Dubbed Commune, the event is being put on by Indie Chefs, a group founded in 2017 by Heights resident and Houston native Grover Smith with the goal of building a stronger, more equitable chef community. The group has hosted weeklong traveling events in the past, but Smith said the upcoming Heights event is larger in scale and serves as a reunion for the chefs who participated in past events to bring people back together after a difficult 15 months for the restaurant industry.
"It went from this reunion of sorts to realizing that I might have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something where we can all set up with all the people collaborating in one space," said Smith, who formerly served as the general manager of the Austin-based Foreign & Domestic.
The Heights event will take place from Aug. 21 through Sept. 5 at the new Heights House Hotel on Cavalcade Street. Smith said the overall event is amorphous, with popup stations, collaborative dinners bringing different chefs together to create 12 course meals, chef-led classes and a recurring street market.
Each night will bring a different group of chefs with different food and drink menus. Details on the programming is being released in stages based on the availability of the chefs involved, and some details are still being worked out, Smith said.
"It’s almost like traveling to another city, but you stay in the Heights to try these menus," Smith said. "You can go four different nights and you can have a totally different experience."
Smith said highlights will include three dinner events supporting different causes, including collaborative dinners for Chefs Stopping Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate on Aug. 21 and Embrace Race on Aug. 28, as well as an End Mass Incarceration dinner with Philadelphia chef Kurt Evans on Sept. 4.
The Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate cause is one Smith said is near and dear to his heart. Founded by chefs Tim Ma of Lucky Danger and Kevin Tien of Moon Rabbit—both Washington D.C.-based chefs who will take part in the dinner—the group seeks to spread awareness of the ongoing attacks on Asian Americans and fundraise for local AAPI organizations who work to stop Asian racism.
Smith describes the event as an "anti-festival," a description meant to highlight some key differences, particularly around how organizers are trying to both serve guests while also creating an inspirational experience for the chefs themselves.
While the expectation at some food festivals is for chefs to pay for their own travel and accommodations, Smith said it was important to him to cover those costs for Commune's partners so no one had to suffer financial hardship to participate. Some chefs are bringing their entire teams to Houston, and Smith said Indie Chefs is covering their costs of having to shut their restaurants down during that time.
"This is first and foremost a reunion; second to that, it’s meant to be a cathartic experience for the partners to see friends and make new ones," Smith said. "It's meant to be a catalyst for the creative process. One way to find creative inspiration is working with their peers or meeting new ones and seeing new ideas on a plate."
Learn more about the festival and get updates on what is taking place each day of the two-week event here.