Page 1

The Magazine of Rice University

summer 2017




R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

The Magazine of Rice University

summer 2017


Glorious Food

by David W. Leebron Page 5


Rice’s Food (R)evolution

Nishta Mehra ’05 came to Houston for an education. She stayed for the food.

The residential college system now includes serveries that offer foods reflecting Rice students’ diverse palates and nutritional requirements.

Page 6

Page 10

College Food

Good Chemistry

It’s elemental. Lesa Tran Lu ’07 cooked up a new way to teach chemistry — and students are eating it up. Page 8

Undercover Eater

Restaurant critic Alison Cook ’69 reviews a hot new Houston eatery — and we tag along to observe this award-winning writer at work. Page 14


In radically different ways, the late Frankie Mandola ’69 and Georgia Bost ’72 influenced the way Houstonians answer the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?”

S M A L L P L AT E S Inspiration from chef-owner Claire Smith ’87; pioneering restaurateur Michael Cordúa ’08; cheese monger Lindsey Schechter ’99; barbecue king Greg Gatlin ’03; burger-builders Willet Feng ’06 and Diane Wu ’07; cook Eduardo Hernandez ’12; and, healthy treats baker Jennifer Thai ’05. Page 22

PA L AT E CLEANSER Fruits and vegetables power entrepreneur Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram’s ’09 advocacy for raw and vegan diets. Page 34

Page 18

DE S S E RTS Delicate cakes or classic pies? Honey Art Café, the DIY creation of two recent grads, serves up sweet treats and art lessons. And a former rocket scientist engineers classic pies. Page 35


on the web MAGAZINE.RICE.EDU Our online magazine features select content from our print edition, online extras, your letters and a link to our flip-through magazine (and archives) via ISSUU.

Featured Contributors Jonathan Bartlett

(“Eating Italian, Family Style”) is an award-winning illustrator based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Bartlett relies on symbols and analogous narratives to breathe fresh life into a story. See more of his work at Claudia Feldman


HOW TO: Want to express your Owl allegiance in a sweet way? Pastry chef Telly Chen De Santiago demonstrates how to make and apply icing to the owl cookies pictured on the cover. Recipe and video online.

Natalie Danckers ’17


SAY CHEESE PLATE: We’ll show you a perfectly posed cheese plate and share advice from Lindsey Schechter ’99 on how to select and serve cheese. Story on Page 26. VIDEO

BEHIND THE SCENES: Videographer Brandon Martin visited burger-chan, Willet Feng and Diane Wu’s popular Greenway Plaza kiosk, for an up-close look at this unconventional burger joint. Story on Page 30.

Follow Rice Magazine on Instagram and Twitter

Do you tweet? Rice Magazine shares news and views — and connects with alumni around the world — via our Twitter account. @RiceMagazine 2 

(“Georgia’s Legacy”) is a freelance writer living in Houston. Over the years, she has covered topics ranging from homelessness to heart surgery as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. This is her first story for Rice Magazine. Her website is

(“Rice’s Food [R]evolution”) graduated this spring with a double major in English and psychology and a business minor. This fall, she will be living and working in Houston. Jennifer May Reiland

(“Georgia’s Legacy”) is a Brooklyn-based artist. The daughter of a Rice alum, she grew up near campus and learned to drive in the Rice parking lot. She creates watercolor paintings on paper and hand-drawn animations. See more of her work at

The Magazine of Rice University

summer 2017

Are you more of a visual person? Would you like to see more of Rice’s beautiful campus? Catch our behind-the-scenes photos, campus shots and more via Instagram. @Rice_Magazine

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7



Cover photograph by Jeff Fitlow


The Magazine of Rice University summer 2017 Rice Magazine is published four times a year and is sent to university alumni, faculty, staff, parents of undergraduates and friends of the university. Published by the Office of Public Affairs Linda Thrane, vice president EDITOR












Anastasia Bolshakov Jon-Paul Estrada Brandon Martin Kendall Schoemann INTERN

Taegan Howells ’18


Welcome to Our Table

N T H E S E PAG E S, we feature a menu of Rice alumni who are contributing, in myriad ways, to Houston’s reputation as one of America’s most innovative and creative food cities. It’s by no means comprehensive — honestly, where are the drinks? — and that’s partly by design. For months we’ve filled folders and spreadsheets with names and notes about alumni with stakes in breweries, vineyards, bars, farms (vegetable and animal), bakeries, ranches, restaurants and distilleries — not to mention food activists and advocates. Our research turned up great leads, and we talked to many more alumni than we could include in this issue. (Would you like to see a sequel? Write us, so we can add your name to the aforementioned folders.) As I read through these stories, I’m struck by the quality of camaraderie that’s apparent in Houston’s food world. That might seem surprising in such a competitive and unforgiving business — but it’s a thread that runs through many of these stories. Similarly, our subjects were often happily surprised to hear of each other’s Owl connections. “I didn’t know s/he went to Rice” was a frequent response during our interviews and photo shoots. We

appreciate the time these entrepreneurial alumni took out from their busy days to be interviewed, photographed or videoed — and we especially appreciate their recipes. So, what’s my place at this table? On Saturdays, I like to pick my way through the stalls at Urban Harvest’s Eastside Farmers Market — a place that writer Claudia Feldman describes in “Georgia’s Legacy,” about the late Georgia Bost ’72, who was one of the market’s founders. To judge from the farmstands, June is peak tomato season in Houston, and I’ve been going home with large quantities of red and golden globes for snacks, sandwiches, salads and salsas. And while the highest and best use of a fresh tomato is smeared with homemade mayonnaise and little else, I have spent a few weekends making sweet tomato preserves. You can find that recipe and all this issue’s content at Bon appétit! Lynn Gosnell

m aga z i n e . ric e . e du   3






M aga z i n e . Ric e . e du


I LOVED THE SPRING 2017 issue’s article on “Mapping the Questions.” I studied history as an undergrad at Rice, and I’ve always been fascinated by maps; this article really nailed the intersection of the two. I recently completed an MBA program in which I took a special interest in storytelling in a business context. I would have loved to have taken the new course in spatial humanities had it been offered while I was at Rice.  — Kyle Clarke ’10 IN REFERENCE TO THE ARTICLE “Mapping the Questions,” please also refer to the book by my fellow School of Architecture alumnus William (Bill) Rankin (Rice class of 2000 and 2002): “After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century,” as well as his fabulous website,, which has relevant work.   — Maureen Hull ’00   I WAS A BIT DISAPPOINTED at the gratuitous disparagement of the food service during the Central Kitchen era, such as during my tenure at Rice from 1968 to 1972. I realize this was before the days of college “serveries” that now cater to overfinicky palates of today’s students — some might say “spoiled,” what with demands for “Thai-chili meatballs, chorizo tacos, watermelon beet salad and hoisin-glazed eggplant.” 

It was also in the days when the costs of college had not skyrocketed out of sight. Eating the Central Kitchen food was like barracks living in the military, a small“d” democratizing experience. I can assure you that no one flunked Physics 100 because of the food; staying up all night playing bridge was the usual cause of that. The Central Kitchen and residential college kitchens were staffed by very fine people doing an excellent job of providing nourishing food at a reasonable cost. My fellow grubs and I had the privilege of working closely with dedicated foodservice ladies such as Annie Noel, Wanda Chevalier, Bernice Smith and others. Your photo of the chocolate-dipped donuts with toasted meringue reminded me of the cream puffs we had in our era. These would be brought to the table after the main course by a freshman waiter, accompanied by the bewildering order from the table’s upperclassman host for “five no-coffees and six no-teas, and that doesn’t count what you don’t want,” necessitating some quick combinatorial analysis and pre-Math 100 subtraction by the bemused freshman waiter. Freshmen waiting tables was, again, a democratizing experience. I just wanted you to have a different perspective on Rice’s “dining revolution.”  — John Wallace ’72 Nonprofit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Permit #7549 Houston, Texas

Rice University, Creative Services–MS 95 P.O. Box 1892, Houston, TX 77251-1892

Brain Food

Photo by Jeff Fitlow


of college food. Today, the chef-prepared dining options in Rice’s serveries include Thai-chili meatballs, chorizo tacos, watermelon beet salad, hoisin-glazed eggplant and homemade desserts — like these chocolatedipped donuts with toasted meringue. Our summer issue will be dedicated to Rice’s influence on Houston’s burgeoning food scene and the campus’s own dining revolution. Donuts by Chef Telly De Santiago Chen.

OUR HOUSEHOLD GETS ALUMNI magazines from Rice, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Graziadio School of Business and Management, Pepperdine University, Bowdoin College and Northwestern University. (Don’t ask — that’s just the two of us, not our 10 children!). This is so outstanding, innovative and motivating.  — Suzy Rhodes Casey ’62

Have a comment, criticism or story idea? Write to us at 4 

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

Robert B. Tudor III, chairman; Edward B. “Teddy” Adams Jr.; J.D. Bucky Allshouse; Nancy Packer Carlson; Albert Chao; T. Jay Collins; Mark Dankberg; Ann Doerr; Douglas Lee Foshee; Terrence Gee; Lawrence Guffey; James T. Hackett; Tommy Huie; Patti Lipoma Kraft; Robert T. Ladd; Charles Landgraf; Brian Patterson; David Rhodes; Ruth Simmons; Jeffery Smisek; Amy Sutton; Gloria Meckel Tarpley; Guillermo Treviño; Scott Wise; Huda Zoghbi ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE RS

David W. Leebron, president; Marie Lynn Miranda, provost; Kathy Collins, vice president for Finance; Klara Jelinkova, vice president for IT and chief information officer; Kevin Kirby, vice president for Administration; Caroline Levander, vice president for Strategic Initiatives and Digital Education; Yvonne Romero Da Silva, vice president for Enrollment; Allison Kendrick Thacker, vice president for Investments and treasurer; Linda Thrane, vice president for Public Affairs; Richard A. Zansitis, vice president and general counsel; Darrow Zeidenstein, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations E DITORIAL OFFICES

Creative Services–MS 95 P.O. Box 1892 Houston, TX 77251-1892 Phone: 713-348-6768 POSTMASTE R

Send address changes to: Rice University Development Services–MS 80 P.O. Box 1892 Houston, TX 77251-1892 © July 2017 Rice University



