Houston Chronicle | 05.17.2018
By Greg Morago Updated 10:53 am, Thursday, May 17, 2018
The much-anticipated International Smoke restaurant doesn't open in Houston until June. But foodies interested in the collaboration between cookbook author Ayesha Curry and California superchef Michael Mina can get a taste of the project this Sunday.
Hugo's will play host on May 20 to a pop-up for International Smoke presided over by Mina, the James Beard Award-winning chef who happens to be good friends with Hugo Ortega.
Curry will not be at the pop-up; she's expecting her third child with her husband, Golden State Warriors point guard and NBA superstar Stephen Curry.
Still, the event promises to be a telling preview for the 200-seat restaurant expected to open at CityCentre mid-June in the former Straits space at 800 Sorella Court. The restaurant is billed as an international approach to barbecue, grilling and cooking with smoke. The concept began as a pop-up at the Mina Test Kitchen in San Francisco. That's also where Ortega collaborated with Mina last year at a pop-up called Mi Almita.
Mina's pop-up not only will give him a chance to show off International Smoke, it's an opportunity to introduce his new executive chef for the Houston project. Mina has tapped Houstonian EJ Miller to lead the International Smoke team. Miller, a graduate of Culinary Institute LeNotre in Houston, has worked for Clark Cooper Concept restaurants (including SaltAir Seafood Kitchen, Coppa Ristorante Italiano and Punk's Simple Southern Food) as well as Down House and Riel.
On Sunday, from 6 to 9 p.m., Mina and Miller will showcase some signature dishes from the upcoming menu including ribs with barbecue oysters, Gulf snapper with fermented black beans and fried rice, bacon steamed buns, Thai coconut shooters with curry cornbread, burrata with snap beans and speck, shaking beef lettuce wraps, and Korean short ribs.
The price is $30 per person, which includes a welcoming cocktail. Click here to purchase tickets.
We talked to Curry via email about International Smoke. Here's what the busy Food Network star of "Ayesha's Home Kitchen" said:
Q: Over the past five years Houston has been on fire when it comes to smoke: the Greater Houston area now boasts some of the state's finest barbecue joints. How do you think International Smoke furthers the public interest in smoked meats or meats cooked using live fire?
A: I think what sets International Smoke apart from other barbecue joints is that it's not just that! We have so much more to offer and barbecue is not one thing. If you travel to different places in the world, every culture's version of barbecue is different. The one common denominator is that it brings people together. So at International Smoke, we're able to fuse cultures together in an inventive, mouthwatering way and bring the party that is completely effervescent of a family gathering.
Q: Houston is blessed with a diverse dining scene from the melting pot cultures that make this their home. Tell us about where some of the restaurant's flavor profiles come from and how the global foods and technique are featured in the menu.
A: I grew up in Toronto, Canada. The culture there was much like that of Houston. So many different people, hailing from many, many different places. Chef Mina is originally from Egypt. So, together we have massive culture between the two of us. My family background is Jamaican, Polish and Chinese. You'll notice a heavy Asian influence on some of the menu items and the first thing you received when you walk in is my Jamaican green sauce I grew up with that's intended to enjoy throughout the entire meal. It really is special. Expect your taste buds to pop!
Q: Houston is also very much a grilling culture. Explain how your concept would appeal to diners who appreciate the flavors of the sear, live-fire grilling and such.
A: Grilling is fresh! It's vibrant, it's fun, it's so ... natural! Since man made fire people have been grilling meats and veggies. I think there's something so connective and instinctual about it. We even have moments throughout the diners experience where they'll get to experience it first-hand table side.
Q: Where do you get your flavor inspirations? If we look at the International Smoke menu can we see direct links to your own travels, your own culture, your own culinary paths?
A: Many of the dishes inspired or created by me started in my home. Whether something I created as an adult or something I enjoyed from my 6-foot-tall Jamaican grandma (not kidding) growing up as a child. The best part however about the menu is that it's completely collaborative. Within the restaurant there are so many talented and culturally driven chefs. We wanted to use everyone as a resource and come together to create magic from everyone's backgrounds and cultures. It really is like a family and I think a sense of comfort comes as you enjoy each dish.
Q: Why does Houston make sense for International Smoke?
A: Houston is America's mecca of barbecue. We would be kicking ourselves if we didn't bring our global grilling concept to the city. We love our barbecue and think that he city of Houston will fall in love with it and make it a food home for them as well.