A wine dinner featuring Azienda Agricola Frank Cornelissen

 

 

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On Monday, November 18th, Oxheart welcomes Frank Cornelissen from Mt. Etna, Sicily for a dinner featuring his wines from Azienda Agricola Frank Cornelissen. Mr. Cornelissen represents one of the most progressive figureheads of natural, bio-dynamic winemaking in the world, and his wines challenge even most seasoned wine drinkers to move outside of their comfort zone, tasting flavors they’ve never experienced in other wines.

From his 12 hectares of vines within the Northern Valley of Mt. Etna, Mr. Cornelissen’s wines are made from de-stemmed grapes and nothing else. No chemicals are used in the vineyards and no sulfur goes into the wine during vilification. All of the wines go through weeks of skin contact, even the whites and roses, which result in wonderfully complex and vivid flavors that are stark, different, and delicious. His style of winemaking showcases the absolute terroir of the lands that he farms, and Mr. Cornelissen approaches winemaking with the methodology of a farmer working in genuine concert with nature to make the best produce possible so that he can create wines that reflect his harvest. This is an ideal that we share and value deeply at Oxheart.  

Our kitchen is excited to challenge ourselves to pair our food with Mr. Cornelissen’s wines in a dining setting where generally the exact opposite happens. We will take multiple seatings on that Monday evening, and Mr. Cornelissen himself will be there to pour you his wines.

We will be taking reservations by phone starting on Sunday, October 27th during our normal reservation hours between 2 and 5 PM, with a presale being available to all supporters of OKRA, who can get the details in their newsletter. You can reach us at the restaurant at 832.830.8592 or email us at reservations@oxhearthouston.com. The cost will be $115 for five courses inclusive of the wines to be pre-paid at the time of the reservation. Reservations are not refundable, although they are transferable. We will try our best to accommodate all dietary restrictions, although it will be with less flexibility than usual.  

We look forward to welcoming Frank Cornelissen to Houston, and to be cooking alongside his wines.     

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A collaborative dinner with Chef Justin Cogley of Aubergine – Carmel, CA

The team at Oxheart Restaurant is pleased to welcome Chef Justin Cogley from Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel for a dinner on Monday, June 24th.

Chef Cogley was recently named by Food and Wine as a Best New Chef at Aubergine where he shines with his modern interpretations of dishes using local and coastal products from Northern California. We’re most excited to collaborate on dishes using our Gulf Coast and California Coast  produce and products and to learn from each other as we cook dinner for our guests.

The dinner will take place on Monday, June 24th around our kitchen counter and round table and is limited to 15 guests each seating. There are two seating times: 6 PM and 9 PM at a cost of $125 per menu. Appropriate beverage pairings will also be available at an additional cost. Due to the nature of this event, dietary restrictions cannot be accommodated.

We will be releasing non-refundable tickets for the dinner on Friday, May 24th at 12 noon, with a pre-release available to all Supporters of OKRA which will be sent out via email before that date. You can book tickets on May 24th on our online system at SeatMe.com

We’re pleased to welcome Chef Cogley to our kitchen, and are thrilled that he’ll be sharing his talents with Houston.

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A collaborative dinner with Chef Viet Pham of Forage – Salt Lake City, UT


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Oxheart Restaurant is excited to announce that on Monday, November 26th, our team will be hosting a collaborative dinner with Chef Viet Pham of Forage Restaurant in Salt Lake City, UT.

At Forage Restaurant, Chef Pham was named one of Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2011, and has been nominated several times as Best Chef: Southwest. Under Chef Pham and Chef Bowman Brown, Forage Restaurant has been consistently noted as one its region’s best and most progressive restaurants since opening in 2009, serving a highly personal, locally sourced and foraged food.

Chef Pham was recently a contestant on the Food Network’s Extreme Chef and will soon be participating in an episode of Iron Chef America.