DAVID W. LEEBRON OOD, GLORIOUS FOOD,” from our students, and is one of the elea song from the 1960s musiments in our rankings for “best quality of cal “Oliver!,” somehow life” and “happiest” students. Unlike many remains deeply entrenched schools, we don’t outsource our dining serin my memory. It still seems vices. Our chefs are remarkably dedicated incongruously joyous in the context of to food quality, food health and to our studepicting Dickens’ Victorian workhouse. dents. And whether it’s the crepe maker in Yet the song reminds us that food is basic Seibel Servery (for Lovett and Will Rice) or sustenance and yet, in different contexts, the pizza oven at Duncan and McMurtry, a luxury in which rare ingredients and we aim to make the meals a positive aspect talents combine to make extraordinary of the college experience. meals. In the United States and across As for myself, I will admit being a the world, we are challenged still, shock“foodie” and have in particular two ingly, with significant starvation on the vices: cheese and chocolate. I claim (this one hand and the problems of obesity on is unverified) to have the largest collection the other. of books about cheese in Houston, and I Food is science, and it is art. Among the occasionally host cheese tastings for stumost avant-garde movements is “molecdents and others — the last one featured ular gastronomy,” cooking based on the 27 different cheeses! (At least there is no true science of food. After all, the process age requirement on cheese consumption, of cooking is simply a transfer of energy but we do of course have to forego the that causes a series of molecular changes, wine pairing for the students!) and taste is simply the result of chemicals Last fall, I learned about Houston interacting with receptors on your tongue or in your nose. Dairymaids, perhaps the only store in the city devoted more The understanding of science leads to the engineering of or less entirely to cheese. It’s located on Airline Drive in the food, indeed to food that can fool us as to its real ingredients Heights, and recently I finally was able to make a Saturday and origins. And for those of us who occasionally frequent expedition. They were having a cheese tasting that mornthe temples of high cuisine, we see that the art of visual preing, and each customer got to taste six preselected cheeses. sentation is given just as much emphasis as the food itself. I waited my turn, finally approached the counter, and was Food is also a deep part of our histories, greeted by, “Oh, Dr. Leebron, it’s nice to see cultures and the fabric of our lives. We you here.” I was delighted to learn that the celebrate with food, and in many cultures woman behind the counter was a recent we mourn with food. We identify different Rice grad, an engineering major who had styles of food by their countries or regions a great job in an engineering firm. She so of origin, and the ability to make distincloved cheese, however, that she voluntions on that basis seems more common teered at the cheese store. She then told than for the knowledge of language, me she would introduce me to the owner, literature or architecture. Relatively Rice grad Lindsey Schechter, whose story few Americans, for example, could tell of founding Houston Dairymaids is feayou about the differences between Chinese, Japanese and tured on Page 26. Lindsey had worked in the restaurant Korean temples, but most could distinguish the very differbusiness and then saw an entrepreneurial opportunity to ent major elements of each country’s cuisine. Food reflects open a cheese supplier in Houston. almost every aspect of a country or region — its location, In this issue, you will see Rice grads who have found their geography, agriculture and livestock, economy and aesthetpassion in food — and those who have left an indelible mark ics. And at the same time, food is an opportunity to creatively on the way Houston eats. Running a restaurant in particular bring cultures together, as in fusion cuisine. is a difficult and complicated business, and thus it’s not surFood is a part of college life, and not always one of the prising to find Rice graduates succeeding in it. We celebrate better parts. I was exchanging thoughts on this topic with the Rice-food connection (pun not intended) in this issue. one of our former trustees of a similar age, and I noted the But to return to the beginning of this essay, when we enjoy college food we experienced was often unidentifiable. She the very best in the world of food, it’s important to rememresponded that she wasn’t sure whether that was a good ber those who simply don’t have enough. So, go have a great thing or a bad thing. No, I don’t have fond memories of meal, and then send in a donation to the Food Bank, your chipped beef on toast or sloppy Joes. local religious institution that provides meals for the homeAt Rice, on the other hand, our food now wins accolades less or Meals on Wheels.

Glorious Food

As for myself, I will admit being a “foodie” and have in particular two vices: cheese and chocolate.

m aga z i n e . ric e . e du   5


College Food

As an Indian-American student who grew up in Tennessee, I thought my palate was pretty wideranging — until I moved to Houston to attend Rice.


n August 2001, my parents rented a van, packed it with clothes, extra-long twin bedding and dorm decorations, and then drove me from Memphis to Houston — where I would attend Rice. At the time, I knew very little about my new city, having visited campus just once before. What I did know was that Rice immediately felt like home; my prevailing thought during O-Week was, “I will be happy here.” And I was. Like many alums, I have Rice to thank for introducing me to my spouse and some of my closest friends, for shaping my career path, fueling my intellectual curiosity and exposing me to mentors who helped me discover myself and define my values. But I never anticipated that moving to Houston and attending Rice would completely change my palate and the way I think about food. It’s not that I didn’t grow up around good food — my mother is an incredible cook whose repertoire includes specialty dishes from the Indian state of Punjab, where both of my parents were born, as well as a variety of international dishes; she makes a mean shrimp creole and a damn fine margarita. Plus, Memphis is no slouch when it comes to food heritage; my girlhood memories are punctuated with meals of ribs and pulled-pork sandwiches (slaw on, please). But the culinary landscape of my hometown was fairly limited: barbecue, traditional Southern “meat and three” plates, cornbread and fruit cobbler. There were family-owned Italian restaurants serving favorites like lasagna and chicken Parmesan and some Tex-Mex restaurants that I later came to disdain in the way that only someone who has lived in Texas can. Houston broadened my food horizons right from the start. I had never seen or tasted a banh mi, which is surely the best sandwich known to man. I was delighted that inexpensive, delicious and filling meals were just a short drive ILLUSTRATION BY RACHEL LEVIT

from campus. Much farther away was Chinatown, where my Baker College crew went for dim sum one weekend during freshman year. I’ll never forget my friends Isaac and Shining speaking Cantonese to the waitresses pushing carts of treasures around Ocean Palace’s giant ballroom. I’m still not sure what I ate that day — other than a rooster’s foot — but that was part of the excitement. College is, after all, about new adventures. In my senior year, I started learning to cook, thanks in large part to a class taught by Chef Roger Elkhouri. We would meet late on a weeknight evening, after the servery had closed, and Chef Roger would teach us how to prepare everything from fresh mozzarella to herb-crusted pork tenderloin. More than just recipes and techniques, Chef Roger passed along his enthusiasm for food and his insistence on precision balanced with a sense of play. It was through his class that I discovered the deep sense of joy that I feel when I am able to feed someone I love. During that year, I instituted “family dinner” on Sunday night at the rental house I shared with three of my best friends. Each week, I’d attempt a new recipe, spending all day in the kitchen, sending friends Dave and Phil out to Fiesta grocery store for ingredients, recruiting Rebecca to dice and stir, while we sang loudly (and badly) along to our old-school, pre-Pandora-era mix CDs. Though I now live in a Houston suburb with my wife and son, family dinner still reigns — and not just on Sunday nights. My son, who is almost 5, has been my sous chef since he was a toddler. He loves to measure ingredients, flip pancakes and chop vegetables. His palate is already a million times more diverse than mine was when I came to Rice: hummus, dosa, cochinita pibil, Bolognese sauce, pimiento cheese, challah, lemongrass tofu — all rotate through his daily life. And when he’s sick? I cook him chicken soup, using Chef Roger’s recipe.  — NISHTA MEHRA ’05

Mehra created this recipe in honor of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. It was originally published on her blog, CA R DA MOM SHORT BR EA D COOKIE S 1 1/3 cup flour ¾ cup very high-quality butter, at room temperature ½ cup sugar 1 tablespoon ground cardamom ½ teaspoon vanilla ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt (¼ teaspoon if you substitute table salt) Optional: 1 egg, plus sanding or regular sugar for decorating Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until blended. Mix in the vanilla, cardamom and salt. Add the flour in a few additions, stirring until a soft dough just comes together. Gather the dough into a large disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Allow the dough to soften a bit before rolling it out to quarter-inch thickness. Cut out any shape your heart desires, placing the cutout cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets. Optional: Before baking, brush the cookies with a bit of egg wash (1 egg beaten, thinned with water), then sprinkle with sugar. Bake cookies 15–20 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes before eating warm (with tea!), or cool completely to store in an airtight container. m aga z i n e . ric e . e du   7


Unc o n ve n t i o na l wi s d o m

The Cooking Chemist

Bridging a profession in teaching and a love of cooking has turned out to be the perfect recipe for Lesa Tran Lu ’07. After earning an undergraduate degree, she stayed on to complete her Ph.D. in chemistry, and then started teaching at Rice. A lifelong cook, Lu soon found a way to bring her favorite hobby into the classroom. “To me, it was the perfect topic I could use to introduce chemistry to students of all backgrounds.” Besides altering recipes to learn how different components chemically react and change the outcome, Lu has enlisted the help of chefs from Houston’s best restaurants, including Chris Shepherd, owner of Underbelly and a James Beard Foundation award-winning chef. Guest speakers share their culinary methods, creating discussions about the science behind their creations, and students conduct experiments in an unconventional laboratory setting to illustrate the science involved in the composition, transformation and perception of food. F O OD FA M I LY

Since my parents have been in the Houston food industry for as long as I can remember, I learned how to cook at a very young age. As I studied chemistry at Rice, I began paying more attention to the science behind the recipes and ingredients I used in the kitchen. I realized that cooking is chemistry in action, but much more palatable in taste and presentation. K I T C H E N C R E AT IONS

Active learning, as opposed to passive learning (i.e., traditional lecture-style teaching or memorizing), engages students in constructing and reinforcing their own knowledge base. This allows students to take full control of their own learning experience, which ultimately leads to higher retention and more thoughtful reflection of the knowledge they acquired. Active learning techniques are deeply 8 

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7


integrated into all of my classes, from collaborative hands-on kitchen experiments in the Chemistry of Cooking class to frequent group discussions in my General Chemistry class.

projects are open-ended to allow students to go through trial and error. On several occasions, students’ recipes completely fail, which ultimately forces them to improvise and get creative to pull off a successful (though unintended) dish.


