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Dinner for Hire

Abigail Diaz

Last week, the Aces of Taste team executed their first ever private dinner for ASM International. The months leading to planning this dinner were filled with excitement and fear. There is no pressure like having to impress someone, especially when it comes to a loyal Aces of Taste guest. We were tasked to provide all the elements we usually do, but with minor changes. To start off, the majority of our guests had never attended a pop-up dinner. Nor were they accustomed to eating outside of a traditional restaurant. To top off the element of surprise, we were notified 48 hours before the dinner that our venue was not going to be available after all! Talk about stressed out! But, regardless of the madness going on in my mind, we had a task at hand and it needed to go flawlessly. 

With the change of venue to Sharespace and only given a few hours to create a look for the dinner, I played off what the venue has to offer. I wanted to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere and elevate the dining experience our guests would have at any restaurant. Chef Arash developed a menu to accommodate everyone and satisfy any appetite. Stuffed mushrooms and Moroccan style meat balls were passed as guests arrived and accompanied with a glass of Colmagro Prosecco. Toasted cesar salad with charred baby romaine started the first course, followed by seared salmon with roasted pepper coulis and mock fried rice with baby vegetables. We paired the dinner with Passages Chardonnay and Pura 8 Carménére Reserve, which are wines you can find from local wine distributor Branwar. We finished the meal with was a classic tiramisu cup. 

To end the evening, we wrapped out the night in traditional Aces of Taste style with a Q & A with Chef Arash. We sent each guest home with a box of chocolates provided from an ASM member and left with a piece of an Aces of Taste experience.

Overall the planning and any unforeseen set backs made for an evening of firsts. I would do it all over again and if I had too. The team we have created at Ace's is something of magic and I am truly blessed to know we have our dream team that can execute and create an experience for anyone. 

PHOTOS: Fredis Benitez

Women Rising Dinner Volume: 1

Abigail Diaz

Six months ago Aces of Taste (AOT) founder Ahrif Sarumi envisioned this dinner and last week it came to life. With a record-setting dinner by selling out in only three days, we decided to add an encore dinner on the following day for guests on our waiting list. Wanting to start the year off on the right foot, the whole team put their minds together to create a unique experience. The goal was to empower women and feed not only our bellies but also our souls.

The dinner featured Chef de Cuisine Maria Gonzalez of Benjy's on Washington. We wanted to showcase women and had an all women staff, including music by DJ Honey B, photographers Erika Kwee and Janet Quirarte, and featured two nights of all-women panelists.

Diners feasted on passed appetizers that included steak tartare, local egg & rock shrimp, crush cucumber with tahini. The first course included roasted beet kale salad, topped with toasted pine nuts and pickled cherries. Harissa crusted albacore with curried cauliflower puree and charred leek oil set the second course. Guests were then treated to braised boneless short ribs, warm potato salad and finished with spiced peanut au jus for the third course. The final course for day one was a twist on the classic fudge brownie with meringue, caramel, macaron and topped with pistachio made by Chef Morgan Jankovic, also known as The Foodie Chef. For day two, the final course was a cardamom almond cake with citrus yogurt and basil coulis by Chef Maria.
 

Merchant & Market was the host venue for both evenings. The unique space with custom artwork and finishings would set the mood for an evening of artistry, creativity and inspiration. At the end of the dinners, guests were treated to our panel of women guests speakers who touched on topics ranging from small businesses to what to do in a male dominated industry. All voicing that community over competition is necessary for success. We wanted to create a space for our guests to not only enjoy an amazing dinner but to also feel empowered for the year ahead.

PHOTOS: Erika Kwee & Janet Quirarte

Vegan Chocolate Pie

Abigail Diaz

I want to start by stating that I am not a vegan, however I totally respect individuals who change their lifestyle and become vegan. I am not going to lie I one day may just end up making the transition, but right now I am just a fan of finding recipes that are tasty and don’t contain any animal components in them. On that note, I found this delicious Vegan Chocolate Pie on Food52. I was intrigued how simple the dessert was and had to try it.  It is hands down one of the best pies I have had. It is so easy to make and will impress anyone non-vegan. I had my mother, best friend and boyfriend try it and they could not stop eating it. If you are looking to take a dessert to a friend’s potluck or keep your sweet tooth in line for the new year this is a great option to consider. 


