Hugo Ortega and team plating the lamb course for the KNOWAutism dinner. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
Hosts Peter and Theresa Chang at the KNOWAutism dinner held in their high-rise home. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
The penthouse view of downtown as seen by guests attending the KNOWAutism dinner. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
Chefs Wayne Nguyen, Alyssa Dole, Hugo Ortega who prepared the KNOWAutism dinner won at the gala auction. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
The table is set for the KNOWAutism dinner. Flowers by Nino. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
(Photo by Dave Rossman)
Table decor from Flowers by Nino at the KNOWAutism dinner. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
Hugo Ortega cooks for the KNOWAutism dinner in a private home. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
Chef Wayne Nguyen's eggplant course served at the KNOWAutism dinner. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
Mixiote de pescado by chef Hugo Ortega as served at the private KNOWAutism dinner. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
Chef Wayne Nguyen explains his dish as Dr. Peter Chang anticipates the dish at the KNOWAutism dinner. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
Chef Wayne Nguyen's whole lobster crudo served at the KNOWAutism dinner. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
Chef Alyssa Dole's dessert course served at the KNOWAutism dinner. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
Winston Chang, Peter & Theresa Chang, Spencer Chang on the night of the KNOWAutism dinner. (Photo by Dave Rossman)
It was the hottest live auction package at this year’s annual KNOWAutism gala — the chance to have three of Houston’s finest chefs cook a lavish, one-of-a-kind-multi-course dinner for 12 in the privacy of one’s home. Cardiologist Dr. Peter Chang bid vigorously as his wife, Theresa Chang, allowed him to indulge in his ultimate foodie fantasy.
“Dr. Chang was not to be outdone,” recounts chef Wayne Nguyen of the bidding which reached $15,000 before the Changs clinched it.
The chef and mastermind behind the package, Nguyen’s wife Tammy founded KNOWAutism after their son was diagnosed with the developmental disorder. The foundation promotes autism awareness, provides financial assistance and other resources to families, and supports inclusive and adaptive community programs.
For the philanthropically-minded Chang — supporters of the foundation since its inception — winning the auction was a delicious excuse to make a sizable contribution to wonderful cause.
Speaking of delicious, when one of the chefs cooking for you is James Beard award-winning chef Hugo Ortega, it goes without saying that the meal is going to be nothing short of spectacular. Add in three, specially prepared courses by Nguyen, whose now-closed Maba Pan-Asian Diner earned a place on Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook’s list of Top 10 restaurants in Houston within months of opening; pastry chef Alyssa Dole, named Houston Press’ Best Pastry Chef in 2015; and Sean Beck, the award-winning sommelier and beverage director of Ortega’s H-Town Restaurant Group pouring wines, and the dinner was destined to reach epic greatness.
To wit: Thunderstorms had threatened the success of the evening on the night that the dinner was set to take place, but by 4 pm the clouds had parted, and the Houston skyline — a glittering modern metropolis rising above a canopy of lush greenery — fairly sparkled from the vantage point of the Chang’s Bayou Bend Towers penthouse as guests arrived to a parade of canapés prepared by Ortega and his team.
Mini blue corn tuna tostaditas topped with chipotle mayo, guava dressing, hearts of palm and serrano peppers were served alongside cups of ultra-smooth artichoke soup topped with Mexican escamoles and EVOO as guests sipped on 2013 Barone Pizzini Brut Rosé from Franciacorta, Italy and a live pianist entertained guests with hits like Theresa Chang’s favorite, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”
In the bar area, adjacent to tantalizingly displayed bottles of Louis XIII, slivers of prosciutto di parma were served alongside crystal glasses filled with pours of Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey, a gold medal award winner at the 2018 World Whiskies Awards.
Feasting in Style
As guests sat down to lavish tables set with crystal plateware and adorned with gorgeous heart-shaped orchid floral arrangements in honor of Dr. Chang’s profession, the East meets West gourmet repast began.
Nguyen captivated guests with three delectable Asian courses which kicked off the evening. Vietnamese beef carpaccio and light-as-air shrimp chips paired beautifully with Beck’s choice of the 2017 Hogl Riesling Ried Bruck Federspiel from Wachau, Austria. A second course of whole lobster crudo dressed in “Vietnamese-style ponzu,” and paired with a lusciously smooth Ram’s Gate Pinot Blanc from Carneros, California, was met with a chorus of praise.
Pan-seared Japanese eggplant with ginger-soy demi-glace, crisp spring onions and Vietnamese fish sauce, which concluded Nguyen’s trifecta of delights, also won hearts for its incredible textures and deft execution. Complemented by sips of 2015 Domaine Les Alexandrins Saint Joseph from Northern Rhone, the course was a wonderful expression of Nguyen’s talent as a chef.
Ortega then took reigns, serving a regional Oaxacan specialty called Mixiote de Pescado as the fish course. In Oaxaca, explained Ortega, mixiote are made by wrapping a protein (meat or fish) in agave leaves, which are then cooked underground. For his version, Gulf snapper was steam-cooked with mole amarillo and roasted vegetables, yielding an earthy, perfectly moist, delicately seasoned fish that paired impeccably with Beck’s choice of a 2015 Bodegas Roda Sela from Rioja, Spain.
Truffle fingerling potatoes came with Ortega’s final meat course, a spiced-rubbed lamb chop served with homemade lamb sausage and creamed spinach, finished with a drizzle of Sangiovese wine reduction. Robust tannins in the accompanying wine choice, a 2012 Fuligny Brunello di Montalcino, enlivened each bite.
To conclude the evening, pastry chef Alyssa Dole, who now holds a position at Pinkerton’s Barbecue, created a deconstructed take on strawberries biscuit shortcake with Atkinson Farms strawberries prepared two ways, sugared biscuits, orange cremeux, lemon panna cotta, kumquats from her backyard, with candied pecans and lemon thyme. An Austrian dessert wine known for its noble sweet wine perfection, the 2016 Kracher Cuvee Auslese, punctuated the sweet confection with notes of honey and peach blossom.
The guest list: Stephanie and Vican Sun, Mary Ann and Dr. Ramon Ty, Ted and Linda Wu, Winston Chang, Spencer Chang, Mai Pham and Mykel Ngo.