My best moments are when students showcase all that they have learned when preparing for and completing their final presentations. These student projects are as if your favorite reality cooking show had a baby with a scientific symposium. It’s impressive to see my students take what they learned in the classroom to demonstrate and apply their knowledge in the most creative ways possible. Those are the moments I am the proudest.


I often times create and experiment with my own recipes, particularly for desserts and Asian cuisine. In fact, my mom and I even taught Rice chefs how to make some Chinese dishes at the college serveries and developed the recipe for the Korean beef taco at 4.tacO in the Rice Student Center. It’s been their best-seller since day No. 1. S T U DE N T B E C OM E S T E AC H E R


Experiments fail all the time in class, but that’s the beauty of it all. Many of the experiments are designed to fail to demonstrate the importance of various ingredients and methods used in a recipe. Other experiments and

It still feels surreal for me to stand at the front of the classroom than to sit behind a student’s desk. But there is also an immense sense of belonging I feel having been on campus for 14 years straight. I definitely call Rice my second home.

Here’s a comfort food recipe from Lesa Tran Lu’s family recipe file. Serve these sweet, savory and slightly spicy wings with a bowl of warm white rice. GINGE R SOY CHICK EN W INGS 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

2 pounds chicken wings

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup warm water

3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

¼ teaspoon ground ginger ½ teaspoon cornstarch

6 stalks green onions, julienned

There were many times I considered going elsewhere, but I always found the best opportunities for me here at Rice. Being here for so long has also given me a unique sense of empathy for my students. I can relate to both undergraduate and graduate students, having been both, on a different level than most faculty members. E DUC AT IONA L R E S E A R C H

During my undergraduate and graduate studies, I was part of a team in Lon Wilson’s lab that created and developed carbon nanomaterial-based drugs for stem cell therapy and medical diagnostics. The carbon nanotube drug, which we called the Gadonanotube, improved the brightness of MRI diagnostics and allows for stem cells to be visualized and magnetically targeted when injected into a beating heart. While finishing up my Ph.D., I primarily looked for teaching faculty positions. Because of a set of serendipitous events, my current position at Rice was created

and allowed me to make a smooth transition out of the Wilson lab and into my new role as an instructor. Though it wasn’t the research that initially convinced me to stay, the extraordinary experience and relationships I had at Rice motivated me to serve campus in a different capacity. I now conduct educational research in my department to better understand student learning and attitudes in the chemistry classroom setting. A DDE D I NG R E DI E N T

I am always interested in finding other Houston-area chefs and business owners to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for cooking and science through different culinary topics presented throughout the semester. Having Chef Johnny Curet and the rest of the Housing and Dining team involved is a treat and privilege for my students, who get to see all the hard work that goes on in the servery kitchens. This class is always evolving, and it improves every year. — INTERVIEW BY TRACEY RHOADES

In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, water, ground ginger and cornstarch. Set aside. Rinse chicken wings and pat dry. Remove tips and discard; separate each wing at the joint into two pieces. Season with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken wings and fry until goldenbrown on each side, about 8–10 minutes. Remove wings from pan and drain on paper towels. In the same pan over medium heat, saute ginger and green onions until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add soy sauce mixture and stir until just combined. Add chicken wings and turn them often to coat them as the glaze reduces. Cook until the wings are coated and cooked through. Season with black pepper and serve. m aga z i n e . ric e . e du   9

Rice’s Fo (R)evolu MAIN C OU R S E

The Seibel Servery in May 2017 Inset: The Rice Institute East Hall Kitchen circa 1913 10 

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

ood ution

Over the past 20 years, food service at Rice has gone from a central kitchen model to one where food is planned, prepared and served at the residential colleges by culinary professionals. Today, they’re dishing up some of the best campus food in the country. Here’s the story behind Rice’s food (r)evolution. By Natalie Danckers ’17 Photographs by Jeff Fitlow


wenty years ago, Rice dining manager Julie Bogar was sitting in her office when the phone rang and a voice said: “Julie, the pies are on Main Street.” A cherry pie-laden cart had fallen from a Housing and Dining truck en route to a college unit kitchen. In the Central Kitchen era, food was transported from the main kitchen to each college, providing ample opportunity for logistical issues. Occasionally, Bogar had to use her own car as a means of food transportation. “In the evening before I went home, I would just drive around to all the kitchens in my little Volvo wagon. If a steamer was down, I’d drive the broccoli over to a different college and pop it in the steamer and go back. Every day my car smelled like a different vegetable,” she said. m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   11

Now, after moving to a dining model where chefs and their teams create and serve meals in six serveries — South, Sid Richardson, Siebel, Baker, West and North — Rice’s food has been highly ranked by USA Today and Princeton Review. With menu items like chicken Thai coconut soup and beet poke bowls with radish sprouts, it’s unsurprising that more than 90 percent of Rice students are also satisfied with the food. The current servery system’s success, however, came after years of pushback and challenges during the transition. In spring 1988, a Central Kitchen student employee published a guest column in the Rice Thresher. The column outlined the poor quality of food, citing “rancid” meat. Joyce Rubash, food service director at the time, immediately fired the student, but Marion Hicks, the director of Food and Housing, rehired him. Throughout their time at Rice, Rubash and Hicks faced criticism for Central Kitchen’s food quality, health code violations and unresponsiveness to student feedback. According to Rubash, the issue of food quality came down to what chefs were doing once the food was trucked from Central Kitchen to the unit kitchens. “It’s not poor quality food, it’s just poor quality when it’s served. When it leaves here it’s great,” she said in an interview with KTRU, Rice’s student-run radio station. No matter the initial quality of the food, the transportation process and

Senior Executive Chef Roger Elkhouri, West Colleges Servery

professionally trained culinary personnel. One of the first hires was Chef Ben Fonbuena, who was instrumental in improving kitchen sanitation. Fonbuena, who joined Rice in 1997, was not only a certified executive chef, but also a licensed sanitarian. While restructuring Central Kitchen, he also began a training program for the existing staff. “Ben laid the foundation for our coming success,” said Ditman. As Chef Ben began his overhaul of kitchen sanitation and safety, Rice hired a consulting firm to address student dissatisfaction with the food. The firm found that “the main impediments to better food are the small size of college kitchens and the small number of people served by each kitchen.” A committee of students and faculty proposed that a joint Wiess-Hanszen servery and other larger facilities would enable kitchens to prepare more food on site, increasing meal quality. The proposal of a joint servery was met with resistance from faculty members and the vast majority of the student body. Fears ranged from increased tuition to loss of college culture. To engage the student body, Ditman and Bogar attended College Cabinet meetings to introduce ideas to students and alumni and ask for feedback. “One of the things that frightened me was that one student said, ‘I don’t care if the food sucks, just don’t change anything.’ That’s hard to work with,” Ditman recalled. The town halls were ultimately successful in communicating the potential benefits of shared serveries. “The upside to all those conversations was that considerable care went into designing the system so that it wouldn’t be disruptive to residential college culture,” said Dean John Hutchinson, who was master of Wiess College at the time of the discussions. Ultimately, the construction of the joint Hanszen-Wiess servery and a new servery in the North colleges went forward with feedback from Rice chefs. “In general, the chefs had a strong hand in developing the kitchens,” said David Rodd, Rice’s staff architect. With the new facilities being built, it became possible for Housing and Dining to implement the servery model. First, however, they would have to put it to the test.

Since 2010, chefs have enjoyed a close relationship with Rice’s Farmers Market vendors, ordering roughly 25 percent of their ingredients from merchants within a 200-mile radius. unsupervised preparation in the unit kitchens produced problematic results. However, complaints from the students were rarely directed at their unit chefs, with whom they had closer relationships. “Central Kitchen was vilified; everybody loved their staff so if there were any issues with the food, it was blamed on Central Kitchen,” said Mark Ditman, current associate vice president for Housing and Dining services. Ditman came to Rice in 1996 after being recruited to address the students’ complaints. A few years later, he beat out competition to become the new director when Hicks retired. Ditman described the beginning of his time at the university as difficult. “For me, it seemed to get worse every day for two years. It’s hard when you try to act as an agent of change.” One of the most disruptive and difficult changes involved terminating employees who were not positively contributing as kitchen staff members: In the first two years under Ditman, the dining staff changed dramatically. In one case, a chef at Baker was let go for spray painting offensive graffiti on the walls of the kitchen serving area. Ditman had a long-term vision of improving food quality by giving chefs more autonomy, but this plan required 12 

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

Chef Roger Elkhouri was hired in fall 2000 to work at Brown College’s kitchen. He and his team worked with Central Kitchen for six months before taking full ownership of Brown’s kitchen. The process of independently ordering food and training new staff was relatively simple for Chef Roger — the major issue was that the kitchens were not outfitted for from-scratch meal preparation. “We didn’t have the space or the equipment,” Elkhouri said. Nevertheless, Chef Roger’s installation was a success. Shortly after he began cooking, the Brown kitchen was so popular that a secret early mealtime for its students had to be instituted. It was clear that with the right staff in place, the servery model could work. The WiessHanszen servery, known as South Servery, began to operate independently from Central Kitchen, and a semester later, North Servery did the same. “The real issue for us was that South and North serveries were incredibly successful right away, so the challenge was how to maintain a sense of equity for the colleges that weren’t attached to a servery,” Ditman said. Meanwhile, the remaining Central Kitchen-supplied kitchens were outfitted with storage and preparation capabilities. In spring 2001, the Thresher announced that Central Kitchen would be closed the following fall — all meals would be prepared in individual college serveries. In 2002, a Wall Street Journal reporter came to Rice to review the university’s food. She visited South Servery, where Chef Roger was located at the time. The college food rankings came out a few weeks later: Rice was given the only three-star ranking; only Princeton was ranked higher with four stars. “To us, this symbolized that things had finally turned around,” Ditman said. Today, the serveries are used for much more than food preparation. For example, Rice offers two cooking-related undergraduate courses: The Chemistry of Cooking and Cooking With Chef Roger. While many institutions offer courses similar to The Chemistry of Cooking, few are taught by a senior executive chef and full-time chemistry professor. Through his course, Chef Roger hopes to teach students the science and technique behind healthy, delicious food. “The two most important things are passion and science. With those, you can do anything,” he said. The serveries are also a space for community engagement. Chef Johnny Curet, who is now Rice’s

Executive Chef Kyle Hardwick, Seibel Servery

dining director, created an internship program for Houston high school students interested in pursuing a culinary career. The program has benefitted the serveries in more ways than one. “It uplifts the whole group, because the career staff looks and sees the high school students coming in and taking this very seriously. We’ve had several who graduated and came to work for us while

Daily entree offerings range from deep-fried cauliflower to steamed bao buns. For dessert, students line up on Wednesday nights for Chef Roger’s giant cinnamon rolls.