Serves 8 to 12

Vegan Chocolate Pie

  • 1 12.3-ounce package of extra firm, silken tofu
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons almond, rice, or soy milk
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (or to taste)
  • 1 1/2 cups vegan dark chocolate chips (semi-sweet)
  • 1 easy vegan graham cracker crust, recipe to follow

Easy Vegan Graham Cracker Crust

  • 12 graham cracker sheets
  • 2 tablespoons organic brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  1. To make the crust, preheat the oven to 375° F. Place the crackers and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Drizzle in the coconut oil and pulse a few more times, until the crust holds together (you can also mix the crust with your hands). Press the crust firmly into a pie crust pan, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow crust to cool.
  2. Transfer the tofu, vanilla, almond milk, sea salt, and maple syrup to a food processor or blender and blend well. Melt the chips over a double boiler, and add them to the tofu mix. Blend again.
  3. Pour chocolate filling into the pie crust and let it set in the fridge for at least three hours. Slice and serve.

#ubercheer

Abigail Diaz

Tis the season to be jolly and give cheer! And this is exactly what UberEats did last week with us at Aces of Taste for the last dinner of the year. It has been a wild ride that ended on such a high note. Working with such a notable company and well-respected Chef Hugo Ortega really set the tone to starting 2016 on the right foot. Talks of the possibility of collaborating were set a few months prior to the dinner and once we were given the green light, trying to keep the details a secret were nearly impossible.

The dinner was set at the West Bloc Realty office, where the skyline view of Houston is spectacular. Guests were invited to the pop-up as users of UberEats and by entering a the promo code on their flagship app. Upon arriving, they were greeted by a classic Méxican paloma cocktail made with El Jimador Tequila. White linen table cloths, candles and fresh flowers set the mood for the delicious five-course menu Chef Hugo and Ruben Ortega had prepared for the 40 guests.

The menu consisted of treating diners through a culinary experience of México which included Empenadas de Plátano, Ceviche de Callo de Hacha, Lomo de Res and Piramide de Chocolate to name a few. The entire experience was free of charge to the selected winners and gave them an opportunity to try off-the-menu items in an intimate setting with Chef Hugo. Wrapping up the evening, Sonkissd Dance Company provided the entertainment and got guests involved in a choreographed dance. The night was an epic success to a year of epic pop-up dining and eating.

PHOTOS: Marco Torres

Sweet & Savory

Abigail Diaz

August was certainly an epic month in food for me. I am so happy that my pants still fit and that I haven't felt any depravation during this time of Ironman training. So on that note, when the Aces of Taste team started planning for this next dinner, I was beyond excited to end August on a sweet & savory note. Continuing the ever-changing experience of AOT, we partnered up with Ashley Rose of Sugar and Cloth to create a dinner that each course would be paired with a dessert. I created two Cointreau Rickey cocktails to go with the evening and worked with Tout Suite Executive Chef David Rodriguez who made all the savory dishes. Pastry chefs Lisa Driver from Maple & Love with Kathleen Morgan of Honeychild's Sweet Creams created all the sweets, which were all perfection. The menu was driven to embrace strokes of classic Americana in every bite. From a bacon and chocolate course to spiked milkshake and french fries the night was set to satisfy all the palatable senses. Sugar and Cloths' space really set the mood and we were so thrilled to work with Ashley. Being the first time we had so many people working on one, dinner I was impressed how the word teamwork really happened. Usually egos can get in the way, but that was not the case. Everyone carried their weight and helped out when needed. This was one of the most detailed driven dinners and to see everyone come together really made it one of the best. I can't stop dreaming of the mushroom toast, chocolates and spiked milkshake, take me back!

