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Eculent: an evening with Texas’s Willy Wonka

I’ve traveled the world in search of the most innovative dining experiences and discovered a sense of childlike awe through adventures in molecular gastronomy. While I expected those experiences in London, Paris, and Melbourne— I never imagined a tiny restaurant in Kemah, Texas would cause me to bug out– both literally and figuratively. 

Eculent is the brainchild of Chef David Skinner– a culinary prodigy who cooked through both volumes of Julia Child‘s Mastering the Art of French Cooking by age 14 and opened his first restaurant before graduating high school. He’s known as a real-life Willy Wonka, and his imaginative nature was evident from the moment I walked through the door until the last bite was consumed. 

At Eculent, you can expect 26 courses that will stretch your comfort zone, confuse your senses, and delight your palate. An honorary 27th course is the anticipation bubbling before the dinner and prior to every bite. Reservations open at 11 am on the 1st of each month and sell out within 3 minutes. It took me months and 3-4 devices working at once to score a reservation. 

And while I’d love to share a blow-by-blow (or bite-by-bite) breakdown of the meal that is lodged in my all-time top three dining experiences… you’ll have to settle for a blog post that’s a lot like the meal itself. Puffs of smoke. Wisps that melt away like cotton candy on the tongue. Elements that– depending on the light– might appear to change right before your eyes. 

A scent-sual experience

Have you ever noticed how just one whiff of a familiar scent can transport you to a different time and place? Eculent plays with all five senses to create an atmosphere that’s both familiar and foreign– abuzz with the assumption that anything could happen. And when bonbons explode with french onion soup filling and unassuming cherry tomatoes are packed with all the flavors of a BLT, you’ll quickly realize that you’re at the mercy of a mad scientist chef. 

30-hour caesar salad, soup bonbons, and BLT in a bite

Fire-eating with a side of creepy crawlies

At Eculent, you can expect the unexpected. Let your guard down and trust the chef to tantalize your tastebuds with familiar flavors in never-before-seen presentations. I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to cross fire-eating off my life experience list. But Chef Skinner’s flame-free, floating fire was a warming surprise. 

Prior to my evening at Eculent, I’d never eaten ants. (Crickets and worms– yes– but that’s another story.) In most high-end restaurants, bugs are kept far from the table, but Eculent isn’t most restaurants. Chef Skinner plays with the lemony flavor of ants from the Brazilian Amazon for a course of citrus fruits prepared and presented in ways that are most certainly not your Nana’s fruit salad. 

Brazilian ants on compressed pineapple

Wine pairing… Wine not?

Chef Skinner isn’t just the owner and head chef of Eculent. He also owns the Clear Creek Winery which sits just behind the small restaurant. Wines are blended to complement the meal, and I found the four different wines to be the perfect amount to enhance the experience while remaining fully present to enjoy every bite.

Eculent and Clear Creek Winery

A peek behind the curtain of Lab:Eculent

Every mad scientist has a lab, and Chef Skinner is no exception. (Although mad is actually the last word I’d use to describe him– down-to-earth, accommodating, and creative is a much better description.) The walls are lined with ingredients and potions, all meticulously in order and labeled. Some ingredients, like Buddha hand and cloud ear sound like they belong in a witch’s cauldron! It turns out this little lab is home to one of the largest ingredient libraries in the world.

While most of the dishes and serving sculptures are commissions from a local artist, the lab has 3D printers for both edible and non-edible table elements. At Eculent, limits are only imposed by the far reaches of the imagination. 

Tree of Life

In mid-October, Chef Skinner tested a few new recipes, and we were lucky enough to try them. I’m not going to spoil the surprise, but I’m not opposed to a little foreshadowing: the November experience is going to blow your mind.

Eculent is not just a meal to be devoured, it’s an experience to be savored. While the flavors may fade after the last bite, memories of a very special meal remain. 

A few things you need to know before visiting Eculent

Where is Kemah?

Kemah is 20 miles south of Houston and 26 miles north of the famous Texas beach town, Galveston. It’s an adorable town on Galveston Bay with a coastal boardwalk with an amusement park. I do not recommend any rides after 26 courses. 

How much does the 26-course meal cost?

At the time of this post, the tasting menu costs $229 per person. A wine pairing is an additional $49. At the time of reservation, your card will be charged a non-refundable $25 per person booking fee. 

When is Eculent open? 

Eculent is open for service three nights a week– Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. 

I’m ready! Where can I make my reservation?

Reservations are made through Tock. They open at 11 am on the 1st of each month and they’ll sell out FAST, so be sure to mark the 1st on your calendar and get your computer and credit card ready. 

Where should I stay in Kemah?

Owned by the chef and his family, The Clipper House Inn is situated just behind the winery and includes a wine and cheese reception when you arrive! 

Otherwise, peruse some options on 

Note: If you book through Booking, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you!

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