Pastry Chef Telly Chen De Santiago, North Colleges Servery

going to local culinary schools and some who have gone on to the Culinary Institute of America,” Ditman said. Additionally, Rice chefs support the community by buying locally. Since 2010, chefs have enjoyed a close relationship with Rice’s Farmers Market vendors, ordering roughly 25 percent of their ingredients from merchants within a 200-mile radius. The serveries feature honey, vegetables and meat, such as free-range bison, from Houston-area farms and ranches. As a result, students enjoy dishes like Chef Kyle Hardwick’s Farmers Market roasted root vegetables. Daily entree offerings range from deep-fried cauliflower to steamed bao buns. For dessert, students line up on Wednesday nights for Chef Roger’s giant cinnamon rolls. Rice’s chefs aren’t resting on their laurels, though. “Everything in life is evolving, especially cooking,” Chef Roger said. His kitchen recently started serving jackfruit as a creative meat substitute. For those who weren’t at Rice when the kitchens were serving Stouffer’s lasagna as a special meal, it can be difficult to realize how far the meal service has come. “Mark Ditman’s vision changed the quality of dining on campus extraordinarily,” said Hutchinson. “It went from being really difficult to look forward to meals to getting excited to visit the servery to see what the chef has created that day.” Seconds, anyone? ◆ m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   13

Undercover Eater


R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

How food critic Alison Cook ’69 gets an inside look at Houston’s restaurant scene — even when everyone’s looking at her. MAIN C OU R S E

By Jennifer Latson Photograph by Tommy LaVergne m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   15

A Alison Cook doesn’t make reservations. When the award-winning restaurant critic needs to book a table in advance, she lets her dining companions make reservations in their own names — and she lets them arrive first.

That’s how I ended up sitting alone at a buzzy new dim sum restaurant in the Galleria recently, though not for long. “I usually give people five minutes — sometimes 10 — just to see how they’re treated before I show up. Are they welcomed? Do they get a table they’re happy with?,” she explained when she joined me. Luckily, the staff at Yauatcha, the Michelin-starred restaurant and teahouse, had been accommodating even to an unknown eater like me and seated me at a sunny table by the window near the front. Once, at another celebrated restaurant, Cook met up with a friend who’d shown up first and been shuffled into a dark corner. As soon as Cook arrived, the restaurant staff re-seated them at a more desirable table. The correction failed to impress the critic. 16 

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

“That was worse,” she said, of being moved. “It was creepy.” There’s no denying that Cook is a celebrity in the food world. She’s won the industry’s top honors, including the MFK Fisher Award for Distinguished Writing from the James Beard Foundation, along with two James Beard Awards for restaurant reviewing — the Oscars of the culinary arts. Being identified is an occupational hazard she’s accustomed to. After more than three decades as a food critic — the past 15 years at the Houston Chronicle, preceded by stints at Texas Monthly and House & Garden magazine, among others — her face has become familiar to restaurateurs. Or, at least, her hair. “My hair has always been a dead giveaway,” she said of her long, silvery locks. “It’s so thick, and there’s just so much of it.” She once dyed it purple, but that only made her more recognizable. Asked if she’d ever consider using a disguise, she scoffed. “I would feel so stupid and so selfconscious,” she said. In any case, the point is probably moot in the internet age. Five years ago, the food blog Eater Houston posted her photo online after she appeared at a public event, bringing her decades of official anonymity to an end. Cook has resigned herself to the likelihood that she’ll be recognized, and doesn’t think it compromises her ability to do her job. Since restaurants don’t get any advance notice that she’s coming, there’s little chance that the meal itself will be any different. “The food is the food,” she said. “They can give me a bigger piece of fish, or the best-looking steak, but it’s pretty easy to tell if they’ve done that.” The service level, of course, can be upped to suit her VIP status — but that, too, has a tendency to backfire. “It doesn’t always change for the better. It can get very hover-y,” she said. But she was fairly confident she could go incognito at Yauatcha. Local restaurateurs, of course, would recognize her in an instant, but the staff at this Houston offshoot of a London hotspot were unlikely to know her by sight — or, she thought, to care. After all, they already had the Michelin star. She was curious to find out whether the food measured up to the hype. I was curious to see her process in action.

While I’ll leave the restaurant reviewing to Cook, I can highly recommend dining with her. For one thing, she knows how to order. From the morel crystal dumplings to the roasted duck pumpkin puffs, the dishes were delicious and just slightly exotic to my uncultured palate. And despite her years of fine dining, Cook hasn’t grown immune to the joy of eating a well-cooked meal. In fact, by the time we were halfway through our first course, she was downright gleeful. I was gratified to see that she was as delighted as I was by the pumpkin puffs, which were perfectly deep fried and adorably shaped to look like tiny pumpkins. “These are just beautiful,” she gushed. “The flavors, the texture; it’s so well done.” Three decades as a critic hasn’t made her jaded; if anything, she’s mellowed with age. Early in her career, she wrote a review so scathing that the restaurant’s owners hosted an event at which Cook was burned in effigy. Her sister attended the event. “She came back and told me, ‘It was actually pretty fun,’” Cook recalled. Another restaurant once banned her from its multiple locations. It made the policy clear with a no-smoking-style sign on the door — Cook’s name with a circle around it and a red slash through it. Cook doesn’t regret the reviews that have prompted backlash; part of her job is to tell the truth regardless of the repercussions. But she has toned down her tendency toward snarkiness over the years, she said. When she finds flaws with a restaurant, she tries to at least make her criticism constructive. “I’ve become more merciful,” she said. “As you get older, you become less intoxicated with your own power. There’s no joy in ripping something apart.” That doesn’t mean the spark has gone out of her reviews, though; if a restaurant disappoints, she lets the public know. She pulled no punches in a zero-star review, last fall, of a pricy new steakhouse that didn’t measure up to its acclaim. “I love no steak better than a rib-eye, but this one — a $54 investment — was a mess. I took most of it home, where it made my dogs happier than it had made me,” she wrote. While Cook may not have abandoned her edginess, she’s eager to give new restaurants a chance. She likes to wait as long as six months after a restaurant opens before writing a review, to give its

And despite her years of fine dining, Cook hasn’t grown immune to the joy of eating a well-cooked meal. In fact, by the time we were halfway through our first course, she was downright gleeful.

staff time to smooth out the rough edges. Her trip to Yauatcha was more a fact-finding mission than a reporting trip. She’ll visit it again before writing a review; in fact, she visits each restaurant at least three times before writing about it. Of course, anything can be wearying if you do it enough; even eating at Houston’s hottest restaurants. On her off days, she admits, she sometimes craves nothing more than a homemade PB&J. And her thorough reviewing style comes with a hefty tab. She feels lucky that, in a time of massive media downsizing, her research budget hasn’t gotten the ax. She feels immensely lucky to have the job she has — especially in Houston, which she believes to be America’s best food city. “I’ve been saying that for many years,” she explained. “It’s hilarious to me that people are just finally figuring that out. But it’s also really satisfying.” One void that’s long existed in Houston’s restaurant scene, however, is a really exceptional dim sum place — there are some good ones, but nothing like what she encountered when visiting Vancouver, B.C., Cook said. So she had high hopes for Yauatcha. She doesn’t take notes during meals: it’s too cumbersome, and it interferes with the dining experience. Instead, she takes pictures of each dish with her iPhone camera — some to post on Twitter and Instagram, and the rest just to remind her what she had. It’s hard to say if that’s what gave her away, or the fact that I was scribbling notes — as unobtrusively as possible — on a notebook in my lap. Or maybe it was her hair. But halfway through our meal, a server came to refill our teacups with a subtle, smoky oolong. “How are you this afternoon, Alison?” she asked nonchalantly. When she walked away, Cook sighed. “It’s over,” she said of her anonymity. “It was nice while it lasted.” Still, the service didn’t become hover-y, and the dumplings didn’t get bigger, so Cook’s disappointment at being outed was short-lived. In the end, her enjoyment of the meal won out. “I’ve got to admit, I’m impressed,” she said. “How impressed? I would come to the Galleria to eat this food.” ◆ m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   17


E AT I N G I TA L I A N , F A M I LY S T Y L E Frankie B. Mandola’s Houston food legacy includes poboys, calamari and meatballs. B Y S U K H A D A TAT K E


