs all in one place!" said Matthew Lovelace, a sous chef at Osteria Mazzantini, as he offered me a sample of their Blackhill Meats lamb meatball and chicken liver mousse. His was one of the first booths I encountered at the 2nd Annual Big Taste of Houston this weekend at The Corinthian, a premier food event and charity fundraiser for the Houston chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Indeed, though the inaugural event last year was fantastic, the lineup of chefs and restaurants this year was quite amazing. "I felt like the entrants this year were much stronger than last year," said celebrity judge and blogger Adam Goldberg (Twitter: @LifeWorthEating). For the second year in a row, Goldberg had flown in from New York City to take part in the event, live-tweeting each dish (check out his awesome Twitter feed!) as it was presented at the judge's table for all the world to see.

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10 Ways to Use Easter's Leftover Hard-Boiled Eggs

Photo by midiman
What to do with all of your leftover eggs?
After this weekend, you and just about every other household with be in possession of a ton of hard-boiled eggs. Whether you dyed them for an Easter egg hunt or boiled them to make some deviled eggs, chances are you're stuck with more than you can want.

My family always boils several dozen eggs, then dyes them the night before Easter for our Sunday morning egg hunt. Most of them are turned into deviled eggs, but the rest are saved for other uses throughout the week. Here are ten "other" ways for you to put them to good use.

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Rest of the Best 2014: Houston's Top Ten Patios

Photo courtesy Brenner's on the Bayou
Bayou view? Check. Comfy seating? Check. Great drinks? Check.

With unusually cool and sunny April weather, who can resist lunching on a patio and soaking up some sun? This time of year, it's usually getting too hot to bear, but we've been incredibly lucky to have had sunshine and cooler temperatures the past few weeks.

For me, better weather means lunch under the shade of an umbrella, dinner under the stars and possibly some bocce and stiff drinks at one of these spots, which feature the ten best patios in the city.

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