~ VIP View: Celebrity Chefs and Houston A-listers Toast Master Jeweler Franco Valobra in River Oaks ~

By Amber Elliott – Chron Magazine

Franco Valobra knows his audience. Houstonians are never ones to turn down a good party invitation, though nothing gets us going quite like a celebrity chef sighting. So when the time came for the fourth-generation master jeweler to unveil his new River Oaks store with a grand opening bash, he tapped three of the biggest names in foodie-land: chefs Daniel BouludThomas Keller and Jérôme Bocuse.

The high-profile trio often travel together for Ment’or Organization, a mentoring program for emerging culinary talent founded by Bocuse. But for Valobra – who bonded with the threesome some 20 years prior over a shared Ferrari obsession – they made a special trip.

Late Monday evening, Dr. Devinder Bhatia rang up chef Chris Shepherd with a special request. The renowned surgeon and longtime Underbelly Hospitality patron wanted to host a special lunch for Keller, Boulud and Bocuse at one of Shepherd’s restaurants the very next day,

Some 14 hours later, team Underbelly Hospitality did Bhatia one better. They served a four-course feast featuring popular menu items from three of the groups’ concepts: One Fifth Mediterranean, UB Preserv and Georgia James.

Bhatia also brought a selection of wines from his personal cellar, wife Gina Bhatia and Valobra to the last-minute rendezvous. With every Underbelly Hospitality chef, sommelier and manager under one roof for the first-time ever, the intimate gathering capped at an enviable 13.

Shawn Virene, fellow Valobra loyalist and a’Bouzy owner, also rose to the occasion. Valobra asked the restaurateur to host a party before the party for Boulud, Keller and Bocuse’s support staff – rumor has it, the group popped several bottles of Dom Perignon 2006.

It’s no wonder the chefs were in such good spirits come grand opening time.

Some 300 attendees arrived at the jeweler’s new River Oaks outpost and were star-struck to see Boulud behind the watch counter, eyeing two prospective new pieces of arm candy. Outside, Keller bussed a number of cocktail tables, much to the delight of iPhone-wielding guests.

Best Dressed A-listers – Lynn WyattGracie CavnarValerie DieterichKristy Bradshaw, Karina Barbieri and Gayla Gardner – and digital darlings – Mai PhamChiara Casiraghi and Hannah Swiggard – alike delighted in the hedonistic marriage of precious gemstones and food.

Inside, cat burglar-styled models guarded priceless jewels including the Golden Eye Diamond and the Farnese Blue Diamond, both on display in the U.S. for the first time.

And under a white tent designed in collaboration between Stevens Group and Event Elementz, guests dug into sprawling fare.

At Boulud’s station: Pâté grand mere and grand pere, pâté en croute with duck and foie gras, courrone de volaille noisette with cranberries, jambon de Paris, boudin blanc with truffle mashed potato and jus, plus salads and assorted cheeses.

At Keller’s popular seafood spread: Regiis Ova Ossetra caviar, Pacific hamachi ceviche, Island Creek oysters (East Coast), Kumamoto oysters (West Coast), gulf prawns, snow crab claws and Prince Edward Island mussels.

And for dessert, Bocuse’s teams hand-plated apple tart, crème brûlée, raspberry lime macaron rum baba and warm chocolate Moelleux.

Event-goers were hesitant to leave the festive shindig – several even confessed to canceling their pre-existing dinner reservations or secondary parties to indulge a little longer.

Turns out, bling and a bounty of famous chefs make an irresistible social pairing. Who knew?

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