PaperCity Magazine

March 2018- Houston

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104 K elly Barnhart wants to shift the paradigm of healthy eating. The former Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, curatorial assistant and budding restaurateur thinks you can please your palate while improving your well-being. With her new restaurant Vibrant, which opens late spring in the former McGowen Cleaners spot on Fairview in Montrose, her concept stands out from standard health-centric restaurants that offer up organic options and vegan varieties. Yes, Vibrant will source ingredients from trusted farmers and its own vegetable garden whenever possible, but it's the philosophy that sets it apart: a non-restaurant approach to a restaurant. Architecture firm Lake Flato has designed the 2,500-square- foot space around the food and the garden, in collaboration with Ten Eyck Landscape Architects. What's the new look of healthy food? Sugar-free walnut cardamom bliss balls, dusted with coconut flakes. Gourmet gluten-free bread smeared with cashew butter. Cauliflower chicken salad with apple. They are all bright — in both color and flavor profile. The carrot ginger soup is an eye-popping orange hue. It personifies the vivid, lively flavors that will characterize the Vibrant menu, Barnhart says. The restaurant did not come together overnight. Barnhart searched for chefs for years, and four experiments failed, all with "restaurant-style" chefs. "It was up to me to translate my vision for it," Barnhart says. "I tried to explain, and I finally realized that this kind of food would need to be innate." After three years, she found that someone: Portland's Alison Wu, food alchemist and Instagram star, who managed to put what Barnhart had in mind on the plate. She was chosen to develop the menu. "I could see the kind of food I wanted it to be, and I knew it had to exist somewhere in the world," Barnhart says. Finding Wu while looking at blogs was a miracle, she adds. It took three years of searching but only a split second to recognize the right person when she found her. "She cooks authentically for herself," Barnhart says, and sees food as being immensely personal. Wu's journey with food began when she became a vegetarian at age 15. For the past 17 years, it's become more and more clear to her just how much food can affect how she feels on a daily basis. "The more I dive into it, the more I can feel it," she says. Two years ago, she started her blog, Wu Haus, and her brand took off, if her Instagram is any sign, with more than 150,000 followers, drawn by her crazy- photogenic dishes. Wu describes her food as "nourishing, fresh, and inherently healthy." Her signature move? Putting a spin on familiar foods, amping up the flavor factor and keeping things interesting. She puts hemp seed in her pesto. She makes her smoothie bowl with tahini. FROM PORTLAND TO MONTROSE There's no place like Vibrant in Houston, Wu says. They "don't have anything like it in Portland, either," where Wu lives. "Places are healthy, but not at this level." She imagines the menu as delicious and health-centric, with fresh herbs as her calling card. The list of fresh ingredients will be extensive. Barnhart recognizes that diners may not be familiar with all of them, so she plans to provide a glossary to supplement the menu. And she vows that each dish Vibrant prepares will be "the healthiest and best version it can possibly be." This is restaurant where willpower will not be essential to eating right — It comes into play with the cocktail list. Mixers will include fresh juices and wheatgrass margaritas are a good example of the healthy-lifestyle- meets-liquor options. For daytime drinks with a little kick, Vibrant will serve what Barnhart calls "potions." The five different bolstering drinks served warm in stoneware cups offer distinct health benefits. The Golden Milk potion is calming and has anti- inflammatory properties; the Matcha potion is said to increase energy. The tastes are complex. "One drop of honey really makes it sing," Barnhart says. Vibrant, 1931 Fairview, opening late spring, VIBRANT RESTAURANT A FIRST LOOK AT BY ANNIE GALLAY Kelly Barnhart, Alison Wu FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY KELLY BARNHART; PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY APRIL VALENCIA.

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