Houstonians may remember chef Chandler Rothbard from any number of stints in kitchens across town: as the original executive chef at Down House circa 2011; as the man who replaced previous executive chef Jeff Axline at BRC Gastropub in 2012; or perhaps from his time at Roots Bistro, where he served organic produce from local providers such as Animal Farm in nearby Cat Springs.
Keeping It Real Local Farm Dinner
Apr 25, 5 p.m.
16723 Sycamore, Cat Spring
Staying on the move is natural for Rothbard, who spent three years in the US Army before attending the CIA in Hyde Park, New York. He worked at The Greenbrier in Sulphur Springs, West Virginia prior to coming to Houston, then decamped to Martha's Vineyard after Roots Bistro closed in 2013; it was a familiar setting for Rothbard, who'd previously worked for a series of Vineyard restaurants from Atlantic Fish and Chop House to the Outermost Inn. Most recently, he helped open a café in Miami, Florida. Despite his travels, Rothbard has remained in contact with his favorite local purveyors in each new city—including Animal Farm. And it's here that Rothbard will be hosting a five-course dinner on April 25, "with nothing but the best ingredients from the Hill Country to Houston," as he returns to Houston for the first time in two years.
Rothbard isn't headed here on his own, however. Along with fellow chef and friend Chett Bland and photographer Morris Malakoff, Rothbard is hard at work filming episodes of a show he's calling Keeping It Real Local. "It's about local food," Rothbard chuckles at the redundancy, "and the future of food." Though the show is only available on YouTube for now, Rothbard hopes to eventually pitch it to networks once this current run of episodes—many of them set here in Texas —are filmed.
"I started this concept five years ago on Martha's Vineyard," says Rothbard. "It's about the benefits of buying local and the food system as it relates to mass agriculture. Chefs are buyers; chefs have a really big market share and they really drive the market, so if chefs are shopping local these local businesses begin to thrive and can produce more of their great products."
Malakoff, who's a local himself, will be filming the dinner from beginning to end, aiming to showcase not only the farm-fresh produce from Animal Farm itself but other local products Rothbard is bringing in: wild game from Broken Arrow in the Hill Country, pork from Black Hill Ranch in Katy and longhorn meat from Horsak Ranch.
"We've lost a lot of local producers because people don't know about them," says Rothbard, momentarily pausing to remember the great fruits and vegetables that came out of Houston's own Utility Research Garden until its owner gave up the organic game and turned his land into a bamboo farm. "I'm always looking for ways to promote local farms and people who are operating with integrity," he says; hence the upcoming dinner at Animal Farm. Owners Cas and Gita Van Woerden have "such a beautiful place and great vegetables," he says, noting that while farm dinners at the homestead used to be a regular occurrence, it's been a while since the Van Woerdens have hosted any chefs.
Those who'd like to stay the night at the farm (which is recommended, as it's a long drive back to Houston and the dinners can be, um, rather leisurely, as farm life dictates) are welcome to bunk down for the night. "People can stay the night on the farm and we'll cook this huge brunch poolside in the morning," says Rothbard. Just let the Van Woerdens know when you e-mail them to book your seats for the dinner; they're taking reservations at cas at trcat dot com. And take it from me: wear closed-toed shoes for the long walk from the parking area into the farm itself and bring some industrial-strength bug spray for the outdoor dinner. The Van Woerdens may not use any pesticides on their produce, but slathering yourself in Off will help you enjoy the fruits of their labor that much more.
Note: a previous version of this article stated that Rothbard was bringing in longhorn meat from Florida for the dinner; he is not. We regret the error.