It’s another example of COVID ruining everything. Commune, a cooking festival originally scheduled for two weeks this summer, has been postponed to March 2022 due to concerns about the increase in COVID-19 cases. Instead, the festival will be reduced to a three-day preview event taking place August 26-29 at the Heights House Hotel.
The events are organized by the Indie chefs community, an organization led by The Pass & Provisions and Bernadine’s Alum Grover Smith and Brett Cooper the Michelin-starred Aster in San Francisco (sadly, like The Pass and Bernadine’s, now closed).
That news isn’t necessarily all bad, however. The shorter version still looks fun, and now Houston is getting two cooking festivals instead of one. All events take place outdoors and equipment is brought to tackle Houston’s famous August heat. In addition, the seating was reconfigured to allow individual tables for individual groups. Tickets for tables with two, four, six or eight seats are now available. The only common seating will be for those attending alone.
Here are the participating chefs from Texas. Notes on people who come from outside are included in the event descriptions. (A representative noted that the list of participating chefs may change due to the current COVID situation.)
Thursday, August 26th
Chefs James Haywood (left) and Ross Coleman (right) in their previous Kitchen 713 restaurant. Photo courtesy Ross Coleman.
- Getting things started is the first Indie Chefs Collaboration Dinner Night, with 12 dishes from a dozen chefs. The participating chefs from Houston are James Beard Award winning chefs Justin Yu by Theodore Rex, Ross Coleman from duchess, a past semi-finalist of the James Beard Award Best Chef Southwest, and Aaron Bludorn of the eponymous Bludorn. A couple of the out-of-town chefs who also cook are Jeffrey Vance (formerly James Beard Award semi-finalist at No Anchor in Seattle) of the upcoming Old golden tomato pies in Los Angeles and Maricela Vega from Chico in Atlanta (named as 2020 semi-finalist in the James Beard Award Rising Star category). The full list of chefs is available online. General admission tickets for the 12-course dinner with accompanying wines start at $ 225 (plus $ 52.31 service charge). Tickets can be bought online. The event is from 6:30 p.m. to around 9:30 p.m.
- The first of two late night events is a special pop-up from a Washington DC restaurant Danger of luck. According to the Indie Chefs website, the restaurant sells out daily, and the owners are already planning to open two more locations. From 9 p.m. to midnight, cooks Tim Ma and Andrew Chiou serve their versions of Sino-American dishes. Although the event menu has not yet been released, customers can get a hint of what might be served by looking at Lucky Danger’s online menu. Tickets cost $ 40 (plus tax and 18% service charge), cover up to two guests, and serve as credit for grocery shopping. The Heights House Hotel’s in-house restaurant, Space Cowboy, will also sell its pizzas à la carte.
This rendering by the Gin Design Group in Houston shows how the Heights House Hotel is being redesigned for the COMMUNE event.
Friday, August 27th
- The second Indie Chefs Collaboration Dinner again a dozen cooks and a dozen dishes, but this time all the announced cooks come from afar. they include Alan Sternberg, Chef at Iozzo’s Garden of Italy in Indianapolis and cook / owner Brittany Anderson from Butchers Bar and Butchery and Brenner Pass in Richmond, Virginia. The time and cost are the same as the chefs’ first dinner together the night before, and the full list of chefs is available online.
- Another late night food event is planned, but details have not yet been announced.
(There are no events listed for Saturday, August 28th.)
Sunday 29th August
- Libby & Zoe’s Delicatexan with Daddy Jimbo Kanan takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and features Libby Willis and a native of Houston Zoe Kanan together with Kanan’s Pitmaster father at this Jewish deli-meets-Texas-barbecue pop-up. Kanan trained under Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar and was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef Award 2019. Willis was the cook and owner of MeMe’s Diner in Brooklyn, which unfortunately did not survive the 2020 COVID-related closings. The menu includes Brisket or Turkey leg together with three side dishes, smoked trout salad and various bagels and Schmears. There will also be halva-glazed donut ribbons with Texas “fruit sauce”. The cost is $ 50 which is used for food and drink selection. (Guests can pay with credit cards from $ 50.) Tickets are available online.
- The last multi-chef dinner in the series is this Indie Chefs Collaboration Dinner Night 3 Grand Finale. Instead of a dozen chefs like the previous two dinners together, this one features a whopping 24 from Houston and across the country. The chefs will work as duos to prepare the 12-course menu. The aforementioned Houston chefs include Yu, Coleman, and Bludorn Alan Delgado (grew up in El Paso) from Oxomoco in Brooklyn, Bobby Pradachith by Thip Khao in Washington DC and many more. Dinner is from 6:30 p.m. to approximately 9:30 p.m. and tickets cost $ 375 for VIPs and $ 275 for regular tickets, plus service fees.
- The festivities are concluded with a final night festival: Shababi Palestinian Roast Chicken with Marcelle Afram. Afram started this takeout in 2020 as a stopover after working at Maydan in Washington DC – dishes that pay homage to the Levant, the eastern Mediterranean region now home to Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. Tickets for up to two guests are $ 40 plus a $ 9.30 service charge, and the base price is for the purchase of the a la carte meals.
With so many talents on display, so many outside chefs to meet, and so many fascinating, rarely seen dishes to try, it’s a fair bet that this mini version of the COMMUNE festival will make the full version next year an eagerly awaited “anti-festival”. It also looks like it honors the organizer’s description of this original event: “Anti-food festival; one who is fair, gives something back to the community, works for social justice and works to address systemic problems in the hotel industry. “
The full explanation from the organizers of COMMUNE regarding the delay of the entire series of events can be found below.
We have decided to offer COMMUNE this summer in a two-week package with 200+ chefs. Unmasked, vaccinated participants and staff – the reunion we have all been waiting for since last March. But the COVID climate has changed significantly since COMMUNE was founded and in the last week we have seen the number of cases and the number of hospital admissions have increased rapidly.
Given our values and those of our community, we cannot in good faith ask hundreds of cooks and thousands of you to get on cars and planes in a month. We cannot predict where we will be as a state or even as a country by then, but we know that we are not ready to risk the health of others.
We want to get this thing right. What does that mean?
We’re scaling this back down – it’s still going to be an all-star lineup of talent and an all-outdoor fun restaurant. Only three days instead of two weeks; two dozen cooks, not two hundred. For now…
In March 2022 we will do COMMUNE as planned. 200+ chefs, two weeks in downtown Houston. We are committed to supporting this city and its restaurant scene, which we value very much. We made a promise to all of you too, and we intend to deliver. With intent, an innate sense of hospitality, and a little extra thought and care, we’re confident we still can.
Those who have already purchased tickets have the right of first refusal to keep them for this three-day, intimate experience known as the COMMUNE preview, keep their ticket for the actual COMMUNE in 2022, or receive a refund. We have a limited number of places available online for the COMMUNE Preview, which runs on August 26, 27 and 29, 2021. All events take place in an area of 7,500 m² outdoors with limited seating and in compliance with all local guidelines.
That said, a lot can change in a short space of time, as we all learned over the past year. When the tide rises again, we will make a decision that prioritizes the safety of employees, talent, guests, and our larger community. We are happy that you are navigating with us and we look forward to taking these lemons and making lemonade. What’s better than an anti-food festival? Two. Let’s do this, Houston.
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