PHOTOS: Jay Tovar

The Great Cookie C(Rumble)

Abigail Diaz

Who knew Houston had so many amazing chocolate chip cookie options? Growing up my sister made the best chocolate chip cookies (I swear) and then, she changed the recipe and forgot how the original ones were made. I think I was nine when that happened and since then I've been on the hunt. Jump to my senior year of college and I discovered my favorite chocolate chip cookie in Houston was from Brown Bag Deli. The crunchy, buttery exterior with the super moist and rich chocolate center, I was sold. Years have passed since I was in college and the deserts scene has definitely stepped up. So when a few girlfriends and I decided to gather up 20 different cookies from around the city we were all on the hunt for the best chocolate chip cookie. To be honest I don't think we knew what we were getting ourselves into. The joy of eating a cookie was quickly interrupted by the realization of eating so many! But, we all pushed thru and decided on our top five. Coming in at fifth Red's Dessert Dive, fourth Brown Bag Deli, third Michael's Cookie Jar, runner-up Common Bond and the leader Tiny Boxwoods.  The overall experience was honestly one of the best. Gathering with like minded food enthusiasts who love creating a moment really showed me a different side to the local food community. I am truly anticipating the next event! 

Thank you to all of our participating bakeries:


And check out all the awesome ladies who participated: 

Vegan State of Mind

Abigail Diaz

I would be lying to you if I said a year ago today I would be enjoying a vegan dinner and loving it. Well that was the case last Thursday at the ninth Aces of Taste installment. Chef Stephanie Hoban of Ripe Cuisine really impressed me with her skills in the kitchen and the fantastic menu she created. In my mind and I think many others would agree, just hearing the word vegan isn't that appealing. However, was I ever so wrong. Chef Hoban proved to me that not only is "vegan" eating delicious, it is healthy, smart and attainable. What really impressed me about this dinner was the creativity behind every dish. Chef Hoban recognized that there would be guests, like myself who probably "wouldn't get it." Each course had some familiarity to it. But even with the modifications, if you didn't know you were eating vegan this dinner could have tricked anyone. I would encourage everyone to visit Chef Hoban's food truck because she clearly knows what she is doing and is a pioneer for the vegan community here in Houston. 

Photos by: Francisco Montes

Namaste

Abigail Diaz

One of my favorite places to go have a bite at in Houston is Pondicheri. There are not that many places to eat a unique breakfast in Houston. So whenever I have guests come in from out of town, I make it a point to take them here. On this visit, Travis (my boyfriend) and I decided to go for breakfast. What I love about this place is the relaxed atmosphere in an area that can be a bit pretentious. The customer service is always welcoming and accommodating, and finally the food is fantastic. I have never had a dull experience at Pondicheri and would encourage everyone to stop by and try it out. Also, be sure to check out their bake lab upstairs, it's the perfect gem for those who want a sometime quick, delicious & sweet. Here is what Travis and I noshed on:

BREAKFAST:

  • Morning Thali ( A must try)
  • Masala Eggs ( Travis' Favorite)
  • Chocolate Brioche Bun (YES & YES)
  • Pista Scone (I always order this one)
  • Thums Up (India's version of coke, it was oh so good!)

Velvet Taco

Abigail Diaz

Living in Houston we get more than our fair share of "Tex-Mex" or "Mexican" food. Whatever your preference is, you ultimately can not get away from it. On that note, Houston welcomes its' newest addition Velvet Taco. Coming in from DTX, I have heard all the rage about this taco spot from my friends who live there. So when I saw they were coming here, I was a bit surprised but also excited. Finally, I was going to get the chance to taste what all the hype was about. Not even a month old, Velvet Taco is making waves with taco lovers, late night eaters and foodies. So was the hype worth it? Yes! I was supper impressed with the customer service, how quickly the food arrived & overall taste. To top off the whole experience, the price was not what I would have expected. With tacos ranging from $2.25 - $6.50 I would consider this reasonable, especially since I have seen some pretty ridiculous taco prices within the last few month that will go nameless, ( I paid $12 for a taco.. I KNOW.) Check out what  my food partner in crime Marco Torres and I munched on.

