Chef From Kemah Restaurant With Endless Waitlist Pulls Off the Most Extraordinary Dinner in the World
10,000 Bites in One Houston NightBY Mai Pham // 08.29.19
A monumental dinner of 101 bites takes over the Houston Museum of Natural Science for a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience. (Mai Pham photo)
Eculent chef and 10,000 Bites founder David Skinner with chef David Duarte in from Phoenix, Arizona, for the event.
Massive dessert globes representing sweets from around the world, the final course of the six-hour dinner. (Jack Potts photo)
More than 100 diners in cocktail attire seated for a six-hour gourmet feast at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. (Jack Potts photo)
Nine taste sensations by Tokyo chef Daisuke Itagaki.
Chefs Javier Becerra and Debora Teixeria working on plates for the 120 guests.
The chef team working on the 101 bites served to guests during the Around the World in 10,000 Bites mega dinner.
Guests sat down to tables set for a mammoth meal of 101 individual bites.
Karla Espinosa, Debora Teixeira, Leanne Akers, Manu Bufarra lifting the volley ball-sized dessert globes,. (Jack Potts photo)
Tastes of Mexico, prepared by San Diego-based chef Felipe Raul Lopez-Torres. (Watita Holt photo)
Chefs Daisuke Itagaki and Medwin Pang at 10,000 Bites (Watita Holt photo)
Michael Cordua and son David Cordua brought the flavors of their native land, Nicaragua, to the evening. (Watita Holt photo)
Behind-the-scenes prep for the Around the World in 10,000 Bites, beneath a massive moon at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. (Mai Pham photo)
Tastes from France included foie gras torchon with truffles, one-bite French onion soup, Fench omelette with black truffle and more. (Watita Holt photo)
Service was gloriously synchronized throughout the many courses at the Around the World in 10,000 Bites evening. (Mai Pham photo)
It was a dinner unlike any other: 101 bites, representing the cuisines of 10 countries, served to some 100 people in one sitting, for a total of 10,000 bites. Was it ambitious? Incredibly so. Was it daring? Absolutely.
But that was the beauty of Around the World in 10,000 Bites, the groundbreaking dinner extravaganza that took place on a recent Saturday evening at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS). It was such a fantastical undertaking, nothing like it has ever been attempted or done before.
“It’s just going to happen once,” David Skinner, the mastermind behind the event, tells PaperCity. “It was a one-time-only, once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
For Skinner, the chef and owner of Eculent, the modernist, tasting menu-only restaurant in Kemah with the 1,000-person waitlist that was recently touted as one of the best restaurants in the world, the dinner was five years in the making.
Skinner dreamed up the idea shortly after his restaurant debuted in 2014, when he noticed that his guests often misconstrued international cuisines based on false stereotypes. For example, “People would say they loved Indian food, then tell me in the same breath that they loved chicken tikka masala — which is actually British in origin,” he says. “So I thought, well, what if you could have a dinner where you could really explore true authentic cuisine from different countries in one sitting?”
To even attempt a dinner of such magnitude, Skinner needed an assemblage of great chefs. Not prima donna chefs, he says, but chefs who could work well with others and be part of a team. David Duarte, a modernist chef from Phoenix whom Skinner met in Miami while doing a charity dinner at the Versace mansion, signed up early on, volunteering, not just to participate, but to help with organizing.
Together, they built a roster of chefs from Houston and around the globe to prepare bites representing Brazil, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Japan, Philippines, France, Mexico, Spain, Italy and America.
Local chefs included Michael and David Cordúa, Kaiser Lashkari of Himalaya, Brandon Silva of The Kirby Group (Wooster’s Garden, Heights Bier Garten, and Holman Draft Hall), Javier Becerra of MAD, Emmanuel Chavez of the upcoming Tatemo in EaDo, and Aaron Bludorn, who recently relocated to Houston after a five-year stint as executive chef of Cafe Boulud in New York City, with plans to open his own Houston restaurant in in 2020.
From around the globe, chefs from Brazil, Tokyo and Ontario were complemented domestically by DJ Tangelin of Tidal in San Diego, Brett Viber of Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine in Phoenix, and Lisa Dahl of Dahl Restaurant Group in Sedona, Arizona, along with many, many others — around 40 chefs in total.
Seated underneath the awesome specter of gargantuan prehistoric skeletons in the Morian Hall of Paleontology wing at the HMNS, 120 guests decked to the nines in formal and cocktail attire submitted themselves wholly to the gastronomic experience of a lifetime.
Presented in 10 courses of nine bites each, delivered in timed, 20-minute intervals, with a final dessert course featuring tastes from each of the countries represented, the dinner lasted more than six hours. It was an epic undertaking by any standard. By the numbers, 12,000-plus bites were served, along with 480 glasses of water, 1,440 glasses of wine, and 120 glasses of non-alcoholic mango lassi.
