A Feast with Chef Monica Pope – Serving Farm to Table at Your Wedding
Coming to a farm field near you: James Beard–nominated LGBTQ chef Monica Pope continues her devotion to fresh, local cuisine.
Chef Monica Pope’s remarkable journey since opening the much-celebrated Quilted Toque a quarter-century ago in Houston has proceeded with tremendous acclaim from critics, and in arguably one of the finest food cities in the nation. Her tale is one of revolution and evolution, with enormous helpings of self-discovery and spiritual reconnection. It hasn’t been a path she or anyone who’s followed her might necessarily have predicted, but the fact that these days you’ll often find her serving extraordinary meals at long tables on expansive farm fields makes perfect sense.
“I get my inspiration creating pop-up dinners in a field.” –Monica Pope
Born in Germany and raised in Texas, Pope began to study food in Europe and then soon after in San Francisco. These early experiences gave her the chops to develop a passionate culinary mission—to change the way Houston eats. Over the course of her career, from her earlier restaurants to the more recent (and more casual) venues like T’afia and Beaver’s, Pope has become renowned for her commitment to working with local farmers and supporting and hosting farmers markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) operations. Her dedication to cooking and feeding people with real, local, seasonal, and natural foods still fully informs her latest business incarnation, Sparrow, which in 2016 she refashioned from a restaurant and bar into a locale for cooking classes themed around farmers markets and food-as-medicine approaches, and private gatherings, including weddings and rehearsal dinners. She made the move around the time that she also split up with her wife. And as she’s worked through restoring her personal life to a good place, she says, “It’s been an amazing spiritual awakening. I’ve been rediscovering poetry and reconnecting with how healthy it is to feel peace and joy and stillness.”
Pope now routinely takes her cooking mission on the road, staging field dinners from spring through fall on farms around the rural Round Top area, about midway between Houston and Austin, often in tiny burgs like Warrenton and Independence. She crafts grand, multi-course feasts incorporating dozens of ingredients grown and produced within 100 to 150 miles of Houston. Most of the time, these convivial affairs are served family-style at long tables in the midst of a great pasture. At one favorite venue, Jolie Vue Farms, the pre-dinner festivities start at one end of a field, in and around an old farmhouse, with guests sipping and noshing until it’s time to walk up a big hill, where they sit and feast and drink until sundown. These magnificent gatherings often take place within easy reach of inns and guesthouses, so nobody has far to travel afterward.
“I get my inspiration creating pop-up dinners in a field, miraculously cooking with fire and whatever is available,”she says. “It is hard, and it tastes amazing. And I find real connection from the people. They’re a community at one table, and they’re feeling the food.”
So renowned are these pop-ups that they’ve become the template for planning fabulous rehearsal banquets and wedding dinner parties, some of them held at Round Top–area farms and others in spacious backyards of folks around the region. Pope gladly works with clients to find just the right setting for their party.
She has done same-sex wedding parties, but the underlying characteristic that unites her otherwise diverse clients is a deep appreciation of her farm-fresh, field-dinner philosophy.
As Pope continues to embrace preparing these amazing meals for others, she’s also steadily working on a new cookbook and memoir, Eating Hope, in which she’s chronicling her “spiritual journey as a cook and a chef, feeding people and understanding relationships.”
The Food at a Monica Pope Event
Monica’s dinners depend wholly on what’s available in the most seasonable and local senses. A menu could feature any of the foods pictured on these pages, including brisket and pork liver cooked on a giant rotisserie box called a cajachina; “hot diggities”—mini corn dogs in a curry-cornmeal crust; bratwurst and myriad sausages; chicken tails cooked in an Asian soy-sake-seaweed marinade treatment and topped with a savory citrus gastrique; bowls of eggplant and greens; and raw bowls of cremini mushrooms with radishes, purple shell peas, and beans in a miso dressing. But she can also prepare a wide variety of other dishes based on the seafood, meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and other goodies grown and available nearby.
Heavenly sweets could include custard with persimmons, miniature apple pies topped with maple-teased mascarpone, and make-your-own ice cream sandwiches featuring goat’s-milk popsicles, ginger chewies, and cajeta. Farmers and producers she regularly sources include Two Sisters Eggs, Animal Farm, Jolie Vue Farms, Blue Heron Farm, Fluff Bake Bar, and Honeychild’s Sweet Creams. The long-table dinners usually involve big platters of foods for sharing, or sometimes the service comprises a mix of family-style platters and plated proteins for each guest. Beverage options at Monica’s dinners typically include a special cocktail for the evening, such as a blend of hibiscus, mint, and lime with a selection of premium tequila or vodka. Want special Texas beers or wines? She can arrange that, too.
How to Book Monica Pope at Your Wedding or Party
Monica Pope creates her dinners individually, relying heavily upon client input. The base price starts at around $45 to $50 per person, for the food alone. She determines additional costs based on the requirements of the rehearsal dinner or wedding celebration in question. Expenses can include procuring specialty cocktails, wine, or beer; hiring Tim Smith, her co-chef, and other staff, such as servers and bartenders; extra service items and rentals; venue costs; and taxes and gratuity. To begin planning a meal with her, visit sparrowhouston.com or email email@example.com.
Pope regularly prepares field dinners, such as the one pictured above, for small and large groups (up to about 225 guests) at rural venues in the Round Top area. This recent feast at Jolie Vue Farms featured ingredients procured from local farms and suppliers. The cook wearing the “Hot Mess” apron is Pope’s co-field chef, Tim Smith, who brings his own “kitchen without walls,” complete with smoker, grill, fryer, and flat-top griddle.
Go Local: Five More Outstanding Farm-to-Table Chefs in Texas
Texas boasts amazing chefs who showcase seasonal and sustainable foods. Here are five talents who enjoy cooking for rehearsal dinners and wedding parties.
The chef of Austin’s Eden East and Hillside Farmacy has built her career creating plates of beauty from farmstand goods. edeneastaustin.com
Part of the Dallas restaurant group that owns Idle Rye in Deep Ellum, Skradzinski makes magic from farmers market provisions. idlerye.com
Among Fort Worth’s farm-to-table pioneers, this Modern Art Museum café alum now caters magnificent events. mockingbirdfood.com
Houston’s James Beard Award–winning Chris Shepherd sources edibles from dozens of farms within 150 miles of his home kitchen at Underbelly. underbellyhouston.com
Fresh, local menus have made a smash hit of her San Antonio catering business, Tim the Girl. Beautiful dinners with farm-to-fork ingredients are her specialty. timthegirl.com
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