TACOS:
#3 - Crisp Tikka Chicken (I wanted more, so good)
#6 - Falafel (There was no guilt chowing this one down, it was so worth it)
#11 - Grilled Flank Steak (Solid steak taco)
#17 - Ahi Poke RAW (If sushi came in a taco #OMG)

SIDES:
Corn & Tots (AMAZING)

DESSERT:
Red Velvet Cake w/ Cajeta ( Do I really need to say more)

**They also have lettuce wraps for the healthy nuts, which I ordered two of those**

Gulf Coast & Wine

Abigail Diaz

Whenever the team at Aces of Taste starts planning for their dinners, creating an experience is first priority, followed by pairing it with the perfect chef. Chef Ryan Lachaine was the perfect chef for this Gulf Coast Inspired Wine Dinner. With a Culinary Degree from The Art Institue of Houston, and working for the likes of Chef Chris Shepherd at Underbelly and Chef Bryan Caswell of REEF, one can see why the AOT family wanted him to be our featured chef. Also the dining experience included wine from Branwar, and the guests enjoyed Cointreau cocktails while snacking on crostini with mushrooms, herbs and parmesan. After H'orderves and the social hour dinner was promptly served starting off with Texas Blue Crab, pear, merlenton, greens, and drizzled with hot and sour.  The following course was Gulf Shrimp with a popcorn puree. Then the third was served with burnt Carolina Gold Rice and Hangar Steak. Finishing the evening perfectly Sticky Toffee Pudding topped with Foie Torchon was served (my favorite). Again AOT was so privileged to have worked with Chef Lachaine. His attention to detail and passion for food was evident with every dish. I am still dreaming about this meal, and can not wait to see what Chef Lachaine does next. 

PHOTOS: Jay Tovar 

Beastie Brunch

Abigail Diaz

When planning a brunch with one of the hottest chefs in Houston right now it’s no wonder we wanted to make this all about his vision. The Aces of Taste family was so fortunate to work with Chef Justin Turner of Bernie’s Burger Bus to collaborate on our second brunch. When I first met Chef Turner it was at a Platformit event last December, I knew we had to lock him up for a date. Months went by but we never lost our interest to work with him. Jump to this past Saturday and the wait was well worth it. Chef Turner impressed more than 60 dinners to a spectacular five-course brunch themed around the Beastie Boys. Diners enjoyed tuna crudo, french toast with foie gras, house made gravlax, pork belly and finished it off with a semifreddo. Cocktails were provided from Cointreau and rounding up the mood were sounds by DJ Charlee Brown. Overall this was another successfully executed brunch and I can’t wait for next month’s dinner. Cheers!

Photos: Marco Torres

Totally Toasted

Abigail Diaz

The love I have for eggs runs deep. They are easy enough for even novice to work with and the possibilities of creating anything with eggs can seem endless. I have a pretty hectic lifestyle and I am constantly in the hunt for a good combo of high protein and a good carb I can take on the go. Toast fulfills that need for a fast, tasty and healthy meal. Ezekiel is my bread of choice because it provides a great source of fiber, no sugar, no flour and it tastes great. I love the Sesame Sprouted Whole Grain, which is the base for all of my toast combinations. Below you will find my four favorites, of which I eat at least one of these a week. They all have fresh ingredients, no sugars and believe me they taste awesome.

Smoked Salmon Toast

  • 1 Ezekiel Sesame Sprouted Whole Grain Bread
  • pesto Spread
  • 1 over easy egg
  • Smoked Salmon (purchase at your local grocery store) 
  • capers 
  • 1 tbs coconut oil

DIRECTIONS 

  1. Toast bread and brush with pesto spread. Heat oil in a small skillet, over medium heat. Crack egg onto skillet undisturbed 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Flip with flat spatula for 2 to 3 minutes and remove. 

  2. Place egg onto pesto spread toast. Add Smoked Salmon and top with capers.  

Steak and Avacado Toast

  • 1 Ezekiel Sesame Sprouted Whole Grain
  • 1 half of an avacado
  • 2 tbs olives (chopped)
  • 1 poached egg
  • 2 oz Fillet Mignon (I use whatever steak I may not have finished from the dinner before)
  • 1 tbs coconut oil

DIRECTIONS 

  1. Toast bread and spread avocado half. Heat oil in a small skillet, over medium heat and add remaining steak to cook 2 to 4 minutes each side. 

