What does a 2021 food event look like? If it's anything like COMMUNE, Indie Chefs Community's ambitious two-week activation set to take over Heights House Hotel late this summer, it could completely redefine the genre.
Announced by ICC on Thursday, COMMUNE will bring some of America's most exciting chefs to Houston to take part in a multitude of pop-ups, collaborative dinners, classes, discussions, and more between August 21 and September 5. We're talking Mason Hereford from New Orleans's Turkey and the Wolf, Philip Speer from Austin's Comedor, and Kim Alter from San Francisco's Nightbird Restaurant. James Beard Award-winner Justin Yu is one of the chefs who'll represent Houston—no doubt others will be involved too.
The idea is not to do the usual thing. In taking over Heights House Hotel, including bar and restaurant Space Cowboy, COMMUNE will open a number of restaurant-quality installations, all with different aims.
For instance, New York's Zoe Kanan, formerly of Simon & the Whale, and Libby Willis, of recently shuttered MeMe's Diner, will create an onsite Jewish deli. Kevin Tien of Washington, D.C.'s Moon Rabbit will do an omakase pop-up. Another special dinner hosted by chef Kurt Evans will focus on what's needed to end mass incarceration.
Grover Smith, founder of Indie Chefs Community—which has over the years put on more than a few dozen of these larger-scale events, or activations—wants to give the chefs not only the space to do what they want, but the time, money, and resources.
He's paying many of the visiting chefs to close their restaurants while they're in town. He's also covering their transportation and entertainment costs. Heights House Hotel will handle lodging. It's not just about bringing attention to these chefs and industry professionals, but also he wants to give them opportunity to network, learn, and feel revived after attending.
"If someone is going to take five to six days from their life to come, they should get some other benefits out of it, ancillary benefits," Smith tells Houstonia. "I knew that we could do something different. If you provide a vessel and mechanism for that, you can set them up for success."
Smith lives in Houston, one reason why COMMUNE is happening here. Another reason—and we all know it—is H-Town eats well and looks good too.
"It's a very diverse city," says Smith. "And it's improved a lot in the food scene and now it's an exceptional city for food. There's such a vibrant culture here."
Gin Design Group will transform the hotel property into COMMUNE. Smith is bringing in two 55-foot commercial kitchen trailers and specialty products—grills, smokers, and the like. The Space Cowboy staff will stay on board during the event, and Night Moves Hospitality's Lyle Bento and Greg Perez will be closely involved in much of the behind-the-scenes work.
Smith says that all of the involved talent, sponsors, staff, and volunteers at COMMUNE will be fully vaccinated for Covid-19, though he added he can't do anything about the state's decision to prohibit events from demanding vaccination proof upon attendance.
Also, half of the net first-week proceeds from COMMUNE will go to Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate, a nonprofit that fundraises for local Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations that work to stop anti-Asian racism.
Taken entirely, COMMUNE is ambitious. But Smith is prepared to bring to Houston the kind of food event that changes the very idea of a food event.
"I'm still trying to wrap my head around it," says Smith. "But it's 'What can be done when you empower the people who have these abilities?' So, I think it's gonna be really great for Houston, and I can't wait to show it off."
More chefs and a full schedule to be announced in late June. Pre-sale for subscribes begins June 24. Tickets will range between $50 and $500 per event. For more, visit indiechefs.com.