Top Culinary Nonprofit Mounts Explosive Statewide Expansion to Support Local Food Systems in Houston and Beyond

Grants, Culinary Education & Virtual Events on Tap to Boost Houston Food Businesses & Aid Pandemic Recovery

Due to its dynamic near-decade of success in supporting and cultivating Austin’s culinary businesses and nonprofits, the Austin Food & Wine Alliance (AFWA) announced it will expand statewide and replicate its innovative grant funding program in Houston  — a move that will support pandemic recovery over the next several years.

Due to its impact with grants and first-rate culinary events — and as a key driver of Austin’s burgeoning culinary scene — Texas’ most prominent chefs and culinary stakeholders have requested AFWA to bring its successful model to their cities. The newly formed Texas Food & Wine Alliance (TFWA) will be the umbrella organization overseeing the Houston Food & Wine Alliance(HFWA) as well as AFWA, the San Antonio Food & Wine Alliance, and the Dallas Food & Wine Alliance.

“Now, more than ever, coming together is important. I’m thrilled to see Texas Food & Wine Alliance bring the culinary community together statewide. And I can’t wait to see the impact their unique grant program will have in growing Houston food,” said Chef Monica Pope, one of Houston’s most celebrated chefs, who has been dubbed as “Alice Waters of the Third Coast.”

The nonprofit’s roots stem from Texas’ first statewide culinary organization, the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, which dissolved in 2011 to form the AFWA with a unique grant funding program based on culinary innovation and community giveback. AFWA has supported Central Texas’ culinary community with $336,500 in grant funding for chefs, farmers, artisan producers, wine-, beer- and spirit-makers, and food-focused nonprofits. More than $14,000 has been given for immediate aid and pandemic recovery this year.  

“It’s exciting to see the Food & Wine Alliance expanding to Houston,” said Ryan Lachaine, chef/owner of Riel Restaurant in the Montrose neighborhood. “The pandemic is decimating our industry, and the grants that they provide will go a long way toward helping our city’s culinary community.”

Chefs, restaurants and artisan producers from across the state always have been featured in AWFA’s signature fundraising events like Live Fire!Wine & SwineOfficial Drink of Austin and the Wine & Dine Chef Series. The expanded organization will foster culinary education, awareness, and innovation while building a culinary community as big as Texas.

Grant-giving will launch in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio in 2021 with funding amounts determined by successful fundraising, sponsorships, and events, according to Cathy Cochran-Lewis, AFWA board president and grant chair, who will also preside over the Texas Food & Wine Alliance Board of Directors. As the organization grows, TFWA will also begin awarding grants to cover innovative projects throughout the state.

“This is a thrilling moment for all those who have supported the amazing success of the Austin Food & Wine Alliance,” said Cochran-Lewis. “We recognize this expansion is a big leap but with the support of so many chefs who are committed to giving back to their communities, we know we can make a huge impact and not only help to preserve but also grow these vital local food systems.”

The pandemic seems like unlikely timing for growing these organizations but Mariam Parker, AFWA executive director, notes that is precisely why now is the time for this expansion.

“The pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to the Texas hospitality industry and it will take many years for full recovery,” she explained. “There is no greater time than now to fortify, to showcase, and to support the breadth of Texas talent, culinary businesses, and nonprofits.”

Parker will become executive director of the statewide organization and also maintain leadership of the AFWA.

With an abundance of caution, HFWA will not host any in-person events in 2020. However, Texas’ culinary talent will be highlighted in Alliance Academy,TFWA’s new online cooking experience launching September 17. Hosted by top chefs and mixologists from across the state,the episodes will cover the diversity of Texas food, highlighting the wide range of influences, flavors, and cultures that define the state’s cuisine. After each session, viewers will have the rare opportunity to engage with the chefs and culinary talent in live Q&A sessions. 

Viewers will be able to cook alongside the featured chefs and mixologists with Austin-based Assembly Kitchen offering ingredient kits to accompany each class and will ship nationwide.

“Food is such an amazing language and arguably one of the best ways to connect to other cultures. I am excited for the cooking classes that Austin Food and Wine Alliance is launching in an effort to continue their good work in Houston by building more bridges in our community,” said Chef Anita Jaisinghani, James Beard Award nominee and co-owner of Pondicheri in Houston.

The inaugural season will feature Chef Edgar Rico and Sara Mardanbigi, owners of Food & Wine Best New Restaurant Nixta Taqueria in Austin; Jackie Letelier, chef and owner of acclaimed charcuterie company Casero in Austin; Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph, executive pastry chef and partner of Emmer & Rye, Hestia, TLV, Henbit and Kalimotxo in Austin and 2020 Food & Wine Best New Chef; Jaisinghani; and Chef Rico Torres, James Beard Award nominee and co-owner of Mixtli in San Antonio.

Future episodes will feature Matt McCallister, executive chef and co-founder of Homewood in Dallas; Diego Galicia, chef and co-owner of Mixtli in San Antonio; Philip Speer, chef and co-owner of Comedor in Austin; Amir Hajimaleki, chef and owner of Roya in Austin; and Anthony Sobotik and Chad Palmatier, owners of Lick Honest Ice Creams in Austin and San Antonio. The upcoming class line-up can be found at

In addition to launching Alliance Academy, TFWA will host the seventh annual Culinary Arts Career Conference (CACC), an innovative career showcase offered free to high school culinary students October 26 – 30. For the first time, CACC will be broadcast online and will be offered to students from school districts across the state. The week of programming willbe filled withpanels from top culinary professionals, demos from esteemed chefs, inspiring speeches from food and beverage professionals, and a keynote from James Beard Award-winning Chef Alon Shaya of New Orleans’ Saba and Denver’s Safta. For more information, visit

For more information about HFWA, visit Stay up to date with Houston Food & Wine Alliance happenings on Facebook and Instagram.

Photos courtesy of TFWA