Texas French Bread has elevated its ambitions. The Austin staple owned by Murph Willcott has offered regular dinner service for about seven years, but with the hiring of new executive chef Max Mackinnon, the restaurant that opened its original location in 1981 under the stewardship of Willcott’s parents, Judy and Paul, has signaled that it has grown more intent on becoming a serious player in Austin’s dining scene.
“In so many ways, Texas French Bread feels like a natural fit, and my general feeling as the incoming chef is that the food should not feel like a tremendous departure from the fresh, seasonal menu that Texas French Bread has offered in recent years,” Mackinnon said. “Rather, my focus will be on developing the culinary team and making sure that up and down the line, we have the skills to execute core bistro techniques that can elevate a very simple dish into something truly and consistently special.”
Mackinnon’s seasonal and ingredient-driven menu currently includes dishes like chicken country pâté, chilled carrot and avocado salad with spiced carrot purée, tagliatelle with Gulf shrimp and pompano with charred cabbage, a dish reminiscent of that which Mackinnon cooked for Willcott during a dress rehearsal dinner for the role.
“I like simple, humble, restrained but really well-executed food, and I feel like I speak the same language as those guys,” said Willcott, who points to Montreal bistro L’Express as the template for the consistency of quality he’d like his restaurant to emulate under Mackinnon.
The chef joins Texas French Bread following a quick stint back home in Vermont, where he first came to national attention as the executive chef of Pistou, a restaurant that earned him a James Beard semifinalist nod for Best New Restaurant in America directly out of culinary school at the former French Culinary Institute in New York.
After leaving his home state, Mackinnon worked at esteemed restaurants in Copenhagen and Washington before helping San Francisco restaurant Mason Pacific earn Bib Gourmand honors from the Michelin Guide.
Mackinnon is joined at the restaurant by his wife, a longtime Texas French Bread regular and former wine rep, Carenn Jackson, who will serve as the restaurant’s general manager and beverage director.