Ayesha Curry's Houston International Smoke faced backlash before its doors even opened.
International Smoke is bringing some serious ribs.
Michael Mina brings major celebrity chef power.
Ayesha Curry and Chef Michael Mina are a dream team.
Curry and Mina want to introduce Houston to all new types of barbecues — but they're not going to compete with pit-masters.
The meat-centric restaurant has tasty offerings like this Sinaloa chicken.
Vietnamese pork chops are just one example of International Smoke's mighty range.
Calling all California food lovers — a Bay Area restaurant hit is headed to Houston. The meat of the matter? International Smoke — a San Francisco grilling and barbecue haven from the celebrity dream team of Ayesha Curry and chef Michael Mina — is set to open in CityCentre in mid-June
Curry — a television personality, cookbook author, actress and wife of two-time NBA MVP (and Houston Rockets’ archenemy) Stephen Curry — brings the buzz-creating savvy and James Beard Award-winning celebrity chef Mina brings expertise from running Michelin-starred restaurants.
Diversity drives the meaty menu, with Curry and Mina’s own voyages dictating styles and spices. The chef gave PaperCity the inside scoop in an exclusive phone interview.
“The idea of every dish on the menu is really inspired by travel and different ethnicities. And it’s all centered around one thing: grilling and barbecue,” Mina says. “Every time I’d travel, I’d write pages of notes about: What was the barbecue in Istanbul? What was the barbecue in Lebanon? What was the barbecue in Japan?
“We weave that in and put our own spin on it, of course. In a cohesive environment, all under one roof.”
When someone says American barbecue, your mind might picture rack after rack of ribs. International Smoke will have its fair share of ribs on its expansive menu, but you can expect a heck of a lot more variety.
“What people think of as American barbecue — that might be maybe 10 percent of our menu, at most,” Mina says. You can expect some heavy-duty St. Louis ribs and some chef-driven riffs on mac and cheese.
The menu’s traditional pork ribs section gives a sense of International Smoke’s scope. “Obviously, you know the ribs are going to be the heart and soul of anything that is barbecue, smoke-related,” Mina says
International Smoke also will have Korean barbecue and Cuban dishes too. But the St. Louis ribs with herbs, garlic and a unique marinade rule. “It’s called International Smoke. Ribs will be a No. 1 seller,” Mina says.
Texans take their barbecue mighty seriously, and the chef anticipates they’ll love the American touches at International Smoke and greet the new dishes curiously and hungrily.
“What we’ve found with our restaurants is that as soon as people see the menu, they totally understand what we’re doing,” Mina says. “By no stretch of the imagination would we come to Houston and say we’re going to compete with pit-masters.”
Instead, think meats done in styles like Korean and Japanese, ones that reflect Ayesha Curry’s Jamaican and Chinese heritage, ones that reflect Mina’s Egyptian roots, along with ones influenced by the backgrounds of the kitchen’s many chefs.
“We always have different people in the kitchen, whether it’s prep cooks or anyone,” Mina says. “They’ll make different meals from their countries and from their homes.”
That means different grilling and barbecue methods, of course. “If you come into my kitchen, you’’ll see there’s seven different types of barbecue in it,” Mina says.
The Super Smoker
The crown jewel is the massive smoker, which comes in at five feet wide and seven feet tall and holds a whopping 26 racks of ribs. International Smoke’s staff couldn’t pull this off without its Mexican oven and Josper charcoal oven. The Korean short rib (one of Mina’s favorites) is a great example. It is marinated for 48 hours before it gets smoked.
The oven’s great for more than red meats, too. The wood oven charcoal-baked hot shellfish is a standout. The chefs drizzle oysters, clams, lobsters, shrimp, King Crab legs, you name it, with Espelette pepper miso butter and smoke them in the Josper. Then, they take the shellsfish to the table on hot rock salt and pour a fragrant chamomile tea over them.
Also done table side? Instant bacon, pork belly steamed buns that are smoked right in front of you. “It adds that final burst of flavor,” Mina says.
International Smoke also has a lighter side thanks to a Greens and Grains menu section. Seasonal offerings keep things light and bright, especially the grilled asparagus with smoked burrata and some very lightly toasted quinoa. The whole side is then smoked table-side. Mina expects to open this new CityCentre International Smoke with a grilled figs and tomatoes on a bed of bulgur wheat dish.
You could say Mina’s pumped for the Houston restaurant. He says he fell in love with Houston during Super Bowl LI. “Mostly because of Hugo Ortega,” he laughs. Houston’s James Beard winner took him on a culinary tour of sorts.
“I was like ‘Wow, this is definitely — it’s definitely happening here,’ ” Mina says.
Mina calls Ortega’s Xochi an eye-opening experience, from unbelievable hospitality to top quality food. Theodore Rex, Doris Metropolitan and BCN also made a significant impression on the Egyptian-born chef.
Now, International Smoke and Mina try to make their own mark on Houston’s restaurant scene.