For this dinner, we will be working together with various Salt Lake and Gulf Coast purveyors, playing off of each other’s cooking styles to cook what we hope to be a memorable, delicious meal.

The dinner will take place on Monday, November 26th around our kitchen counter and round table and is limited to 15 guests each seating. There are two seating times: 6 PM and 8:30 PM at a cost of $95 for seven courses. Appropriate beverage pairings will also be available at a cost of $60.

We will be releasing non-refundable tickets for the dinner on Wednesday, October 10th at 12 noon, with a pre-release available to all Supporters of OKRA. You can book tickets on our online system at SeatMe.com.

We’re extremely excited to have Chef Pham cook with us and even more excited to have you join us for this special night!

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Defining my point of view.

As a baker or pastry chef (or whatever people want to call me), I struggle with defining what my style is.  I know where my passions lie and the chefs that left lasting memories in my career, but how do I depict that in the final course?  Did I set myself up for failure by coming out the gate with a cake that I did not intend to rival carrot cake with cream cheese?  My food must complement Justin’s food.  Should it always include vegetables, since Justin is known as the “vegetable whisperer?” (I didn’t coin it – a good friend at Greenway did.)  The desserts must match the savory’s level of attention to detail.  It may never outshine Justin’s food, in my opinion; but, if it does, please don’t tell the chef. And if it does, it’s probably because of the pairings.

Growing up in a Cantonese household, we didn’t eat much sweets growing up.  The only memories of sweets that I have are the singular texture of Chinese mousse cakes.  Lucky for me, I had a neighbor who would fill our house with homemade pecan pies with pecans from the yard and hand-picked dewberry jam.  If pies were acceptable for finishing a meal at Oxheart, I would totally make pies. All day. Every day. I love pies. And carrot cake.

As Oxheart continues to evolve, so does my style of bread and desserts.  When it comes to desserts, I tend to try to over simplify everything because I am afraid to have too many flavors or components on the plate.  Not that they won’t all go together, but rather they won’t let each other shine they way I intend.  I learned at the French Pastry School that you can only move forward when you perfect the basics.  Every “fancy food” should have a strong foundation in the basic/”simple” food.   At Oxheart, this is where I’m starting, and I can’t wait to see what I will be making a few weeks, a few months or years from now.

Something that is as simple as a well-made tart or cake can be just as memorable as all the gels and foams in this world.  My favorite technique is folding, and this came out of my friend, Laura Knapp, who in pastry school told me she just wanted to watch me fold.  (I went from folding batters to doughs when I decided I wanted to really become a baker.)  I scour the Internet for food porn as one may call it and those beautiful plates do inspire me. I envy and respect the chefs who turn white plates into something that could be hung at the Menil.  But my aim is to finish your meal with something that is simple, clean, not-too-heavy, memorable and hopefully refreshing.  It must be my Chinese side coming through (where fresh fruit was enough to invoke satisfaction).

It is hard for me to read the Yelp reviews and not take any of them slightly personally.  I never said I mentored under Thomas Keller.  I worked for Courtney Schmidig, not Thomas Keller.  I baked with Matt McDonald, not Thomas Keller.  I learned to appreciate more than just a baguette with Ben Hershberger.  I learned how regional flour can be at Meyer’s bakery in Copenhagen.  My baked goods are a reflection of what I like to eat and how I like to eat it now, not then, not tomorrow.

Breads are more comfortable for me to explore different boundaries, as I have been actively pursuing learning from the best bakers.  The “pedestrian table bread” as some may call it, actually took 3 days from start to finish to get to the table.  I am obsessed with fermentation.  Sourdough starters or other pre-ferments will find a way into almost all breads I serve at Oxheart.  I love the uniqueness each batch of dough has.  The staff can attest to how excited I get when I’m super pleased with the final product.  As much as everyone loves the pretzel rolls and mustard butter, I do believe I can top that experience with something else yeasty.

