Fri January 3, 2014 8:52 am By Jessica Dupuy

Texas fans of ABC’s The Taste, a cooking competition show, may have recognized a certain well-known Texas winemaker in the season’s first episode. Don Pullum of Mason, a small town west of Fredericksburg, wowed celebrity judges Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Marcus Samuelsson, and Ludo Lefebvre with his savvy culinary skills in the on-set kitchen. 

The show gives home cooks and aspiring chefs a chance to impress the four judges with one bite of a dish that is served in a blind tasting. For the first episode, the judges tasted bites from a number of potential contestants in an effort to select a team of four competitors for each judge to mentor throughout the remainder of the show. Each week, new bites are created by the contestants under the tutelage of their team judge in an attempt to keep their spot on the show. 

Having enjoyed a memorable meal from Pullum’s capable hands last spring when the jovial winemaker “threw together” a Spanish seafood stew at Pontotoc Vineyard, I can personally vouch for his artful kitchen skills. Though not everyone may know of his culinary charms, many have savored a bottle or two of his wines over the years. Pullum most notably makes the wine for Mason’s own Sandstone Cellars, but has also served as winemaker/consultant to many Texas wineries including Torre di Pietra Vineyards, Fly Gap Winery, and Pontotoc Vineyards. Later this year, Pullum will open his own winery, Akashic Vineyards, in Pontotoc, Texas near Mason.

The charming character made his television debut last night, strolling onstage with a glass of wine, which prompted the judges to ask his occupation. French judge, Chef Ludo Lefebvre of Los Angeles hot spot Tres Mecs incredulously asked, “You're a Texas winemaker? They have wine in Texas?” giving Pullum a chance not only to prove to the judges the promise of Texas wine, butto educate the nation’s viewers too. 

Pullum made it through the first round, preparing a Texas-sized fried oyster in a Thai gastrique with a spicy jalapeño salsa. His dish won over Chef Lefebvre and New York’s Marcus Samuelsson of the Red Rooster, who both proceeded to fight over Pullum in an effort to get him to choose either of their teams. Pullum’s humility spread across his blushing face as he kindly accepted Samuelsson’s offer, having witnessed the stylish Ethiopian-Swedish chef’s teaching skills at live demonstration from the 2013 Austin Food and Wine Festival. Time will tell if the cheerful winemaker will stay on to the end to receive the $100,000 grand prize, but we’ll be sure to raise a glass of Texas wine to the competitor in the coming weeks.

(Photo Courtesy Matt McGinnis of WhatAreYouDrinking.net)

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Mon December 9, 2013 5:24 pm By Layne Lynch

A few weeks ago, former La Condesa and Sway chefs Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki announced the formation of a new restaurant group alongside Fresa’s Chicken Al Carbon owners Margaret Vera and Tracy Overath. The four culinary minds are working diligently together to unveil a series of new projects in 2014, including Laundrette (an upscale café-grocery), the Angry Bear (classic Chinese takeout), and additional Fresa’s Chicken Al Carbon locations. And that’s just the beginning.

Recently, Ortiz gave Texas Monthly a glimpse into what to expect from his newest-and-most-exciting collaboration to date and discussed his reasoning behind leaving Sway and La Condesa.

On Laundrette: It’s not simple or extremely complex cuisine. The food will be family-style, almost like bringing home to you. Think things like leg of lamb, biscuits, hamburgers, pork with gravy – basically classic foods you crave every day.  

On the Angry Bear: It’s a very playful, lighthearted project. The Angry Bear is actually a character of mine. He does lots of things: he loves to eat, he loves to dance, and I think of him in the 1980s surrounded by neon lights and glitter. The art of the food will be classic technique combined with great ingredients. I think people will be pleasantly surprised by what they find on the menu.  

On his pastry chef, Laura Sawicki: Laura is my best friend. She enlightens me and I enlighten her. The best decision I ever made was working with Laura. We’ve taught each other so much and we always push each other forward. She’s a rock star and I can’t wait to see what we create together. She’s currently working on some new ice creams and pastries. This is definitely her best work yet.

On leaving La Condesa and Sway: It was time, and this is a better suited partnership for the next step. I want to be able to able to support and build wealth for my family, and this was something I had thought about for a long time.

On opening projects similar to Sway and La Condesa: I’m not going to try to recreate those two restaurants. Those were my gifts to the city, and I’m so proud of what came out of it.

On opening more projects: Oh man. There are a lot of ideas in motion, and it’s nice to be in control of that. We’re really excited to introduce a number of different projects to the city. Stay tuned!