Ric e M aga z i n e | wi n t e r 2 0 1 7

GOING OUT WITH FRANKIE B. MANDOLA ’69 COULD B E A N A R D U O U S TA S K F O R THOSE WHO KNEW HIM WELL. “When you walked down the street with him or entered a grocery store, he’d start chatting with people. A five-minute visit would stretch into an hour. People just knew him wherever he went,” said Bubba Butera, a cousin and longtime associate. In his four-decadelong career as a restaurateur in the Bayou City, Mandola owned and operated at least a dozen eateries. He and others in his family have been credited with introducing Italian food into the Texas foodscape. Mandola, who died last year at age 68, was born into the food business. He grew up in Houston’s East End or Second Ward, part of a large Italian immigrant community. At home, Mandola was raised on the tastes and smells of the distant country his grandparents had left behind. His parents owned a grocery store and meat market, where he worked and hung out with cousins. “There was always a stove in the back of all the stores where the women would cook. Our grandmothers would cook these huge Sunday meals for 50 or 60 people,” he told the Austin Chronicle several years ago. It is little wonder that Mandola tried to infuse some of these tastes into his menus. At Mandola’s Steak Grill, for instance, people were treated to such unusual combinations as steak pizzaiola, meatball burgers and Italian fried pickles. After graduating from Rice, where he played both football and baseball and earned a degree in business, he joined the Army Reserves. In 1974, he and brother Luke Mandola Sr. opened their first restaurant, Ragin’ Cajun Seafood (originally named Ray Hay’s Cajun Poboys). That business famously introduced Houstonians to 6-foot poboys and other Cajun delicacies. “My father loved food from Louisiana,” said Johnny B. Mandola. “One of my happiest memories from childhood is sitting on barstools at the restaurant with my sisters, and helping Dad assemble the poboys.” In 1983, Frankie Mandola and his cousin Damian opened Damian’s Cucina Italiana. At the time, most Houstonians had never heard of fettucine Alfredo, fried calamari or even eggplant Parmesan. In the more than three decades that followed, Mandola came to be known as much for his food as for his quintessentially Italian traits — an affable personality and a big guffaw to match. Among all his creations, Mandola’s favorite was his catering company, because it allowed him to do what he loved most — interact with people on happy occasions: weddings, tailgates, birthday parties, house parties and so on. “He loved to show up at events, even after he became famous,” said Robert Martinez, catering director of Mandola’s Catering and Damian’s Cucina Italiana. “He was chef at one party, sous chef at another, front house manager at a third. Wherever there was a void to be filled, he’d fill it.” Mandola always had a soft spot in his heart for Rice, and espeILLUSTRATION BY JONATHAN BARTLETT

cially for Rice Athletics. He once repurposed some AstroTurf that had been pulled from the Rice football stadium as carpeting at Frankie B. Mandola’s Steaks & Burgers on Kirby Drive, which closed in 2003. “When Rice Athletics approached him for catering, he’d often donate food or sell it at $5 or $10 a plate if they didn’t have the budget. He would say he’d rather lose money than say no to Rice,” Butera said. After Mandola died, a memorial service in the Grand Hall of Rice Memorial Center included a spread of his favorite dishes from several of his restaurants. But he’ll be remembered best for the way he lived, not the way he cooked, according to those who knew him best. “For the way he treated people,” said Johnny B. Mandola. “Treat people in your restaurant the way you would in our house. Food is important, but not more than how people feel, he would say.” ◆

This appetizer has been on Damian’s Cucina Italiana menu for 34 years. SH R IM P DA MIA N A PPETIZE R Servings: 1 4 large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tail on 1 fluid ounce clarified butter 1 teaspoon chopped garlic 1 teaspoon chopped shallot Pinch lemon zest 1 fluid ounce chicken or veal stock 2 fluid ounces white wine 2 fluid ounces lemon juice ¾ ounce cold butter Chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste Heat clarified butter in a skillet over medium heat; add shrimp, garlic, shallot and lemon zest. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add stock, wine and lemon juice. When liquids have reduced (1 minute), add cold butter, parsley, salt and pepper to taste. When sauce is a creamy consistency, remove from heat and serve. (Recipe contributed by Johnny B. Mandola.) m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   19



Richmond and Eastside is a magical place on Saturday mornings. Shoppers wander from booth to booth, tempted by carrots just plucked from the dirt, beets the size of softballs, Brussels sprouts still on the stalk. But the glistening vegetables are only part of the show. Vendors also sell mounds of perfectly ripe fruit, duck eggs, cheeses, pasta, grass-fed beef, native plants — all locally produced. Georgia Bost, the scientist-farmer who helped sow the seeds for this bustling market, died in 2012 at the age of 62, three years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and early dementia. Her death was a tragic loss — she was a pioneering horticulturist and teacher who helped change the way Houstonians think about food. As far back as the 1970s, Bost dedicated herself to organic gardening and native plants that could flourish without pesticides or extensive watering. She was a dedicated scholar researching native hibiscus plants, creating hybrids that were not only beautiful but edible. During her research, she discovered that the hardy plants even sucked up toxins from the soil. “She was a rocket scientist in the way she used plants to help people and society,” says Mark Bowen, a horticulturist and native 20 

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

plant specialist who worked closely with Bost in her heyday. Bost pictured in “She definitely helped the 1971 Campanile Urban Harvest (a local nonprofit that teaches people how to grow their own fruits and vegetables and sponsors local farmers markets), and she was a great person to bounce ideas off of. She was always the smartest person in the room.” Bob Randall, Urban Harvest’s first executive director, remembers Bost’s passion for chemicalfree, environmentally friendly and energy-efficient gardening. “Some leaders are motivated by power or wealth, and some are interested in helping others to lead a better life,” Randall says. “Georgia was in that second group.”  Bost was born and raised in Ponca City, Okla., where she was high school valedictorian. But by graduation, she was ready for a big city and a college environment that fostered big ideas.

mom. But the true heartbreak wasn’t the divorce. Nathan, Bost’s adored son, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 5 and died at age 12. The final blows were a blood transfusion that carried the AIDS virus and a heart attack. By then Richard and Georgia were married and the proud parents of a daughter, Michelle, and a son, Martin. In their Spring MAIN C OU R S E Branch neighborhood in the late 1980s, Georgia opened a store called The Village Botanica. It was a nursery, pottery studio, art gallery, and arts and crafts supply store all in one. “I think the idea of A visionary leader, scientist and VB grew out of recentrepreneur, Georgia Bost ’72 left ognizing how fragile and short life is and an outsized legacy that continues wanting to have a store to nurture Houstonian’s hunger composed of all the for healthful eating. things she and Nathan loved,” says Michelle, a San BY CLAUDIA FELDMAN Marcos physician whose married name is Rodriguez. “She realized that the corporate world, at least at that time, was more of an old boys’ club than she cared to bother with. “In some ways,” Michelle says, “she never got over my brother’s death — does anyone truly get over the death of a child? Looking back, I realize she struggled with depression for years. I think it also gave her a sense of urgency, that her time was limited and she needed to make as much use of it as possible.” By middle age, Bost already had served as what A third-generation Rice University graduate, Bost arrived Randall described as a servant leader at Urban on campus in 1968, ready to combine her love of horticulture Harvest. She also was heavily involved in gardening and ecology. If both were considered men’s fields back then, she education — whether she was teaching third graders or paid no attention to the gender barriers. If men talked past her landscape designers — and she was traveling throughon subjects she was interested in, she just persisted until they out the South to continue her study of hibiscus. During realized she knew as much or more than they did. the course of her research, she earned seven patents. Richard Bost, a graduate school colleague who eventually When Michelle and Martin were still in their became Georgia’s second husband, remembers that she was teens, Georgia and Richard bought a farm in Waller advocating for organic and sustainable gardening before most County that came to be known as Hibiscus Hill. Texans knew what she meant. There Bost continued her passion for organic farmAt a legendary Montrose restaurant called the Hobbit Hole, ing on a large scale. She also raised grass-fed beef Randall, Bowen and other ecologically minded friends, including and made sure the cattle were treated humanely in Georgia, met to figure out ways to share their gardening knowllife and at the processing plant. edge. One of the steps was a group called TexUS ROOTS. The Bost’s final businesses were two stores that sold wonky name translated to Texans for Urban Sustainability, a meat, produce and ready-made foods. As always, her Regional Organization for Organic Technology and Sustainability.  focus at Georgia’s Farm to Market, one in Spring “We can do this,” Bost used to tell her friends. “Y’all can teach Branch and one in downtown Houston, was on classes at my place.” No surprise, she was the group’s first president. organic inventories produced locally.  If Bost was flourishing professionally — by then she had her “We come from the earth and we return to the master’s in ecology and juggled multiple projects at once — she earth,” Michelle Rodriguez says. “My mother’s goal, was struggling personally. as I saw it, was to honor that gift by farming in a way An early first marriage ended in divorce, leaving Bost a single that made the least impact on our ecosystem.” ◆

Georgia’s Legacy


m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   21


Finding Her Place in Houston’s Culinary World


n high school, Claire Smith ’87 begged her parents, both Rice grads, to let her skip college and attend culinary school. Her parents were unmoved (she’s glad), so off she went to Rice. On the way to earning degrees in art and art history, Smith continued to learn about the business while waitressing and working for a catering company. She practiced classical culinary techniques from her mother’s cookbook collection. “I feel very fortunate that I had in mind a plan of action for what to do with my life at a very early age,” she said. After graduating in 1987, she moved to California to attend culinary school where, “the whole of San Francisco Bay area was my learning palette.” Luckily for Houstonians, Smith returned to her hometown and opened the Daily Review Café in 1994 — “It was a different world back then. We had a one-page lease with blanks filled in by hand.” Next, she opened Shade in 2004, Canopy in 2009 and Woodbar in 2014. Shade closed this spring and reopened in June as Alice Blue, a modern Mediterranean bistro. We met up with Smith at Canopy, the casual Montrose eatery, to discuss her culinary vocation and popular restaurants.

You trained when the Bay Area was fueling food trends like sushi, fusion cuisine and fresh, inventive American cuisine. What were some of your experiences? I took on every internship opportunity — working at the Pebble Beach Golf Tournament, charity events at the Fairmont Hotel, competitions hosted by the school. I won first place in one competition sponsored by Monticello 22 

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

Vineyards in Napa Valley and earned a spot as guest chef of the vineyard’s harvest festival for 400 guests. I was able to put together my crew, line out all the sources for the menu and execute the food for the event. It was truly an eye-opening experience. My last job in the Bay Area before I moved back to Houston was as the cochef of a very small lodge in Inverness, Calif., on Tomales Bay. Twice a week my co-chef and I would stop by the Monterey produce and fish markets and grab our provisions for the next few days before making the 55-mile trip to prepare our guests a menu of wild game and fresh fish combined with the best produce of the season.

What were you and partner Carl Eaves aiming to bring to Houston’s dining scene with the Daily Review Café? Carl and I wanted to open a small neighborhood place with a seasonal menu, complementary wine list, friendly staff and a place that our patrons could call their own. A few days before opening, we invited a group of about 30 friends over for a weekend and built the patio that doubled our seating. Our opening menu had four starters, four entrées and four desserts. In the kitchen we took the challenge of the name — Daily Review — to heart and changed the preparation of most of the entrées each day. We called our process, “ready, set ... cook!” It was like cooking boot camp, and I would say allowed many of the chefs who came through Daily Review to stick their necks out and try new things.

Tell us about the catering side. My major focus with my businesses is in our catering and events department. It is a joy to work with people celebrating a special event or hosting friends and family into their homes. My favorite event is the Come to the Table fundraiser supporting The Beacon, a nonprofit serving the homeless community.

