State Rep. Jason Villalba Pleads Once Again for Sriracha to Bring Operations to Texas

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Photos from Wikipedia
Rep. Jason Villalba is once again trying to bring the troubled Sriracha plant to Texas.
In January, we told you about Texas state representative Jason Villalba and his quest to convince Huy Fong Foods, Inc. to move to our fair state. At that time, complaints from the city of Irwindale, California, where the plant that makes Sriracha is located, threatened to force the company to halt production of the addictive red hot sauce because of the fumes that were purportedly affecting citizens in the community.

Villalba got wind (so to speak) of the issue, and sent a letter to David Tran, chief executive officer of Huy Fong Foods, Inc., inviting him to move the plant to Texas: "As a public official and a corporate attorney for small businesses, I am extremely troubled by excessive government interference in the operations of private, job-creating businesses like Huy Fong Foods. You have worked too hard and have helped too many people to let government bureaucrats shut down your thriving business."

Huy Fong, Sriracha and Villalba are back in the news this week, as the Irwindale City Council passed a resolution deeming Huy Fong Foods "a public nuisance."

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City Hall Farmers Market to Relocate in May

Categories: Market Watch, News

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
The City Hall Farmers Market will move to a new location in the first week of May.
The City Hall Farmers Market must relocate during the first week of May, a change forced by a plumbing project to be carried out on the Reflection Pond at City Hall. The construction is set to begin on May 1, so the market will be heading down the street and around the corner to the front of the Julia Ideson Building of the Houston Public Library at 550 McKinney Street. The market will extend into the Houston Public Library's plaza.

Don't freak out when you head to City Hall for lunch on Wednesday, May 7, and don't see any food trucks or vendors. The market isn't gone, it has simply moved. Tyler Horne, market manager at Urban Harvest, says there won't be much change to the market, just the layout and location.


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Menu of MenusĀ® Draws, and Wows, Huge Crowds of Food Fans

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Kevin Naderi works on a dish at Menu of Menus.
Silver Street Station had a lot of new things going on for Menu of MenusĀ® this year. Air conditioning, for one, had people happy to be inside eating warm comfort food from spots like Frank's Americana Revival and Fish & the Knife. There was a lovely photography show up on the walls as part of Fotofest. There were new restaurants like Verts Kebap, Heights General Store and Nara debuting their food for Houstonians, some of whom had never tried it.

But one thing remained the same: Kevin Naderi, chef of Roost, won the competition this year for the third time in a row.

The competition, emceed by Randy Evans of Haven, was fierce--it wasn't clear what Naderi was making until the very end of the 45-minute time limit, while Kevin Bryant, chef of Eleven XI, was very transparent about what he was preparing. In the end, though, Naderi edged out Bryant with his use of the secret ingredient: citrus. The judges all agreed that Naderi put the ingredient to use better than Bryant did, though Bryant's incorporation of the twist ingredient, bananas, with a pistachio mole was masterful.

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Seder: A Cup for Elijah

Categories: News

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Photo by Rebecca Seigel
Traditional Seder plates will be set at tables around Houston next week.

Passover Seders are unique to each family, though parts of the ceremonial meal -- including embarrassing the youngest person at the table with the singing of the four questions -- are constant. Hebrew songs and readings, the central plate of bitter herbs, and the cup reserved for Elijah are among the trappings of almost every Seder. If you find yourself without a place to celebrate the feast, Houston's synagogues are a welcome alternative. Honor the freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by reading from the Haggadah and drinking four cups of wine during Seders held on April 14 and 15.

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UPDATE: Video of Brawl at Houston Chacho's Goes Viral, Reminds World We're Classy

Categories: Food Fight, News

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Photo from VoicePlaces
This past Thursday, April 3, a bystander shot footage of three women at the Chacho's on Westheimer engaging in a physical altercation with management and staff at the restaurant. Eventually, a Chacho's employee pinned one of the women to the ground, while the other two circled around, yelling wildly for him to stop. One of them was carrying an infant in her arms.

The video has now been shown on websites and news outlets across the country, gathering thousands of views. It's unclear exactly what caused the situation to escalate into such madness.


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Houston Bands Together to Aid Woman Injured at SXSW

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Photo courtesy Mark's American Cuisine
Come out on April 13 to raise money for Gracie Nguyen's medical expenses.
On March 13, pastry chef Gracie Nguyen, 23, was badly injured in the crash at the SXSW music festival in Austin that left four people dead and another 21 people hurt. Nguyen was in the hospital in Austin for about a week, until she was able to be moved out of the ICU and back to Houston for rehabilitation and recovery.