I thank you all for the kind words of encouragement as I never felt ready to fit the position Justin had for me.  I could never imagine that my desserts or breads would even be up to Justin’s standard or the bar that Houston as set out for Oxheart.  I still don’t, but I do push to find that perfect food.  (The perfect food that really isn’t obtainable because if it was obtainable, then there would be no where else to go but down.)

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Oxheart Restaurant updates: The Push and The Pull

I’ve been looking to do a restaurant for as long as I can remember. For nearly the last year of my life, I eschewed the comforts of a regularly paying job just to concentrate on finding a place to call our own. And for the longest time, I never thought it would happen as location after location were either too expensive, too risky, required too much construction, or couldn’t open because there was no way our dear city would permit it even if it were workable (ok sorry, that’s my last jab at our parking ordinance issue. Zing!)

So when I finally signed that dotted line on the lease meaning that Karen and I were finally business owners, I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to roar in primal joy, break down in tears, or collapse in mental exhaustion. It felt like I’d passed the finish line of a marathon– I had run that last leg so many times only to fall short of the finish line.

I’m sure in the back of my head I knew the real work hadn’t even begun, but I guess I never though the day might come where I’d actually have to open the restaurant. With so many failures before, the week following us signing the lease was like getting a sack or bricks slung at the back of your head day after day. The questions in your head following that week mounted without ever a hope of finding enough answers fast enough– and that doesn’t even include all the questions everyone else had.

There are some days that I wish I were some sort of big-shot enough to only have to worry about the fun things that I’d always dreamt about regarding the restaurant: how I want to cook the food, what cool gadgets I could buy, which plates I want to put it on, where I can source the best product, and how I want the dining room to feel when the guests eat it. But with the immense pressure of pouring our life savings plus the funds from investors into the restaurant, I’m left trying to figure out just how to keep on knocking out the new problems that come up every day while trying to answer the ones that have always been there slowly. Staying calm and collected is a task in itself; one that I don’t think I’ve always handled well these past two months, but one that has to happen to dampen the deafening roars of doubt that come from every angle every day. That’s not to say I don’t think we weren’t prepared. With all that could be (and have been) going wrong, the fact that I still see us opening on time or only with a few weeks delay is an accomplishment that I (and many others) doubted could happen.

It’s true, restaurants really are like living, breathing beings. Oxheart has taken a shape that I couldn’t have ever imagined and definitely not like the perfect restaurant that I had in my head. But just like many things, its imperfections make it human, and it’s those little imperfections that I’ve come to really love. I thought that I had over-budgeted for over-budgeting, but even then I find ourselves having (or maybe just wanting) to really come up with interesting, non-ideal solutions to problems we have, just to save a few dollars. It’s a trying task: new or used refrigeration? Stock or custom tables? Aluminum or steel cookware? Take down that wall for aesthetic purposes or just let it be for now? The questions are dizzying, and that’s even before people ask me when we’re planning on opening.

But that push and that pull is to find that happy medium is what I’m most excited to share with our guests. We fought with ourselves to really cut down to what was the most important to us, where we thought we could skip those few extra bucks, and where we knew we should and wanted to pay full price. Like all relationships, I’m sure I’ll be extremely frustrated at this place from time to time: those uneven floors, that thick layer of paint on the windows, the odd electrical layout, and the fact that we really have very little space to do the cooking (restaurants under 2000 sq ft really have got to learn to make storage go vertical). But then again, we’ve had the most amazing help to get our space to where it is now, from Mr. Somm Guy, Justin getting down on his hands and knees to scrub the years of dirt from the grout, to our designer, Gin creating a beautifully unique space within our budget, to Jeff and Adam for providing us with their amazing products to paint our walls and build our tables, to the countless craftsmen: the potter, the leathermaker, the bladesmith, and the street artist doing all they can to make Oxheart a special place. You can forget about the flaws when you can remember all the people that helped you get there. I don’t think I would love this restaurant nearly as much if we had that unlimited budget and could make everything shiny, glossy, new, and perfect. Learning to work with that we have and dealing with the restaurant’s flaws has been and will be an interesting task.

