The internet was alive this week with chatter about season nine of the Bravo reality show Top Chef, and whether it will be set in Texas. The signs point to yes: there were numerous sightings of cast and crew in San Antonio recently, at venues from Whole Foods Market to the newly restored Esquire Tavern on the Riverwalk. Tom Colicchio, Padma, Gail Simmons ... the gang was all there, eating and drinking and (reportedly) trying to shut down random Tweeters.
The website Eater National (a sort of TMZ for the foodie set) speculated — under the banner “Rumormongering” — that the show would go on to shoot in Dallas and Austin in coming weeks. Houston was conspicuous in its absence from that list.
Sources at Bravo wouldn’t confirm anything about a Texas schedule to the Chronicle, and who knows? Top Chef could end up here for a few days yet. But if they don’t, they’ll be missing out big time on the most varied and dynamic dining scene in the state — one that defies and expands upon the usual Texas clichés.
San Antonio, Austin and Dallas simply can’t compare to the ethnic richness and interplay that are a hallmark of Houston restaurants, where cuisines from Vietnamese to Indian have become part of a common culinary vocabulary our chefs feel free to draw on, right along with the vital strains of Mexican, smokehouse and cowboy cookery for which the state is more generally known. And Houston is unique in Texas for the strong currents of Cajun, Creole and Deep Southern cuisine that infuse our cooking.
No other Texas city boasts the variety of Gulf seafood that we do, either. It’s no surprise that recent moves to classify Texas oysters by bay and reef appellations, or to bring the unusual marine species known as ‘bycatch” to market, have originated here in Houston. Top Chef would be lucky to snag our local Gulf seafood gurus Jim Gossen and P. J. Stoops, both of Louisiana Foods, for an on-air seafood challenge that could provide some dramatic TV moments.
And sorry, but Houston’s got it all over those other cities in terms of progressive dining, from our handful of talented young modernist chefs and foragers to our exciting culinary underground of pop-ups, collaborative dinners and a flourishing food truck scene that may soon rival Austin’s.
Sure, San Antonio may offer more picturesque locations for filming. It’s hard to argue against such iconic sites as the Alamo or the Spanish missions or the Riverwalk; not to mention such a spectacular ready-made shooting venue as the Culinary Institute of America branch in the Pearl Brewery Complex, with its modern architecture, farmer’s market and hot restaurant scene. And yes, Austin has the Capitol, the water, the scenery and the mother of all Whole Foods, which has been Top Chef’s ingredient source in so many cities.
But Dallas surely doesn’t offer more intuitive shooting venues than Houston does. Think of our grandly scaled Asiatown that runs for so many miles along Bellaire, and its possibilities for interesting chef challenges. Consider our epic ethnic grocery stores, from HMart to Hong Kong Market to Phoenica Specialty Foods and beyond. I’d love to see a bunch of cheftestants trying to get their heads around one of those stores. Think of the comic possibilities. Talk about good TV!
Bottom line, if Top Chef stays away from Houston on their march through Texas, they’re messing up. Not that that would be unprecedented. After all, they’re shooting in Texas in July.