Nguyen is a single mother, student and pastry chef at Mark's American Cuisine, and because of her bubbly personality, she's made a lot of friends in the Houston restaurant industry. These fine folks are banding together to host a fundraiser at Big Star Bar on Sunday, April 13, with all of the proceeds going directly to Nguyen's medical care.

The event is spearheaded by Joshua Martinez of Goro & Gun and Adam Dorris, formerly of Revival Market, who are bringing back the "Ghetto Dinner Series" for one night only. The hugely popular pop-up dinners, which took place a few years back at Grand Prize, were served on paper plates with plastic utensils, but featured interesting, quality ingredients prepared by local chefs.

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Damian Mandola Arrested in Hill Country for Second Time in Three Days

Categories: News

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Photo courtesy Hays County Clerk
Damian Mandola was arrested again on Saturday evening.
It's been a bad weekend for Carrabba's founder and restaurateur Damian Mandola.

On Thursday, he was arrested in Hays County near Trattoria Lisina, a restaurant he owns in Driftwood. According to police records, the 61-year-old was booked into the Hays County Jail on April 3 after he was spotted driving recklessly in a golf cart and then broke into the Duchman Family Winery to allegedly steal a bottle of wine. He was released later that night after posting $5,000 bond.

On Saturday, Mandola was back at Duchman, where he proceeded to threaten Duchman Winery employees with a hammer before fleeing; he was later apprehended and arrested again by Hays County police.

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Damian Mandola Charged With Burglary in Hill Country

Categories: News

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Courtesy Hays County Sheriff's Department
Damian Mandola has been charged with burglary of a building.
Restaurateur Damian Mandola has been charged with burglary of a building at a winery adjacent to his Hill Country eatery, Trattoria Lisina. The 61-year-old founder of the Carrabba's restaurant chain was booked into the Hays County Jail on April 3, and was released after posting a $5,000 bond.

This isn't the first time Mandola has received unwanted attention since moving to the small town of Driftwood; in 2009, Jeff and Patty Maddux, neighbors of Mandola and his wife, Trina, accused the Mandolas of having their three Swiss mountain dogs killed. The Madduxes believed the dogs were slain because one of them accidentally crushed the Mandolas' beloved poodle, Peppermint. (And people think Driftwood is just a sleepy little town!)

The Mandolas denied the accusations about the dogs.

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UPDATE: HISD Culinary Students Put Their Skills on the Line

Categories: News

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Photo courtesy of Cooking up Change
HISD will compete in Cooking up Change for the first time on April 12.
UPDATE: The Westside High School culinary team won the Houston District Cooking up Change competition this past weekend. Barrosha Boykin, Santiago Castaneda and Andrew Winkle prepared a chicken chili sandwich with fajita chicken strips, black beans and chili powder and a sauce made of tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and red and green bell peppers on a whole wheat roll; they called their main dish the "Lonestar Chicken Chili Sub." The team also made a parfait of toasted rolled oats, honey, fruit cocktail and vanilla low-fat yogurt, as well as a side dish of grilled carrots and zucchini.

This team will travel to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national competition on June 9. The Westside High School team representing Houston ISD will compete against the winning teams from Los Angeles and Orange County, Calif., Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla., Winston-Salem, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., Wichita, Kan., and Little Rock, Ark.

You may not know it, but the Houston Independent School District has an incredible culinary arts program, and on Saturday, April 12, seven teams of culinary students from four HISD schools will compete in Cooking up Change at the local level in hopes of advancing to the national contest in Washington D.C. The local competition takes place at Rice University and is open to the public, beginning with tastings from noon until 1 p.m., followed by the judging. According to Ray Danilowicz, HISD's food services executive general manager, the competition requires students to create their best dishes following national school lunch standards, and this is the first time Houston schools have taken part.

"It's going to feature culinary students from ten large school districts from around the country," Danilowicz says. "And what it's designed to do is to get culinary students involved in cooking meals that conform to the type of meals that are served in school lunches, conforming to national school lunch standards, which means they have to meet very, very rigid nutritional guidelines. They have to be the type of meal that can be cooked in school cafeterias with limited equipment -- you know, follow basic steps with [the] type of ingredients that are available in the program."

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Four Houstonians Make Final Beard Awards Cut

Categories: News

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Photo courtesy James Beard Foundation
The James Beard Foundation has released its short list of nominees for awards in all categories, including media. The long list for awards was announced in late February, but now it's been whittled down, and we still made the cut.

Congrats to Hugo Ortega of Hugo's, Chris Shepherd of Underbelly and Justin Yu of Oxheart on their nominations for Best Chef Southwest. They join two other chefs, Kevin Binkley of Binkley's in Cave Creek, Arizona, and Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine in Austin, meaning three out of the five nominees are Houstonians.

This is Yu's first time as a finalist; Shepherd and Ortega have been finalists in the past.

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