How do you approach sourcing ingredients? At the restaurants, our first priority in sourcing is quality, then consistency and price point. Our seafood comes mostly from the Gulf Coast as there is no need to go far from Houston for quality seafood. We recently started working with Covey Rise Farms in Louisiana because they work with small farmers all over the South. Small businesses working hard to produce consistently great ingredients need our support no matter where they are.

Many of your staff seem to have long histories working with you. How do you build such a loyal team? Communication, trust, a reliable support staff, the tools of the trade and the best ingredients available are just the starting point. Over the years it has become clear that the most important thing to me about being in the restaurant business (as a teenage deli counter worker, as a server in college, as a culinary student, as an employee, as a chef and now as a business owner) is the relationships that I have developed with my co-workers.

These days, what takes up most of your work day?

What’s new in the kitchen since you started out?

As owner of Canopy, Alice Blue [formerly Shade], Woodbar and a busy catering business, my main responsibility is to make sure that everything operates in the smoothest manner, providing a quality experience for our guests. My background is as a chef, but I function as a sounding board for the chefs to help fine-tune their ideas. My job is a combination of customer service, executive management, menu creation, accounting, payroll, catering and human resource tasks.

Silicone — silpat nonstick baking pan liners, molds for baking and cold desserts and spatulas — has revolutionized efficiency in the kitchen.


What advice do you have for anyone who’s serious about learning the trade? Find your way into a kitchen and get some practical exposure as early as possible. Get an internship — whether you’re in middle school, high school, college or beyond.

Executive chef Kent Domas contributed this recipe from the newly opened Alice Blue restaurant in the Heights. GR IL L ED E GGPL A N T DIP W IT H PISTACHIO GR EMOL ATA A N D POM E GR A NATE EGGPLANT DIP 2 pounds eggplant ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil ¼ teaspoon minced garlic 1 lemon (zest and juice) 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar Salt to taste PISTACHIO GREMOLATA 1 cup pistachios                      ¼ cup olive oil                                   2 tablespoons chopped parsley          ¼ teaspoon minced garlic Zest of one lemon Salt and pepper to taste GARNISH ¼ cup pomegranate seeds 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt Pistachio gremolata: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees, toast the pistachios until lightly colored, about 10 minutes; allow to cool before chopping. Combine with the remaining ingredients. Eggplant: Grill eggplant on low flame, allow to char well on each side before turning. Remove from the grill and place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap. When cool, carefully split open and scrape out the meat, reserving the juice left in the bowl. Roughly chop the meat and combine with the juice and remaining ingredients. Place in a serving dish, garnish with the yogurt, pistachio gremolata and fresh pomegranate seeds. Serve with grilled bread or lavash crackers. m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   23


Heat and Hospitality


Nicaraguan who came to the U.S. in 1976 to attend Texas A&M University, Michael Cordúa saw a number of doors close before, at age 27, he opened Churrascos. Modeled after Managua’s Los Ranchos and designed to showcase the flavors of Latin America — like grilled churrasco steak and chimichurri sauce — the restaurant’s initial reception was not promising. In a 2014 Houston Press article, Cordúa recalled how his first customer walked out because “they were expecting Mexican food, not Nicaraguan. It was a nightmare, really.” That nightmare soon turned into a dream when, in


R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7


Since 1988, the Cordúa name has grown to become one of the most recognized and respected restaurant families in Houston. So, it may be hard to imagine that the Cordúa business — which today includes Américas, Amazón Grill, Artista and six locations of Churrascos — debuted as a boot-strapped culinary startup on a mission to broaden the palate of Houstonians.

1989, Esquire recognized Cordúa’s innovative cuisine by naming Churrasco’s one of the “Best New Restaurants in America.” More accolades followed, and in 2008 Cordúa was inducted into Food & Wine magazine’s Hall of Fame. That was also the year he earned an EMBA from Rice’s Jones School of Business. We asked Cordúa a few questions about dining trends, maintaining the brand and the chefs he admires.

What’s the scope of Cordúa restaurants? We have 11 businesses that will serve roughly 500,000 guests in 2017, with an estimated revenue of about $27 million. We have about 650 team members in the company. On Mother’s Day, we served over 8,500 guests.

What’s the competition? There has been an explosion in Brazilian rodízio style of churrascaria (all-youcan-eat steakhouse). While totally different, it has created some brand identity challenges. While people might be reaching into the Latin market, they’re doing so in a very different way. We stick to our recipes, paying tribute to the ingredients that America gave to the world using the European disciplines of cooking.

“I knew I had made it as a business when …” … I had to stop writing a personal check to cover the payroll and the rent at the end of every week. And that came about six months after we opened the original Churrascos.

How do you balance work and family life? [My family] made so many accommodations to keep the dining table a sanctuary where breakfast became the family meal. I would prepare the lunches for the kids to take to school. (Dinnertime was more difficult for gathering the family together.) And that same philosophy of valuing the family was reflected in the way we dealt with each other as colleagues — by understanding that someone is not just the salad, dessert lady or chef, but a mother or father and wife or husband. That mutual respect and understanding has been a defining mark of our company culture.

How did you learn to cook? As a self-taught chef, I learned most of my techniques through travel in the maritime shipping business. The travel really opened up my palette to the possibilities.

What led you back to school? I decided to get the MBA at Rice because the company was preparing for expansion and I needed to know what financial tools were available to make that growth happen.

Which chefs do you most admire? Being a restauranteur is a continuous education. You’re always behaving like Marco Polo — translating what someone else is doing differently so it fits your concept and understanding of food pleasures. Chefs José Andrés [minibar and barmini, Zaytinya, The Bazaar, Beefsteak, China Chilcano, etc.] and David Rosengarten are two of my maestros.

How did you get involved with Casa de Esperanza in Houston? Back in ’89, when we were expanding the Churrasco concept, I received a letter from Sister Kathy Foster asking us to consider Casa de Esperanza de Los Niños as the beneficiary of our new opening. I learned about the valuable work that Sister Kathy was doing with children who had been diagnosed with AIDS. We’ve been involved in their fundraisers ever since.

Here’s a “small plate” recipe that can be found on the menu of Américas, one of the Cordúa family’s popular Houston restaurants. A HI T UNA CE V ICH E FOR NIKKEI DRESSING: 1 cup soy sauce 1 cup rice vinegar 3 tablespoons brown sugar 1 tablespoon sesame oil 1 tablespoon lime juice In large bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk until brown sugar is dissolved. FOR CREMA DE COCO: ½ cup coconut milk ½ cup condensed milk In small bowl, whisk ingredients together until fully incorporated.  FOR TUNA CRUNCH TOPPING: 1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped 1/4 cup toasted coconut flake 1/4 cup Asian crispy onion

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients. FOR CEVICHE: 1 cup of sushi grade ahi tuna, diced ½-inch 1/4 cup sliced red onion 1/4 cup sliced jalapeno 1/4 cup of Nikkei dressing

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro 1 tablespoon of crema de coco 1 tablespoon of tuna crunch topping Dice ahi tuna into 1/2-inch cubes. Remove stems and seeds from jalapeno and cut into julienne strips along with red onion. In bowl, combine tuna, onion, jalapeno and cilantro. Add Nikkei dressing and toss as if it were a salad. Plate the ceviche, then spoon the crema de coco over the dish and finish with the tuna crunch topping. m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   25


The Cheesemonger of Texas

From a farmers market stand to a thriving wholesale business supplying cheeses to restaurants — and a European-style cheese shop — Houston Dairymaids has changed the way Texans taste cheese.


little more than a decade ago, Lindsey Schechter ’99, who was an owner and chef at a restaurant on the coast of Maine, had an idea. Today, she has been credited with introducing Texans to the world of cheese mongering. “In Maine, I came in contact with a lot of cheese producers from whom I would source cheese for my restaurant. I learned that it was hard for them to get their products directly to customers,” Schechter said, during an interview at Houston Dairymaids, the Heights-area shop she runs. “They didn’t have the resources or the time for distribution and marketing. That’s when I decided I needed to fill that void.” Once she made the decision, it wasn’t too hard to settle on a place: Houston. It was a city she was familiar with from her undergrad days at Rice. As a student, Schechter had worked part-time at the Daily Review Café, owned by alumna Claire Smith ’87. Houston, known for its diverse cuisines, whetted her culinary appetite and left her craving more. After graduating from Rice with a degree in English and art history, she moved to New York to work as a chef. On the side, she freelanced for an industry publication called Food Arts Magazine, which sent her on an international press junket to learn about cheese and prosciutto in Italy. The foods that won her heart were local and small-batch cheeses. When she moved back to Houston in 2006, there were only a handful of established cheese producers in Texas. Dairy farmers were struggling to keep their farms small and producing milk was no longer financially sustainable, so they were beginning to turn to cheese. For the first few months, 26 

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

Schechter crisscrossed rural Texas, meeting with goat farmers in the Texas Hill Country and visiting cow dairies in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. One contact led to another, and slowly she began to bring cheese from their farflung counties into Houston. With a commitment to sustainable and local farming, Schechter became the liaison between cheese makers and chefs. She also emerged as the soughtafter “cheese lady” at local farmers markets, where she got the first taste of her venture’s popularity. “I started out by renting a stall at a farmers market in midtown every weekend,” Schechter said. “The stall became popular among chefs from the get-go.” Her initial Houston Dairymaids business was wholesale, but in 2012 she entered the retail market. The shop now has a steady stream of clients who visit to taste and buy the latest offerings. The shop’s tasting table features six different types of cheese weekly. “Mild to pungent. That’s the key,” Schechter said, as she handed over a piece of young cheese to a customer. She supplies around 150 types of handmade cheese to more than 300 restaurants and hotels in Texas. While about a third of her cheeses come from Texan artisans — like Pure Luck Farm and Dairy in Dripping Springs and Latte Da Dairy in Flower Mound — another third come from other states and the rest are imports. What is Schechter’s favorite cheese? “I feel most passionate about cheese that comes from Texan farmsteads, mainly because I have been on those farms and seen the producers work. So every time I talk about those cheeses, I can visualize in an instant all that goes into making them,” she said. “That’s how cheeses come alive to me.”  — SUKHADA TATKE PHOTOGRAPH BY JEFF FITLOW

m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   27

Gatlin's BBQ sauce

Pulled pork (see recipe)

Brisket Collard greens

Venison sausage


Grilled corn with Cotija cheese Coleslaw


Greg Gatlin’s Full Plate

Our tagline is “The secret ingredient is love.” And it still holds true. We’ve made so many friends and colleagues just by being here in the restaurant.

