Thursday, October 24, 2013

Farm to Table Chef & Alumna

Award-winning local chef and Memorial High School graduate Monica Pope spoke to members of the Northwest Harris County Retired Teachers Association on Oct. 9 about the benefits of an organic diet based on simple cooking and creative meals using local produce.

She is related to two former Spring Branch ISD employees. Her grandmother, Virginia Pope, was social studies department chair at Spring Branch High School. Pope’s aunt, Stacey Tyler, taught English and social studies at Spring Woods Junior High School and Northbrook High School.

Growing up, Pope swam for Dad’s Club. Her sister, Maria, is now an executive producer on the Emmy-winning “Late Show” with famous television host David Letterman. A 1981 Memorial High graduate, Pope has achieved local, regional and national fame during an ongoing career that has included the popular Houston restaurants t’afia, now closed, and her current restaurant, Sparrow Bar + Cookshop, located at 3701 Travis St. A 2007 James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef Southwest and the only Texas woman to be named a Top 10 Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine, Pope was named Best Chef in the 2009 Houston Culinary Awards.

Among her other notable credits, she was a 2010 Top Chef Masters Competitor on Bravo cable television. Chef Pope has written an interactive, web-based cookbook, eat where your food lives, and she is currently working on a memoir, tentatively titled Eating Hope (and Other Things I’ve Had to Stomach), an insightful and funny look at a woman’s place in the commercial restaurant kitchen.

At her restaurant tables or at the speaker’s podium, Pope’s message is simple and powerful: The food we eat simply tastes better, and is better for your health, when you cook and eat produce in the regional area where you also live. She helped found the popular Midtown Farmers Market in Houston years ago. As the “Alice Waters of the Gulf Coast,” as she has been called, Pope has promoted and cooked simple, seasonal produce that was planted, harvested, foraged or discovered by farmers, growers, ranchers and others within 300 miles of Houston.

“As an intrepid Texas culinary pioneer,” she states, “I have paradoxically spent my career cooking with many local and organic ingredients in the region dubbed the Chemical Coast. Houston is a place of extreme opposites: It is a concrete jungle, a refinery coast and an air-conditioned oasis.”

“For over 13 years, I have worked hard to revive the true nature of this city by supporting local farmers, ranchers and food producers,” she also states.

The Northwest Harris County Retired Teachers Association met on Oct. 9 in the SBISD Board of Trustees Meeting Room. Chef Pope encouraged them to support small-scale family farms. Farm-grown carrots, she noted, have much higher levels of Brix, or sugar content, than organic ones bought in a grocery store.

A higher Brix level is much more nutritious. Small growers use the Brix level to know the best time to harvest vegetables. “People don’t think that cooking food is fun. They don’t think that food shopping is fun. It can be really fun, and it’s really good for families,” she said.

To learn more about Monica Pope, please visit her website:
To learn more about resources for Community Supported Agriculture:


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