Houston is for foodies and is a mecca for entertainment as well! This edition of Coogs You Should Know focuses on five alumni from Houston and around Texas. They all studied at UH in order to jumpstart their eclectic careers in the food and entertainment sectors.
Christine Ha at her new restaurant, The Blind Goat, in Bravery Chef Hall
Christine Ha (M.F.A.’13) is the cook who won “MasterChef” Season 3 with Gordon Ramsay. Her first cookbook, “Recipes from My Home Kitchen,” was a New York Times Best Seller. She has served as a culinary envoy overseas for the American Embassy, and was a co-host on the Canadian cooking show, “Four Senses,” and a judge on “MasterChef” Vietnam. Ha holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Creative Writing Program at University of Houston, where she served as Fiction Editor for Gulf Coast literary journal, and a Bachelor of Business Administration from The University of Texas at Austin. She is currently working on her memoir and second cookbook. Ha’s first restaurant, The Blind Goat, is now open in Houston.
My passions are both food and literature. Both require creativity and are means through which one can share their story and background. I am drawn to the idea of being able to relate to another person by eating their food or reading their story, and then in turn, cooking and writing for others.
I received my M.F.A. in creative writing from UH and immensely enjoyed the friends I made and the things I learned while there. I entered the Creative Writing program as I was adjusting to vision loss, so being in the program helped me focus on being productive, feeling fulfilled and regaining confidence.
Find something that you’re passionate about and have a talent for, and then find a market for it; fulfill a need the world has.
It’s fall. The weather is crisp and temperatures in the mid-60s. The Houston Texans and Astros won that week. I eat something comforting and delicious — maybe some tacos or a bowl of noodle soup. Nothing eventful happens. Nowadays, no news is good news.
Opened The Blind Goat. Or learning to snowboard after losing my vision.
Dry pho, one of Ha's favorite dishes
Thomas on-air at the iHeart Radio Studios Sportstalk 790 in Uptown Houston.
Matt Thomas (’98) serves as the play-by-play announcer for road games on Houston Rockets Radio and the public address announcer for home games at the Toyota Center. Host of “The Matt Thomas Show” on KBME Sportstalk 790 Houston from noon to three every day, and the host of the pregame/postgame shows for the Houston Astros: “Astros On Deck” and “The 10th Inning Show,” Thomas is a prominent on-air talent and the voice of Houston sports. From November 2013-2016, Thomas was the University of Houston’s basketball/baseball/football announcer. He even served as one of four announcers for the basketball competition at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Thomas graduated from UH in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts in Radio/Television/Film and a minor in Speech Communications.
I had a passion for being a broadcaster since I was four years old. I was either going to be a sportscaster, a weather reporter or a game show host. Early motivation to do one of those things made me get involved in the business at the early age of 19.
I worked full time in radio while taking eight years to eventually graduate. I would take six or nine hours at a time until graduation. The University of Houston carries a lot of clout nationally, especially with so many other media members having graduated from the school of Radio/Television/Film at UH, who are now working both locally and nationally as broadcasters.
Don’t take shortcuts! Learn every aspect of your business. Pay your dues. Everything I’ve accomplished is because of my work ethic and my willingness to take on any assignment.
Hosting my radio show from noon till three on Sportstalk 790, working a Rockets game and then a celebratory meal at the end of the night!
Every day I speak into a microphone. It takes courage to speak to 17,000 at a home game at the Toyota Center. In the past, I spoke at Milo Hamilton’s funeral — he was one of my idols. That wasn’t easy.
Thomas’ studio, overlooking Houston’s Galleria area
McAuliffe and his “Texas Bucket List” Hummer, traveling across Texas.
Lone Star Emmy and Regional Edward R. Murrow Award winning reporter, Shane McAuliffe (’03), is the creator and host of “The Texas Bucket List.” The show, dedicated to everything you have to see, do and experience in the Lone Star State, is in its 13th season and has aired over 160 episodes. McAuliffe spent over a decade working at television stations across the state of Texas. McAuliffe decided to follow in the footsteps of his idols, including journalists Charles Kuralt, Steve Miller, Ron Stone and Bob Phillips by creating “The Texas Bucket List” in 2013. “The Texas Bucket List” can be seen on 23 broadcast television markets, including KPRC Channel 2 in Houston.
A family of great storytellers! Growing up in an Irish family, there was never a lack of tall tales. I even kissed the Blarney Stone (a stone in a castle in Ireland that you kiss while being held upside-down) twice to make sure I had the gift of gab! So, when it came to a career choice, my love for telling stories led me to a career in broadcast journalism. I never looked back once I enrolled at UH.
The hands-on education at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication and the guidance of professors like William Hawes and Beth Olsen. At the time, I had no idea how much the professors at UH were molding my storytelling abilities and work ethic.