  2. Fill a saucepan with a couple inches of water. Heat the water on high until it reaches a bare simmer and bubbles start appearing at the bottom of the pan. Working with the eggs one at a time, crack the egg into a small bowl or cup. Place the bowl close to the surface of the hot water and gently slip the egg into the water. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Set a timer for 4 minutes, egg whites should be completely cooked, while the egg yolks are still runny. Gently lift the poached eggs out of the pan and place on a plate to serve.

  3. Transfer poached egg onto avocado toast and top with steak. Add diced olives over steak.

Manchego Cheese and Chive Toast

  • 1 Ezekiel Sesame Sprouted Whole Grain
  • 1 scrambled egg
  • 1 oz, Manchego aged for 1 year 
  • chopped chives 
  • 1 tbs coconut oil

DIRECTIONS 

  1. Toast bread and heat oil in a small, skillet. Crack egg onto skillet undisturbed 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Scramble egg not being to aggressive, until it appears to have a fluffy finish. 

  2. Cut two thin slices of Manchego cheese and place on top of eggs. Add chopped chives over cheese. 

Egg in a Basket Charred Tomato Toast 

  • 1  Ezekiel Sesame Sprouted Whole Grain (cut a hole in the center of the bread, before toasting)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 charred tomatos 
  • 1 garlic clove 

DIRECTIONS 

  1. Rub toasted bread with garlic and brush with oil. Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium heat. Place toast on skillet and crack egg in hole and cook, undisturbed 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Flip with flat spatula for 2 to 3 minutes and remove. 

  2. Increase heat to medium-high. Brush cut sides of tomatoes with oil. Sear, cut sides down and undisturbed, until charred, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer tomato halves to piece of toast with a spatula and lightly mash. Season with salt and pepper.

Local Love

Abigail Diaz

When one starts a business, one of the things an owner does is set a lofty goal. For Ahrif and me, it was to have Chef Monica Pope be a featured chef for Aces of Taste (A.O.T). Last Friday that dream came true. This dinner was one of the tipping points for the A.O.T family. With the heavy wave of status she carries in Houston’s culinary scene one might think it would be nearly impossible to convince her to partner with a start up, but she gave us an opportunity to prove ourselves. In fact this dinner captured the spirit of teamwork and Chef Pope’s strong ties to supporting local. In every sense of the word, teamwork was a part of this dinner from start to finish.

When we sat down with Chef Pope’s team and created the menu, the first thing we wanted our guests to experience was learning about local ingredients. In the end, we wanted them to cook a memorable meal as a collective unit, which is where the “teamwork” factor comes into play.

On the evening of the dinner, guests were greeted with a Rémy Martin cocktail while delicious appetizers were passed. Once everyone was settled, the fun part began.

Guests gathered into groups and followed recipes that were created by Chef Pope. Once each station completed their recipe, guests were escorted outside for more Rémy Martin cocktails and networking. In the meantime, the room was transformed into a communal dinner party. Sounds from DJ Charlee Brown set the mood and everyone enjoyed the dinner they all prepared with some additional proteins Chef Pope’s team made for the evening.

The success of this dinner was another one for the books. There is nothing more fulfilling than a delicious meal with great people. Cheers to teamwork and eating local.

Modern Méx

Abigail Diaz

The fifth installment of Aces of Taste happened last Saturday with much anticipation. Social media heavy hitter Chef Arash Kharat was chosen to be the featured chef and was asked to create tequila inspired dinner. He brought his unique take on Méxican cuisine and provided guests a delicious culinary journey. The dinner started off with mini smoked shrimp quesadillas and their homemade queso fresco. Following the intro appetizer guests feasted on duck confi zobe and miso crema. Each course was paired with an Avión Tequila cocktail to showcase the versatility of the spirit.

Traditionally Aces serves each course to guests, but this dinner had an entrée line. Chef Arash wanted to provide patrons the control to create their own dinner plate. Pit roasted baby goat and smoked chili braised chicken were the proteins and accompanied by borracho beans topped with chicharrones. The street style fried rice and roasted sweet corn with coffee mayo was deliciously memorable.

