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Indoor farm helps out locals with fried chicken and cooking classes

Tony’s chef de cuisine Austin Waiter had big plans for Urban Harvest’s spring Sunday Supper. Though when he and the fine dining restaurant’s owners agreed to host the non-profit’s biannual fundraising dinner, they never imagined that Waiter would end up deep frying 1,050 pieces of double-brined chicken in one of Houston’s most upscale kitchens.

That’s exactly what happened over the first weekend in May, when nearly 80 vehicles pulled into Tony’s circular driveway in Greenway Plaza. In place of valet, a small team of restaurant employees and Urban Harvest staffers loaded aluminum tins into the back of donors’ cars. The makings of a comfort food feast were inside: Verdegreens Farms salad, Gundermann Acres Farms’ red mashed potatoes, Atkinson’s Farm “cream-less” creamed spinach, Breadman Baking Company Parker house rolls, Rio Grande Organics pecan-salted caramel bars and Waiter’s fried chicken — plus all the fixins.

Traditionally, Sunday Supper is a five-course meal prepared by several chefs and served family-style. Previous hosts have included Ian Tucker of Poitín and Kiran Verma of Kiran’s. Waiter was introduced to the organization last fall, when 25 chefs collaborated on a special 25th anniversary experience at St. John's School, where Urban Harvest hosts its weekly farmer’s market. “The purpose of Sunday Supper is to invite relationships between different farms and chefs,” explained Executive Director Janna Roberson. “We want people to see that there’s a lot of bountiful local produce available and that the quality is very high.”

Waiter sourced his chicken from an Urban Harvest vendor. “We got them from Three Sisters Farm, who produces a great product that travels well,” he said. It took a three-person team to fry all that meat. “We buttermilk-brined it two days in advance, then broke the chickens down and let them sit in the seasoning.”Originally, his sit-down menu mixed family-style dining with individually plated courses to fuse Urban Harvest’s farm-to-table philosophy with a bit of ‘Tony’s flair.’ That all went out the window once COVID-19 rendered large gatherings impossible. "Once we realized we couldn’t get 200 people in the same room I thought, “What’s something simple that people wouldn’t expect from us?’” Waiter said. 

Read more at Houston Chronicle (Amber Elliott) 

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