But truthfully, that’s what I know will make it better for you .

And worth it for me.

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Oxheart Restaurant updates: it’s the little things

There are some things in life no one tells you, so you can figure it out on your own.  They say what doesn’t break you, makes you. We don’t quite agree. While working on opening Oxheart for the last couple months, there were plenty of times we had some palm-to-forehead type of moments where we wished that we had someone to have given us some friendly advice. Often, we’ve just written them off as something we can talk about/laugh about later.

But, if you happen to be stuck in the dilemma of opening up your first business, here are some friendly tips.

  • Liftgate Services – Adding liftgate services to your freight delivery does not mean they will deliver into your building. It just means that without a loading dock, the half ton package, your beloved stove that your wife ran around NYC trying to buy in cash to save a few bucks, can and will be lowered to your curb. If for some reason this does happen, make friends, bribe them with beer, and strap down for hours worth of work of moving that thing up two steps inch-by-inch.  Or, go to Home Depot and buy materials to make a ramp and be lucky enough to have your place of business close enough to another business that has a pallet jack. Lesson learned.

Sort of.

  • Buy equipment that will fit through the door – or buy a door that will fit your equipment.  Better yet, take a hacksaw to your door before any of the equipment comes in. Also: make sure you have a tape measure. Lots of tape measures.
  • Learn how to work the auction circuit (or just talk to Kevin Floyd from Hay Merchant a lot.)  Remember there is an up-charge to each purchase so bid under your budgeted amount. Also remember when bidding that you’re probably going to have to pay to get it to the restaurant. Come early and stay late — there is no pattern to the lowest bids and best deals.  Also, don’t bid against the refrigeration dealer because the pros always win
  • Get to know your local restaurant supply stores.  Stainless steel sheets and trim don’t come cheap. They also cut delicate fingers. Especially delicate sommelier fingers that are normally only used to the dust that they brush off old bottles being the roughest surface that they touch. So wear gloves.
  • Hire an employee with a truck – it comes in super handy.
  • Grease that’s been on the floor for decades doesn’t come off with power-washer, or a slightly diluted concentrated degreaser, or a lye solution, or any sort of elbow grease. I guess we’ll have to learn how to re-tile the floor ourselves.
  • If you’re trying to restore antiques, hire someone who cares about each step. Opening Oxheart has been like raising a child, you learn more about it and hold its hand each step of the way.  Case and point: the progression of our door. Thanks to Ayn for refinishing it for us and Adkins Antiques for having such a cool door. Just seeing it from when we first saw it in the store, to cutting open our frame, to scraping (and scraping, and scraping) paint, to stripping paint, to sanding (and sanding, and sanding) it down has been a joy to see. It should be done sometime next week– you all should come and check it out!
  • Maybe most of all though: try to enjoy the process. You only open your first business once.
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arriving at Oxheart Restaurant

As long as I’ve known Justin, he’s always wanted to have a restaurant of his own.  If you’ve been around long enough, you know that Oxheart’s food was not what he envisioned years ago.  You would also know that I was “destined” to be a partner in a really boring desk environment.  Thank goodness that all changed when we began our nomadic adventure.

Without a home to call home, we have been given much opportunity to explore all types of cooking and baking.  A high-level breakdown of our lives since I jumped into the restaurant industry and away from my useful economics degree: Chicago for pastry school, Napa for the seasons, Europe for staging and a white Christmas, living in NY to “test” the strength of our marriage, with the gaps between in transit.

The next few years I can gladly say we will stay put in Houston, Texas and start a family.  Not that kind of family.

We are so excited to be starting this adventure with all of our friends and families we have amassed along the way. We hope you will be a part of it.  Our blog will transition into one that follows our less nomadic lives at Oxheart.  Until then, I leave you with this, courtesy of Yuling Designs.

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