As guests watched the processions of servers and chefs file out, runway style, performing synchronized service during both the drop and pick up of the plates, exclamations of wonder erupted across the room. “Wow! “Amazing!” and “Incredible!” were just some of the superlatives uttered.
Cameras snapped. People laughed. Glasses clinked. Excited chatter filled the air. There was a sense that we were a part of something bigger than just a dinner, of being witness to history being made.
The culinary journey across the globe began on familiar territory: America. Skinner created what he called “Floating fire,” a meringue-puff with a strong spice kick that was meant to evoke the flavors of barbecue. It succeeded with flying colors, as did the cherry tomato-looking bite that sat next to it, which tasted exactly like a BLT.
As is often the case with modernist cuisine and molecular technique, some of the bites were not what they seemed, and it wasn’t the first flavor that hit you, but the finish of the dish that crystallized on the palate to give a clear picture of what the dish was supposed to be.
From there, we journeyed to Central America to taste the Cordúas’ interpretation of dishes from their motherland, Nicaragua.
“The cuisine that our family has always done has been based on the ingredients that the Americas gave to the rest of the world, highlighting corn, potatoes, tomatoes, avocado, squashes,” David Cordúa explained while introducing their nine-bite course of churrasco steak, corn-smoked crab fingers over a corn-polenta spoon bread, crispy-crunchy caramelized chicharron skin, and more.
Transitioning to Mexico, chef Felipe Raul Lopez-Torres nailed the first bite, a Hershey’s kiss-sized drop of rich, complex mole negro garnished with an edible hibiscus leaf, which was served alongside tastings of adobo pork belly, conch ceviche and yucca tamal. Houston-based Emmanuel Chavez’ showed off flavors of the street with grilled pineapple brushed with al pastor glaze and a tetela filled with Oaxacan cheese and potato puree, topped with red salsa and (gasp!), whole edible chicatana ants.
“Today, I’m going to show the whole Brazil, north to south,” chef Manu Buffara explained while introducing the fourth course. “You are going to enjoy Sunday lunch in each of the states of Brazil.”
There was palm heart spaghetti with butter and mushroom, prawn bobo with shrimp crumble, tapioca with Brazilian fruit jam, and banana tartare and raw fish — most of it completely new to the majority of guests.
Following a 20 minute intermission, guests were asked to remain seated straight through to the dinner’s conclusion.
During the second half of the night, we traveled, on our plates, from Pakistan to the Philippines, crossing over to Japan, before heading to Europe and making stops in France, Spain and Italy.
Were there surprises along the way and educational moments? Definitely.
During Kaiser Lashkari’s pre-course speech, he joked about the rivalry between India and Pakistan, and about how his homemade yogurt and mango lassi drink could make men amorous, before searing our tastebuds with unapologetically spiced, richly seasoned curries like shrimp tikka masala and lamb vindaloo.
Chef DJ Tangalin, calling Filipino cuisine “one of the earliest melting pot flavors in the world,” detailing how the country’s location on the international trade route led to cuisine that is influenced by India, Japan, Spain and America. Then, he upended all our preconceived notions about the food by serving one of the most attractively plated courses of the evening, with bites of adobo croquette with a pipette of sauce, and sisig pork belly in the form of French-style head cheese.
Japanese chef Daisuke Itagaki wanted to stay away from popular dishes like sushi and tempura and teriyaki so that the could showcase dishes like his lesser known tradition dishes like dashimaki tamago. His version: a sublimely smooth and creamy egg custard made with dashi base for umami, and topped with shaved truffle.
By the time we made it to France, Spain and Italy, more than four hours had passed and we still had 41 bites to go. As we tasted foie gras torchon with truffles from France; one-bite french onion soup; french omelette with black truffle; Spanish sauce pil pil; burst-in-your-mouth Spanish olive bon bons; Italian arancini; bison and venison bolognese; and chicken parmesan cotton candy, we were feeling euphoric, completely high on food and life and hurtling towards the end of a marathon.
Persevering until the last moment, we were rewarded with a spectacular surprise as hollow chocolate orbs — painstakingly hand crafted and adorned with continents painted in shiny gold leaf to resemble a globe, hit the table. Created by MAD pastry chef Karla Espinosa and chocolate specialist Leanne Akers, the globes were filled with a variety of bites — French macarons to Indian gulab jamun and Japanese matcha mochi — representing all the countries we’d visited. We were given a hammer, and instructed to smash the globe open.
The symbolism was not lost here. In the same way that we smashed down the walls of the chocolate globe to reveal sweets that were actually quite similar, tasting the unique flavors of multiple countries broke down walls, too.
The deeper we delved, the further along we got, the cultural boundaries got blurrier, blending together to reveal a universal truth. That no matter where you’re from, no matter how unique the cuisine, there is no denying when food is delicious.
Thanks to our epic 101 bite experience, we will never forget it.