The secret to Gatlin’s award-winning barbecue is written on the wall.


n May, owner and pitmaster Greg Gatlin ’03 got some smokin’ good news — Gatlin’s BBQ scored a spot in Texas Monthly’s “Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas” list. The recognition could not have come at a better time. In 2015, Gatlin’s relocated from a modest starter location — a 745-square-foot home where regulars lined up early and often for the legendary brisket — to a new building with ample parking in Houston’s Garden Oaks. How do you preserve the character of a beloved destination while appealing to a bigger audience? Keep customer favorites on the menu, incorporate a welcoming “neighborhood wall” and use that extra space to smoke more meat. I never, ever thought that I’d be in the restaurant business. I’ve always loved food, I’ve always loved the different elements that food brings to the table, but I never thought that I’d be right in the middle of it and a part of people’s conversations at their dinner tables. Our neighborhood and community wall really tells our story. That was just going to be a meat wall — pictures of a bunch of different cuts of meat. The backdrop is the plat of this neighborhood, which is where we grew up. We’ve got [images of] places we went to high school and college, downtown Houston, other neighborhood restaurants — some that are still here and some that are gone. There are two smokers here, then we’ve got one large trailer pit offsite. [Gatlin uses a combination of hickory and post oak over indirect heat.] Today, we have twice as many sides. [Chef Michelle Wallace joined the team at the new location.] We do a lot of sandwiches, like in-house smoked pastrami and turkey. We grow our own onions and peppers and have a house-made pepper PHOTOGRAPHS BY TOMMY LAVERGNE

— This interview was condensed and edited for space. See an expanded version at

Here is Greg Gatlin’s recipe for a tender and flavorful smoked pork.

vinegar and honey mustard. We’re smoking bologna in-house. We’ll serve that with a sunny-side-up egg, with our smoky mayo, and then we’ll put a couple of onions and pickles on there. Everybody has an opinion about barbecue. I think it keeps people coming back. We have so many transplants that come to Houston, and they’re from different regions. We’ve got folks from the Carolinas who say, “What is this beef barbecue?” So, it’s always good to see what other folks are doing and then let them see what we’re doing.

SMOKED PORK SHOULDER Servings: 15 to 20 6 to 8 pound pork butt yellow mustard BRINE 2 gallons water 2 cups kosher salt 2 cups brown sugar 12 cloves garlic, rough chopped 1 large onion, rough chopped 1/2 gallon apple juice SPICE RUB

I have deep respect for pitmasters. I know what we go through every single day. I try to support all those guys. One guy I really admire is Wayne Mueller up in Taylor [Texas], owner of Louie Mueller Barbecue. We’ve had many conversations about where barbecue is now, how we continue to be successful in a genre that’s getting more and more crowded. And then, how do we continue to keep the family name and the branding of your product and company to a high level without getting burnt out. My dad, Henry, is at the restaurant today, and my mother, Mary, popped in yesterday. Mom was treated for breast cancer in 2012, and she’s been free and clear ever since. She had a great support system with friends and family members. Now, she talks to and mentors a lot of folks who are going to the Medical Center for treatment. She’s always been a great encourager, especially to us three boys growing up. I mean, she still loves coming up to the restaurant, she enjoys it, and she drives the hammer on things. I’m like, “Mom, what are you doing?”

2 cups kosher salt 1 cup black pepper 2 tablespoons garlic powder 3 cups smoked paprika 1/4 cup crushed red pepper flakes Combine all ingredients for the brine, making sure that the sugar and salt have dissolved. Place the pork shoulder in the brine and refrigerate for 8 to 10 hours. Remove pork from the brine, give it a quick rinse, pat it dry and place on a sheet tray. Rub the pork with yellow mustard, making sure to fully cover. Next, season liberally with the spice rub. Prepare the fire or smoker. Smoke the pork shoulder at 225 degrees for 8 to 10 hours. When done, the bone will slide out easily with a slight tug. PITMASTER’S TIP: Wrap pork with foil if it reaches the desired color before being completely done and tender. Pork should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   29


Meat Cute

An underground diner houses Rice grads’ elevated take on burgers


hen Willet Feng ’06 graduated Rice, he fully intended to put his managerial studies classes to work. But when he moved to Seattle with then-girlfriend Diane Wu ’07, a teacher, he found that financial jobs were hard to come by. Looking for something new to try, he landed a job in a sushi restaurant, learning the basics of restaurant practices and food prep. Eventually Feng attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, then honed his skills at such acclaimed restaurants as Uchiko in Austin and the late, great Oxheart in Houston. It was at Oxheart that Feng met the executive chef of a Shanghai restaurant called The Grumpy Pig — a chance encounter that ultimately led to a two-year stint in China for the now-married couple. In 2015, the Fengs moved back to Houston, where their daughter, Avery, was born. A long search for the right spot to open a restaurant inspired by their work and travel in Southeast Asia ended in an unexpected twist. Some industry friends approached Willet about taking over a burger kiosk in Greenway Plaza’s popular underground food court. The opportunity to open immediately, be fully in charge and also have a family life was too good to pass up. “We laugh about how our Rice degrees should’ve prevented us from flipping burgers, but here we are,” Diane said. “In all seriousness, we are both examples of graduates who did not uncover our true passions until after college.” Now, local professionals and visitors line up at burger-chan for beef burgers glazed with an umami sauce; hotdogs and kimchi relish; veggie burgers made of breaded eggplant; homemade fish sandwiches and corn-flavored milkshakes. The couple work the lunch crowd every day. — LYNN GOSNELL PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFF FITLOW

What’s in a name?

When a Chicago-area restaurant threatened a lawsuit over Kuma Burgers, the original name of Willet and Diane’s popular lunch counter joint, the couple came up with a new name — and a new burger. “Burger-chan” (chan is the Japanese diminutive suffix meaning cute) is both the restaurant’s name and its signature burger. “It’s a classic take on an American fast-food burger, a la Shake Shack or In-N-Out,” said Diane. The lunch counter is known for its housemade condiments like kimchi relish and gluten-free rice buns. But the couple and their customers clearly appreciate a classic. “At the end of the day,” Diane said, “Willet just wants to make good food that he’d enjoy eating.”

Hand-cut lettuce

Cheddar cheese

Two 2-ounce, brown-buttersoy glazed beef patties

Caramelized onions

Tomato slices

Housemade “Thousand Island” dressing Buttered potato bun

m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   31



Staging 101 o you want to be a chef. Whether or not you’ve attended culinary school, at some point in your quest, you’ll apprentice or “stage” (pronounced “stahzh”) in a good restaurant to learn skills and gain experience. The term comes from the French word “stagiaire” and is akin to an unpaid internship. Aspiring chefs work a few days to a few months in a high-end restaurant kitchen, a trial that could lead to an offer of employment. We asked Eduardo Hernandez ’12 to share his story and advice on staging your way into a great kitchen.

1. First, appreciate good food, at home, in cafes or restaurants, wherever you find it. I grew up eating good food and loving the Puerto Rican food my mom cooked. During the holidays, she’d make a dish called arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas) and carne or pollo asado (grilled beef or chicken) — those were some of my favorite dishes growing up. 2. When you get your first apartment after college, don’t eat out all the time. I got tired of going out and getting pizza and burgers and wanted to eat a little bit 32 

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

healthier, so I started learning to cook. First, simple things, like making rice, omelets and breakfast stuff. That evolved into making risotto and more complicated things to impress my girlfriend at the time. 3. Watch, read and learn — YouTube, Netflix and more. I ended up getting a job at a small consulting firm in the oil and gas industry and worked as an analyst and then in marketing and publishing at Hart Energy. Most nights, I was cooking, looking at

recipes, trying new things and reading about chefs. I’d watch YouTube channels, like Munchies; Netflix series, like “Chef’s Table”; and documentaries like “For Grace” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” One book that everybody reads is Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” 4. Buy a bunch of carrots and practice your knife skills, then get a good knife. I looked up YouTube videos on how to julienne and do other basic cuts. Then, I went to an HEB and bought carrots and onions and just started cutting. That’s by far one PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFF FITLOW


of the most important skills, because usually you’ll start at prep [in a professional kitchen] and most of prep is cutting. 5. Hit the streets for a stage. A friend advised me to simply walk up to a restaurant, ask to talk to the chef and put yourself at his mercy. Be very upfront with him. I said, ‘Look, I don’t have any kitchen experience, but I really want to learn.’ I walked up to a few restaurants and did that very thing. It was a little nerve-racking. 6. It’s OK if it only lasts a few days. I borrowed my friend’s knife roll and went to [my first restaurant] and helped prep and stayed through service. I did that for a couple days, and it just didn’t pan out. 7. Try again. Any connects? I got a message from a friend of mine that she knew Chef PJ Stoops of Foreign Correspondents, and she gave him a call. I started staging in July last year, doing prep work, making sauces and curries and helping out; then I started doing salads and desserts and eventually working the fryer station. In August, Bon Appétit came out with its “Top 50 America’s Best New Restaurants” and Foreign Correspondents was on the list. Business tripled, and I started paid, full-time work.


8. Go in humble. The biggest mistake is coming in and thinking you know more than you do. Be as helpful as you can be and never just stand around looking for something to do. A stage is an opportunity for everyone in the kitchen to observe you when you’re going in for a job. The chef sees where you’re at with your skills. All the other cooks see where you’re at with your skills. 9. Try again ... When Foreign Correspondents closed, PJ started calling other restaurants to see if they needed cooks — and he was giving us recommendations. He connected me with Chef Chris Shepherd at Underbelly. [In 2014, Shepherd was named Best Chef: Southwest by the James Beard Foundation.] I went in and was ready to stage that night. The next day they offered me a job. I prepped and worked the sauté station, which is where their famous Korean braised goat and dumplings dish is made.