Drive and attitude. Work with passion. After establishing my career in broadcast journalism and earning several prestigious awards, I knew taking the next step would be the toughest. In creating my own business and television show, I didn’t just rely on my abilities and ambition, but also on the relationships and connections I had built over a decade of working in television.
After one of the first cold fronts in the fall, I would soak up the Houston sun without sweating like crazy. The roof would be open at Minute Maid Park and NRG Stadium with the teams of H-Town leading their divisions. My windows would be wide open on my truck and I would be cruising around, listening to songs like “Telephone Road” by Rodney Crowell, “Bloody Mary Morning” by Willie Nelson and “Houston” by Dean Martin.
Starting “The Texas Bucket List.” I had no idea if it would work, if people would watch or what people would think. Putting every bit of effort into this idea of a Texas television program has been a success thanks to hard work and talented employees who help produce the show.
McAuliffe at Turkey Leg Hut in Houston’s Third Ward
Luis ('95, M.H.M./M.B.A.'02) and Amber (’00 M.S.W./M.B.A.) Rabo are co-owners of We Olive & Wine Bar in the Houston Heights, where they reside with their daughter, Gemma, and son, Blaise. We Olive & Wine Bar is a gourmet food store specializing in extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, gifts, craft beer and small production wines.
Since 2016, Amber has served as director for organizational effectiveness and talent acquisition at Cheniere Energy. She earned a dual Master of Business Administration – Master of Social Work from UH. Afterwards, she
received her Ph.D. in Business Administration from Northcentral University.
Prior to opening We Olive & Wine Bar, Luis held senior management positions with Lucky Strike Entertainment, Caesar’s/Harrah’s Entertainment and Aramark Corporation. When Luis is not working in his store, he’s a devoted husband and father, and a member of the Hilton College Alumni Board.
Amber Rabo (AR): Since a young age, I have always had a passion for people – serving others and helping them achieve their goals. Through a handful of extraordinary experiences and mentorships, I found my way to human resources, by way of social work and business at the University of Houston. This passion extends to our business, We Olive, which enables us to educate others on the health and lifestyle benefits of extra virgin olive oil and wine. Luis Rabo (LR): My love of all things food and beverage started as a child. My grandmother lived with my family and helped raise my sister and I. When she would cook dinner, I would help her by peeling, chopping and shredding anything I could get my hands on. My folks would host get togethers for friends and family regularly and there was always a huge spread of food. I’ve always been lucky enough to be surrounded by great home cooks growing up and now I get to share that passion for cooking and entertaining through We Olive & Wine Bar.
Specialty extra virgin olive oil at We Olive & Wine Bar
AR: Not only did UH give me the perfect combination of business and social work education and experience that led to my professional career in human resources, but it also gave me my husband, Luis. We met in a Marketing class while pursuing our M.B.A.s at the Bauer College, and that chance meeting led to the establishment of We Olive & Wine Bar — and a family we could not have dreamed of at the time!
LR: The Hilton College prepared me to be an effective operator of not only food and beverage businesses, but all types of service-oriented companies — everything from accounting and human resources, to running a bar, working in a kitchen and leading co-workers on all levels. The Bauer College took what I already experienced with managing multimillion-dollar businesses and gave me a more strategic perspective upon my graduation. Most importantly, the University of Houston experience gave me the opportunity to hire qualified students and graduates, network with fellow alums and build lifelong friendships.
AR: I often tell my daughter that the secret to success is to always do your best, never give up and to be grateful. Find joy in the small things. LR: I would tell the next generation to write down their goals — yearly, quarterly, monthly and daily. Whether it’s saving money, losing weight, spending time with family or earning an extra certification for their career, make sure those goals are measurable.
AR: A perfect day in Houston is enjoying all that our great city has to offer, with friends and family. This could range from taking in a Texans game to watching my son play baseball in Stude Park to enjoying one of the many amazing restaurants in our Houston Heights neighborhood. LR: A perfect day in Houston is spending a day in The Heights. I’d start my morning on 19th Street with a delicious, eye-opening beverage from Boomtown Coffee. Then I’d walk to any of the independently owned shops the street has to offer like, AG Antiques, Bliss on 19th, Jubilee, Mary & Moss or Casa Ramirez to window shop or treat myself to a gift. After working up an appetite, I’d head to We Olive & Wine Bar. Finally, I’d end the day by catching a concert at the cozy and intimate Heights Theater.
AR: Between undergraduate and graduate school, I took a year off to do full-time volunteer work with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. While my housing, groceries and utilities were paid for, I earned a stipend of only $75/month while working at a facility that served children and families impacted by HIV/AIDS. This was a courageous choice for me at the time. It turned out to be the most pivotal, life-changing choice I ever made as it led me to University of Houston and choosing a profession in social work. LR: The most courageous thing I’ve ever done was investing our entire life savings into a new business. It’s a move that has been personally exhausting, tense and challenging. However, it’s also been a move that’s been tremendously rewarding, knowing that one of my life’s goals has been accomplished.