Top chefs make menu-worthy emergency preparedness meals

The Houston event demonstrated gourmet cooking with emergency rations, and raised community awareness about disaster preparation


By Jayme Fraser
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON, Texas — With canned peaches and tuna, marshmallows and Spam, professional chefs competed Saturday to show Houstonians that they can eat more than just peanut butter and jelly during a natural disaster.

Chef Kate McLean of Tony's won the 2nd annual Ready Houston Preparedness Kit Chef's Challenge at Market Square with a dish judge Albert Nurick said he "could see on the menu exactly as it is."

"The creativity is off the hook on this one," said Nurick, writer for the H-Town Chow Down blog.

On a fold-out table with a camp stove and average household cookware, McLean created a play on fish and chips. She and her competitors - David Grossman of Fusion Taco, Jonathan Jones of El Big Bad, Travis Lenig of Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette and Kevin Naderi of Roost - had 25 minutes to cook after lifting a tablecloth off a surprise stack of non-perishable items.

McLean seared canned tuna coated in crispy potato flakes. The fish cake sat in a Nutella gastrique made from the chocolate hazelnut spread, vinegar and powdered ramen seasoning. Atop that was a white marshmallow chip with blackened edges.

While Eric Sandler of CultureMap appreciated McLean's decision not to use Spam, unlike the rest of her competitors, he said it was certainly great hurricane cuisine, but not quite menu- worthy.

"It is quite good for the circumstances," he said.

Preparedness event

About 50 people attended the event hosted by the City of Houston Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security and the Houston Community Preparedness Collaborative. In patio chairs, they smelled marshmallows melting and saw the chefs arrange bias-cut slices of brown sugar-seared Spam over ramen noodles and broth.

Many earlier had peeked inside the Houston Fire Department's evacuation ambulance or stopped by a booth to pick up a bag filled with emergency phone numbers, a disaster preparedness list and "the Houston Emergency Preparedness Cookbook."

"You can still have a good dessert during a natural disaster," said Michael Walter from the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management.

Anna-Megan Raley sat on the edge of a water fountain and listened to the judges describe how the chefs were preparing the dishes.

"I might use the cookbook just for regular cooking," she laughed. "I'm like a college boy. Just the basics."

Preparing in advance

Raley, who lives nearby and said she frequents many Market Square events, said she appreciated the creative tack taken by the city to inform Houston about the need to prepare in advance for emergencies.

Her family home in Kemah "that had never had a drop of water in it" was torn away by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, whose extreme flooding also killed 23 people.

"We didn't know whether to evacuate or what to do with the food we had," she said. "I am pretty sure all my high school trinkets and prom dresses are floating out there in the ocean somewhere."

For more information about how to prepare an emergency preparedness kit or for information on emergency contacts, visit readyhoustontx.gov and houstonoem.org.

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©2014 the Houston Chronicle

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