Tested and Tasted

Awesome Bites puts allergy-friendly ingredients front and center


early two years ago, Jennifer Thai ’05 launched a second career as a baker of healthy treats and muffins — a bold move inspired by her young daughter’s food allergies. An economics major at Rice, Thai first worked as a financial analyst in the oil and gas industry, a career that sent her around the world and included a stint living in Trinidad. Along the way, she earned an MBA at Duke. In 2012, she married Rodolfo Rivera, a drilling engineer, and their daughter, Aurora, was born the next year. Distressingly, the new parents discovered their child was allergic to eggs and peanuts, two common ingredients in processed or prepared foods. Thai’s knack for detailed analysis came in handy as she began reading food labels and researching safe ingredients. What she found widened her perspective. “So much food for children is full of preservatives, artificial ingredients and tons of sugar,” she said. As her daughter turned 1, birthday cakes were minefields. Eggs were “everywhere” in baked goods. Thai started tinkering with recipes that were not only peanut- and egg-free, but also free of wheat and dairy products. She developed muffins made from fruits like bananas, apples and dates, and vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and yellow squash. Friends, co-workers and family were pressed into service as taste-testers. “Everyone was surprised that I was making these muffins, not only without traditional ingredients, but substituting these really healthy ingredients.” When her employer had layoffs, she took a severance and left in April 2015. The next month, she filed the papers to incorporate Awesome Bites Co. Still, there was more to learn. She approached Heath Wendell of Slow Dough Bake Shop with samples of her muffins and a request to stage or intern in the artisan bakery. For two-and-a-half months, she worked shifts starting at 3:30 a.m. “I learned so much about working in a commercial kitchen,” she said. That fall, Awesome Bites was open for business, selling muffins direct to customers via a local farmers market. Today, she rents the kitchen of a local coffee shop that carries her baked “beanie bars” — plant-based brownies sweetened with coconut sugar. Recently, Awesome Bites added cookie cakes to the menu. These goods are sold in farmers markets and local stores — and expansion plans include a brick-and-mortar location. Thai thinks she knows why her baked goods are finding a ready audience. “I didn’t design any of my baked goods for kids who have food allergies,” she said. “I designed them for kids, period. Using fruits and vegetables is not just appealing for mom and dad, but it’s meant to be exciting and fun for the kids, too.”  — LYNN GOSNELL m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   33


On the Bandvegan

Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram’s entrepreneurial spirit nurtures an appetite for raw and vegan foods

realized the importance of eating [fresh] food, but it was too expensive. That’s when I decided to start a cooperative. But soon, Carrillo-Bucaram saw a greater need to support local and organic farmers, as well as to advocate for healthier diets. She created a Facebook page and started posting recipes. To know if her mission or movement is working, one need only glimpse at Carrillo-Bucaram’s social media. Her Instagram feed offers her nearly 1 million followers a glimpse into her advocacy and life. Her YouTube channel has chalked up more than 85 million views. “My movement gathered steam when my social media [outlets] became popular,” she said. “I try to use it to educate people.” But Carrillo-Bucaram’s own journey into the vegan world wasn’t easy. “My family had a hard time dealing with my transition. I was struggling to get their approval,” she said. For her, on the other hand, the process was smooth. “I started enjoying this new form of diet from the very beginning,” she said. “Even if you don’t want to go vegetarian, vegan or raw vegan, I tell everyone that eating one raw meal a day makes a big difference to your digestion, hair, skin and overall health.” Last year, she published “The Fully Raw Diet: 21 Days to Better Health.” Her work takes her to speaking engagements across countries and continents. In recent months, she has traveled from Bali to Hawaii to Dubai and Lebanon. “Some people think eating raw food is extreme,” Carrillo-Bucaram said. “But I think eating hamburgers and pizzas everyday is extreme. This planet needs a wake-up call of what we put into our bodies.”  — SUKHADA TATKE



hen she was 16, Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram ’09 was diagnosed with hyperglycemia and Type 2 diabetes. Two years later, while at a grocery store, a customer approached her and suggested she opt for a raw-vegan diet. She did, and it changed her life. “I am so grateful to the stranger who came into my life that day. It has been 12 years, and I haven’t eaten any cooked food since,” Carrillo-Bucaram said. The 30-year-old said she managed to reverse the medical condition and will never go back to her old eating habits. At Rice, Carrillo-Bucaram studied kinesiology, visual arts and vocal performance. In response to a growing interest in eating organic vegetables, she and seven other students started Rawfully Organic, a small farmers market that met every week. The co-op grew and became a fixture in Houston’s organic food movement — hundreds of regular customers showed up weekly to purchase their shares of fruit and vegetables. After 11 years of continuous operation, the co-op closed last month. “The things I did in college brought me in close contact with farmers,” she said. “I




A Café Made for Art, Food ... and Instagram

or friends-turned-business-partners Lulu Fang ’11 and Amy Lin ’11, opening an art café last December was a goal they had dreamt about for years. After graduating with degrees in visual arts, architecture and biochemistry, the duo first founded Houston Art Lessons, where they taught art and sold their work under the name Lulu Lin. They saved up — Lin running the business and Fang working as an architect — until they were ready to open Honey Art Café. To launch their unique business, Fang and Lin contributed a lot of sweat equity: “We did nearly everything ourselves — designed the space, made the chandeliers and painted the floor-to-ceiling murals.” Visitors to their colorful storefront can view, buy and learn about art. The café features coffee, tea, homemade desserts or smoothies and a gallery wall showcases their paintings. They also host events — from terrarium craft nights to weekly artist meet-ups. “You get a one-of-a-kind experience here,” Lin said. “We call it controlled chaos.” Art and food fans can also keep up with the café on Instagram for posts of their colorful bakery masterpieces in front of vibrant mural backdrops, creating both a mouthwatering and aesthetically pleasing feed. — KENDALL SCHOEMANN m a g a z i n e . r i c e . e d u   35



The Meaning of Pie It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make the perfect pie, but it doesn’t hurt to be one. Anne Haynie Collins ’81 earned a civil engineering degree from Rice and worked on the space shuttle for a number of years before shifting to biomedical engineering, rounding out her career in a neuroscience research lab at UT Southwestern Medical Center. But she never got over her first love: pie. Inspired by her grandmother — and her grandmother’s grandmother — she pursued a passion for pastry with an engineer’s precision. Her book, “Vintage Pies: Classic American Pies for Today’s Home Baker,” was published in 2014. Here, she gives us a taste of pie perfection with a classic recipe for buttermilk pie.  — JENNIFER LATSON


ies were once a staple of the American table. My grandmother, Pearl Thomas — born Pearl Savage in 1894 — remembered her grandmother, Nancy Stone, baking as many as a dozen pies each week to feed her family and the farmhands. Pies were baked fresh in the morning and served at noon with the day’s main meal. A slice of pie, wrapped in a cloth napkin, went in a tin pail to the fields for midafternoon. Pie was served cold, with a glass of buttermilk, at supper, and again for breakfast. I learned to make pies as a very young girl from my grandmother, as she had from her grandmother, and became fascinated with old pie recipes and the stories that accompanied them. I began asking elderly people to tell me about their favorite pies from childhood, and about pies that weren’t made any longer. If someone couldn’t provide a recipe, I’d thumb through old cookbooks until I found one, or, failing that, I’d re-engineer a modern recipe with traditional ingredients. Then I’d make the pie for the person who had reminisced about it. Food memory is an amazing thing, and he or she would let me know immediately if the taste and consistency were right. What I did not realize, until I began the research for this book, was how old these recipes were, with many of them dating to the earliest days of the European settlement of this country. Buttermilk pie is one of the first pies I learned to make, and remains one of my favorites. Buttermilk was the liquid left in the churn after butter was made. Because milk had to sit for the cream to rise, natural fermentation began, which was what gave buttermilk its characteristic tangy flavor. 36 

R i c e M a g a z i n e | s u mm e r 2 0 1 7

(Modern buttermilk is cultured, much like yogurt.) A good pie starts with a good crust, and my recipe for pie crust has been in the family since the 1860s. It is basic, easy to work with and very forgiving, and produces a light and flaky crust — and it doesn’t require chilling. It will make a generous 9-inch pie crust. [Editor’s note: Collins’ own pie crust recipe, which has been in her family since the 1860s, is online at Use her recipe or your favorite flaky pie crust for this buttermilk pie.]

BU T T E R M IL K PIE 1 unbaked pie crust 1/2 cup salted butter 3 large eggs 1 cup granulated sugar 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour 1 cup buttermilk 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until they are light in color. Add the sugar, the butter and the flour to the eggs, and whisk the ingredients until they are well combined. Fold in the buttermilk and nutmeg. Pour the filling into the crust. Place the pie in the oven and bake it until the filling is set in the middle, about 30 minutes.

THE LESSONS THAT I HAVE LEARNED... ARE THINGS THAT I WILL CARRY WITH ME FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. — Manuel Pacheco ’20 Electrical engineering major, Sallyportal user

The Rice education is more powerful than ever.

Manuel Pacheco ’20 made a powerful connection with Rice engineering alumnus Vivas Kumar ’14 through that led to an eye-opening tour of the Tesla factory and supercharged his career aspirations. Sallyportal is one of the programs launched through the Initiative for Students in response to our students’ need for a more powerful and evolving educational experience. The initiative as a whole has engaged alumni, parents and friends to impact students as never before, such as by launching experiential learning programs that prepare students with the skills to complement the knowledge they gain in the classroom.

Learn how the Initiative for Students has enhanced the Rice experience for Manuel and others at:

Rice University, Creative Services–MS 95 P.O. Box 1892, Houston, TX 77251-1892

Part II: Drink

Nonprofit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Permit #7549 Houston, Texas

IN OUR RESEARCH FOR THE SUMMER ISSUE, we learned about so many Owls who are working

on the drink side of the food and beverage industry — far too many to include here in any meaningful way. While some were local and familiar names, such as Brock Wagner ’87, founder of Saint Arnold Brewing Co., and Rassul Zarinfar ’04, of Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co., many names were new to us. And we’d like to learn more. We’re starting our research here and now! If you know any Owl coffee roasters or growers, vineyard owners, wine stewards, beer brewers, juice makers, distillers and more, send their names to and we’ll follow up. Prost!

Rice Magazine | Summer 2017  

The Food Issue

Rice Magazine | Summer 2017  

The Food Issue