Rounding up the delicious meal, Chef Arash created a fantastic tres leches infused with Cointreau and drizzled with a Cointreau Noir reduction.

Overall the food was stellar and Aces pushes to create an inclusive dining experience for all guests. The experience is elevated by the chef’s attention to detail and the constant involvment of the dining patrons.  

Once again, Aces provided a unique and modern twist to traditional Méxican cuisine and dining.

Photos by: Victor H. Cervantes www.MosterPixs.com

Aces of Taste

Abigail Diaz

ACES OF TASTE: NATURE'S JOURNEY

Last Thursday, Aces of Taste (AoT) hosted their third pop-up dinner installment at Yellow Rose Distillery with Chef German Mosquera and Nik Botello. The theme for this dinner was “Nature’s Journey”, which played with various textures, proteins and flavors, while Chef German presented a culinary journey that was memorable for all guests. 

The evening started with a social hour that included delicious Yellow Rose Whiskey cocktails, which would accompany the dinner. Tunes from guest DJ Charlee Brown set the mood for the evening. Guests were then escorted into the distillery barrel room where tables were set and guests were seated around the sweet aging barrels. 

The dinner included, smoked Texas duck a l’orange for hors d’oeuvres and then moved to a fresh celery root with slow roasted foie gras to complete the first course. The menu had some minor changes, but the changes were welcomed. As always, guests were encouraged to visit the kitchen while platting was happening. This allowed for an element of interaction that patrons are seldom able to experience. 

To conclude the successful sold-out diner, Chef German and Nik took a few minutes for the popular Q&A. He entertained guests with his articulate description of the dinner and ended the dinner on a solid note. As always AoT strives to create unique and one of a kind dinners that are memorable and delicious. Cheers to many more

Here a few photos from the outstanding dinner. Just click on the photos and this will allow you to scroll thru. 

Photo Credit: Marco Torres of www.marcofromhouston.com

Cooking with Abuelita

Abigail Diaz

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hanging out with my abuelita in her kitchen to cook up a delicious lunch. One of her signature dishes is enchiladas, which is staple to any Méxican household. But just like barbecue cooking styles change from Kansas to Texas, the same is said for enchiladas.

My family is from Tampico, Tamaulipas which is a coastal city. The style of enchiladas isn't what we traditionally would see here in the States. The chili pepper sauce we use or “gravy” as some call it in America isn't thick and we don't mound our enchiladas with melted cheese. The key to our enchiladas is fresh ingredients, fast cooking and simple ingredients. I requested my abuelita for a basic Enchilada Tampiqueñas, which just states where the enchiladas are from. We kept it simple with our version of cheese enchiladas, in which we used fresh Mexican Cheese for the inside and Cotija Cheese for the topping. This dish is traditionally served with a cabbage salad, aguacate, arroz y frijoles.

Overall the day was special and memorable. I don't get to spend that much time with my abuelita, but making time to learn the skills and sharing the kitchen with her was all worth it.

Photo Credit: Marco Torres of www.marcofromhouston.com

The Debut

Abigail Diaz

Pop-Up Dinners, Supper Clubs or Temp Kitchens, whatever you want to call them, they are here to stay. 

The idea of pop-up restaurants isn't a new concept in Latin American countries. However in the States, it hadn’t been a concept to food evangelists until the early 2000's. Since then, this idea of creating a mini-restaurant for guests to enjoy in a private disclosed setting has become a norm across the world. Locally, the Houston market has started seeing their fair share of pop-ups. 

In early December, I had the privilege of being a part of one. Not having an inkling of what to do or expect, my new friend Ahrif Sarumi and I did it. We hosted our pop-up with unanimously positive feedback. With his vision to host this event and my limited experience with the food industry, we took the step of faith to collaborate and made it happen. 

We were lucky enough to secure Executive Chef Mike Potowski of Benjy's and his Sous Chef Spencer Serrette. With finite time and money, this was a true test from vision to action. 

Here a few photos from the outstanding dinner.