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Thu November 14, 2013 11:45 am By Patricia Sharpe

One thing I will say about the owners of Austin’s Gateway Guesthouse: they definitely know how to cook. I attended a Florentine dinner there back in September and it was very impressive. Which is why I would trust them to show me a thing or two about making a holiday dinner.

The owners are Blaise Bahara and Bess Giannakakis. In the first part of the “Fearless Feast” series, on November 27, Giannakakis will teach a hands-on class showing how to make a turkey with a Tex-Mex rub, cornbread and sausage dressing, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie with a homemade crust, and more.

On December 23 and 24, she will do a standing rib beef roast with horseradish cream gravy, side dishes, a salad of arugula and roasted beets, homemade bread buns, bourbon pecan tart with whipped cream, and more. The classes take place at Gateway Guesthouse; the cost of each class is $195, which includes instruction and two finished meals to take home. Additional meals may be made and purchased for $20 each.

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Wed November 13, 2013 2:22 pm By Layne Lynch

Thanksgiving leftovers are usually reserved for boring turkey sandwiches and week-long re-heatings, but a few Houston chefs are transforming the ways in which we use scraps this holiday season. The Falliday Leftover Throwdown sprung from the mind of Lyle Benot, Underbelly's sous chef Lyle Bento, who challenges a number of fine dining chefs from all over the city to take Thanksgiving leftovers and create brand new entrées, side dishes, and desserts. Chefs from Underbelly, Uchi, Triniti, Goro & Gun, Bar Boheme, Beaver's, Cove, Eatsie Boys, l'Olivier, Latin Bites, Phoenicia, Prego, Roost, and an assortment of other restaurants are listed as participants for the competition. 

All the proceeds from the culinary event will benefit the Orange Show, a nonprofit visual arts organization. "The Orange Show is about visionary art, so we really want to see what these chefs are made of," said Jonathan Beitler, Director of Communications for Orange Show. “The only rule is that at least eighty percent of the ingredients must be [made with] fully-cooked traditional Thanksgiving dishes.”

As for what the chefs will prepare, that is left up to their imaginations. "Home cooks can get their hands on liquid nitrogen and learn to sous vide," said Philip Speer, Uchi's culinary director of operations. "I don't want to give away too much about what we're going to serve, but we really want to open the frame and inspire people to think about leftovers in new ways.”

Two chefs will be awarded a Golden Gobbler Turkey Trophy at the Throwdown – one based on the judges’ combined votes and the second from attendees’ combined votes. 

Tickets to the Falliday Leftover Throwdown cost $65 and can be purchased through Eventbrite.com.

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Wed November 6, 2013 9:37 am By Jason Cohen

Y tú, Mexican Coke?

There's a new peso-per-liter tax on soft drink sales in Mexico, which, as Matt Phillips and Roberto A. Ferdman of Quartz reported, has a seventy percent obesity rate, and, on a per capita basis, consumes "more Coca-Cola products than residents of any other country in the world."

That could put the kibosh on "Mexican Coke," which, like the late, lamented Dublin Dr Pepper, is prized for its use of real cane sugar, instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

As Phillips and Ferdman wrote:

On an earnings call with analysts last week, the head of Arca Continental SAB said that the Mexico-based Coca-Cola bottler could “move to more fructose,” which is cheaper than cane sugar. 

Note, however, that the Arca head said "more fructose." Truth is, the all-sugar Coke that Texans knew and loved from trips to the other side of the border has been giving way to corn syrup for years, something Texas Monthly noted in 2004.

One year later, in 2005 (h/t for link to Slate), Arca began producing an all-sugar, glass-bottled version explicitly for the United States, where, apparently, some fans insist on calling the stuff "Mexicoke."

Which is why, as Amy Guthrie of the Wall Street Journal noted, the product's not endangered in America.

"Fear not, soda snobs," she wrote. "All those reports are wrong.

"Monterrey, Mexico-based Arca Continental, which bottles Coca-Cola in glass bottles for U.S. consumers as part of a nostalgia project that began in 2005, assures that its fizzy pop destined for the U.S. market will continue to be sweetened entirely with cane sugar."

Which means "Mexican Coke" really is a lot like Dublin Dr Pepper: before the Dr Pepper Snapple Group bought out the family-owned, small-town bottler, most of the cane sugar soda the Dublin company actually produced came from a larger bottler in Bell County, which continues to make it for the corporate giant now. What used to be called Dublin Dr Pepper may have lost its soul, and Mexican Coke may not be all that Mexican. But neither soda's actually going to die. 

Still, as OC Weekly editor and "Ask a Mexican" columnist Gustavo Arellano noted, the new Mexican tax could have additional ramifications. "I'm more concerned about what it'll do to Jarritos," he wrote

(Photos:bradleygee, Flickrurbanbohemian, Flickr)

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