H-E-B’s Quest for Texas Best contest, an effort to find and support local products made by Texans, has produced two Houston area winners from Sugar Land, and the Heights, who respectively earned first and second place.
Sugar Land’s Reynold Darthard, also known as Chef Rey, recieved first place and a check for $20,000 for his cheesecakes.
Darthard said that growing up, food was always part of his family’s conversation.
“Both my mom and dad were great cooks. We grew up on good food, and we ate dinner together every night,” Darthard said.
In preperation for entering the contest, Darthard went into eight different H-E-B stores to check out his potential competition. He originally was thinking about submitting a poundcake, but then he saw that H-E-B did not have a lot of shelf space dedicated to cheesecake.
“I submitted my entry and I just went on with my daily routine, not even thinking about it,” Darthard said.
Darthard’s current full-time job is executive team chef for the Houston Rockets.
Darthard found out in early June that he was a top 25 finalist, but he had to keep it a secret until July 23.
“I was lost for words. To have it actually happen, it was an unbelievable feeling. But we can’t say anything. On July 23, I screamed to the rooftops that I was a top 25 finalist,” Darthard said.
Darthard credits his cheesecake for making him sucessful in the food industry.
“Every time I would go to finalize a catering deal, I would take a cheesecake. Ninety-eight percent of the time I would credit the cheesecake for settling the deal,” Darthard said.
On winning one of the top prizes, and about the day, Darthard said, “They asked me for one word. I said love. I had my family with me and the other contestants. We were all happy for each other. All 25 of us are winners because we are selected over 700 entries. H-E-B saw something that they like that aligns with their core values. It is a privilege.”
Darthard noted that winning is the beginning of a healing stage for him, because he recently lost both his mother and father within six months of each other.
Darthard said that his father had asked him, ‘What are you going to do with the rest of your life?’ and at the time, he did not have the answer.
“With this cheesecake and the new platform, it gives me a wider scope to be able to do what my parents did. We always had some extra people at the dinner table,” Darthard said.
Darthard’s cheesecakes come in eight flavors, including plain New York style, cookies and cream, and strawberry swirl. Plans for seasonal flavors are in the works.
Bellefontaine Ice Cream
Lucienne Duforets, originally from France, and now living in the Heights, won second place and $15,000 for her Bellefontaine ice cream. Her ice cream is named after a small village in the French countryside.
Duforets notes that she was always passionate about food, remembering rolling dough on the floor with her hands when her mother was in the kitchen.
She was a doctor in Paris for 15 years, but then she decided to switch careers.
“There was an ice cream shop just next door. I had free time, so I discovered the joy of good ice cream. It was my calling,” Duforets said.
Duforets trained around Europe, including at the University of Bologna in Italy, learning the art of making ice cream.
When she felt like she was ready to sell her own ice cream, she wanted to pick a place to live where ice cream would sell well.
“I want to have hot weather, because ice cream is much better in hot weather. I wanted to be in America,” Duforets said.
In Houston, she found a kitchen, bought her equipment and got a diary license, and eventually was able to start selling her ice cream in Central Market stores.
“Three years ago I didn’t even know how to speak English. Thanks to YouTube and Netflix I improved my English fast,” Duforets said of relocating to Houston.
Duforets noted that one of her customers told her about the H-E-B contest.
“I put it on my calendar and then I honestly forgot about it. I did it at 6 p.m. the last day,” Duforets said.
When she found out she won second place, she said that she was initially in shock.
“My head was completely empty. I was like a zombie. It didn’t really occur to me until I had to drive back Houston from Austin with the big check in the back seat,” Duforets said.
Bellefontaine ice cream is made with all fresh and natural ingredients, including milk straight from cows on Texas farms. Some flavors include fresh mint and salted butter caramel. Bellefontaine also has a line of dairy and gluten free sorbets.
One of the most popular flavors is pistachio, which initally gave her a lot of worry.
“I had to import the pistachios from Sicily. You have to order a whole pallet. I had to invest $13,500 just for one flavor. I didn’t sleep at night for weeks,” Duforets said.
In the future Duforets plans to open up her own shop on White Oak Drive.
“Being on the shelves of H-E-B, it means everything for a small business for me. It will change the game. The H-E-B team is so professional and committed,” Duforets said.
According to heb.com, since its inception in 2014, Quest for Texas Best has yielded more than 432 new products on H-E-B’s grocery, bakery, deli and market shelves across the state.