On Sunday night, ace contributor Julissa Treviño attended the third Café Momentum dinner and sends this report…
On Sunday night, Chad Houser and Janice Provost held their third pop-up dinner under the Café Momentum umbrella at Garden Café in Dallas. If any restaurant has been getting hype in the city, it’s this duo’s project. Café Momentum is a non-profit restaurant serving exquisite, monthly pop-up dinners. Each dinner is steered by a guest chef and functions as a way to help at-risk youth from Dallas County Youth Village learn basic culinary skills which could ultimately lead to a paid position in a kitchen.
Funds raised from Sunday’s sold out dinner last night with Guest Chef Sharon Hage (of the now-shuttered award-winning York Street) bring Houser and Provost one step closer to being able to open up a permanent Café Momentum location. “Café Momentum will be fully operational, ultimately, when we have all of our financing,” said Houser, who works at Parigi with Provost. “We are hoping to achieve this goal by Spring 2012.”
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As people trickled into the restaurant before the dinner, Youth Village boys came around to guests, offering appetizers—pan-fried okra, a flavorful beef steak tartare, and buttery rounds of flatbread, much like yucca.
Garden Café is a modest space seating only 60 people, but perfect for a Café Momentum event as each dinner is an intimate, private party of sorts. “We don’t ever want it to get too big because then it takes away from the intimacy,” said Jennifer Chininis, who does PR and marketing for Café Momentum.
Of why Café Momentum has been getting great reviews and media attention, Houser said it’s because “it is truly a community building project with an immediate impact. Guests show up at the dinners, and they can immediately tell the positive impact that is being made on these young men.” The cause and the food by award-winning chefs have food lovers in Dallas talking. It’s no surprise, then, that the September dinner with Guest Chef David Uygur of Lucia at Maple and Motor is already sold out.
The five-course meal, conceived entirely by Hage, lived up to the hype. The first course, a chill pecos melon with serrano chile and marigold mint, was delightful and refreshing. “I’m a little bit jealous right now, hoping there’s a little left,” Provost said of the first dish as she walked by greeting guests. “This tastes like summer in my mouth,” said a guest.
Hage helped with everything from cooking to plating. As plates were being served, she worked behind the bar serving plates with help of assistants in plain view of 10 VIP guests.
Next up was the light, lemony gulf lump crab and cucumber salad over spiced cashew green beans and small greens, followed by a market ratatouille with a crushed farm egg and a chevre aioli. The hearty combination of flavors—the sweet vegetables and creamy aioli paired with the egg—created the perfect balance. For the main dish, Hage served tender whey-fed pork on a sweet onion soubise, a classic sauce with sautéed, puréed onions and argula on top.
As the guests finished up their main course out front, Hage and the kitchen staff peeled and sliced peaches for the last course in the back, emerging with a fluffy and sweet Riesling cake, topped with buttermilk Chantilly and tart peaches.
The dinner was rife with local products. The beef tartare and pork came from Burgandy Pasture Beef in Grandview, TX; the produce for the melon soup came from Dallas’ Paul Quinn College; the lump crab came from TJ’s Fish Market in Dallas; the cheese used in the aioli for the ratatouille came from Caprino Royale, a Waco dairy farm’ and Provost’s favorite to explain: “Those eggs in the ratatouille…those are from my brother’s farm [Neal's Berry Farm right outside of Houston],” she said as she showed off the farm pictures she had stored on her phone. Provost pointed out that a lot of the products used in the dinners are donated by local markets and establishments.
“This woman, I cannot tell you how much I admire her,” said Provost, pointing at Chef Sharon Hage. Hage said working as a guest chef and doing private parties, as well as consulting work, has kept her busy.
Leaving people with a reason to come back and support their cause, Houser and Provost announced that one Youth Village student who worked on the first two dinners and was released last week from the facility already had a job lined up—one that he applied for and interviewed for while working with Café Momentum. “The pop up dinner series is a great way to bring people together for such an meaningful cause. I was excited to be asked to participate,” said Hage.