Austin chef Amanda Rockman beat Bobby Flay. The native Texan who serves as the corporate executive pastry chef for New Waterloo (Sway, Le Politique, South Congress Hotel, et al) took it to the celebrity chef on Thursday night’s episode of the 14th seasons of the Food Network show “Beat Bobby Flay.”
Rockman, a former James Beard award semifinalist who previously worked in top Chicago restaurants L2O and Nico Osteria, disposed of chef Vicki Wells before taking down the Iron Chef. Following show rules, Rockman created a signature dessert of her choice, and conquered Flay with her tiramisu. The Italian dessert, made with caramel crémeux, marsala mousse, lady finger coffee streusel, white coffee foam, appears on the menu at Café No Sé in the South Congress Hotel.
“It was an honor to have the opportunity to go up against an Iron Chef, but it was a real challenge to keep composure at times – sometimes I wanted to freak out and other times I just wanted to die laughing,” Rockman said. “Really a great experience overall.”
The Austin Food & Wine Festival will welcome a host of new faces and introduce a few changes at the seventh annual event that takes place at Auditorium Shores April 27-29. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. at austinfoodandwinefestival.com.
During a year in which much attention has been brought to the culture of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is worth noting that the festival will welcome a large number of female chefs, wine experts and celebrities, including Stephanie Izard of Chicago, the first woman to win “Top Chef;” fellow “Top Chef” alumnus Nyesha Arrington; Southern chef Cassidee Dabney of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee; chef and renowned cookbook author Lidia Bastianich and Helen Johannesen, wine director of a mini empire of restaurants in Southern California. Those women, all first timers at AFWF, will join a group of fellow festival rookies that includes barbecue master Rodney Scott from South Carolina; James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur Paul Kahan of Chicago and New York City pitmaster Billy Durney of Hometown Barbecue in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
The chefs will participate in the three-day event that includes more than 40 events, tastings and demonstrations, including Friday night’s Grillin’ and Chillin’ with chef Tim Love and the always-popular Saturday night Rock Your Taco competition, which will pit Tatsu Aikawa & Takuya Matsumoto (Ramen Tatsu-Ya / Kemuri Tatsu-Ya), Tyson Cole (Hai Hospitality: Loro), Amanda Freitag (“Chopped”), Diego Galicia & Rico Torres (Mixtli in San Antonio), Ray Garcia (Broken Spanish in Los Angeles), Izard (Girl & The Goat, Little Goat, Duck Duck Goat), Kahan (One Off Hospitality Group), Michael White (Altamarea) and others against one another in a battle for taco supremacy.
As we mentioned earlier this week, both the Fire Pits experience and Chefs Showcase during the Saturday and Sunday afternoon portions of the fest have grown this year to feature more chefs and more food, with names like Sonya Coté (Eden East, Hillside Farmacy), Wayne Mueller (Louie Mueller Barbecue) and Andrew Wiseheart (Contigo, Contigo Catering, Chicon) cooking over open flames at the former and Austin chefs including Ji Peng Chen (Wu Chow), Kazu Fukumoto (Fukumoto), Taylor Hall (Apis), Lance Kirkpatrick (Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew), Stephanie McClenny (Confituras), Jason McVearry (Poke Poke), Sterling Riddings (Guild), Maribel Rivero (Yuyo), Max Snyder (Pitchfork Pretty), Carmen Valera (Tamale House East) and Miguel Vidal (Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ) serving dishes at the latter.
The unofficial kick-off for the festival is a separately ticketed Feast Under the Stars dinner on Thursday night, with a meal prepared by Tyson Cole (Uchi), Mary Catherine Curren (ELM Restaurant Group), Todd Duplechan (Lenoir), Kevin Fink (Emmer & Rye), and Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie). Tickets to that cost $250 and can be purchased online.
You’ve heard your friends in Los Angeles and New York and Chicago rave about their cool food halls. And now Austinites finally get to have a voice in that conversation. Fareground, Austin’s first modern food hall, opened today at 111 Congress Ave. between Cesar Chavez and Second streets.
The sleek operation curated by ELM Restaurant Group (Italic, Easy Tiger) features six local operators now putting a new spin on their popular brands. Below are a few of the dishes you’ll find at the newly opened food hall. Fareground is open from 7 a.m to 10 pm Monday-Friday and weekends from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Contigo, Dai Due Taquería, Easy Tiger and Henbit all open with breakfast service, while Antonelli’s Cheese and Ni-Komé open at lunchtime.
Grilled cheese sandwich and creamy tomato soup from Antonelli’s Cheese Shop
Contigo burger on a housemade challah bun atContigo Fareground
Wild boar al pastor tacos from Dai Due Taquería
Pastrami with housemade sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and house mustard in pirogi from Easy Tiger.
Lemongrass shrimp bowl from Henbit (an all-day concept from Emmer & Rye)
Miso and chicken broth ramen with shredded chicken breast, bean sprouts, aji-tama, scallions, chili threads and chili oil from Ni-Komé, a hybrid ramen and sushi bar from the owners of Daruma Ramen and Komé.
there’s also a the Fareground Bar serving drinks six small-batch housemade draft cocktails created by master sommelier Craig Collins of ELM Restaurant Group, such as this Pineapple Mezcal Punch, created specifically with Dai Due taco pairings in mind.
Pardon the late riff, but the weather outside is frightful. It had led to many Austin restaurant closures and some late openings Tuesday, while other spots are staying open and even offering specials. Check out this continually updated list throughout the day. This list focuses on indoor restaurants, because I reckon more trailers will be closed than open.
Uchiko is running a hot toddy special. The Lemongrass Toddy ($12) is made with sake, Round Rock Honey, 5 spice, orange, and sherry. One dollar from each sale will go to the Farmers Emergency Relief Fund (FEF) which has been severely impacted as late because of the past week’s freezing temperatures.
Wild Chix & Waffles, the chicken-and-waffles restaurant at Northcross Mall is giving all customers a free hot drink of their choice with a purchase.
The past year saw the Austin restaurant world start to find its footing again after a shaky 2016. The flow of restaurant openings slowed a little, allowing the scene to settle momentarily. The closures of historic spots and short-lived ideas continued apace, which also helped recalibrate the ecosystem, and existing businesses used their momentum and capital to open new locations and concepts.
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Austin restaurants were not immune to the political and social rumblings in the country, with several restaurants speaking out against perceived injustice and inequality and others finding themselves embroiled in politically tinged controversy.
And, as in years past, the national media and restaurant industry organizations recognized some of the brightest stars in a city with a scene that is hopefully poised for a stronger 2018.
Here are some of the highlights from the year in Austin dining.
Of course, not all the news in the restaurant world had a political angle. Aaron and Stacy Franklin lost their smokehouse to a fire at Franklin Barbecue in August, which led to a closure that lasted a few months. But the beloved barbecue institution in East Austin reopened in November.
Bonhomie, the French bistro-meets-Waffle House restaurant from longtime Austin chef Philip Speer; Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, the Japanese smokehouse from the owners of Ramen Tatsu-Ya; and Pitchfork Pretty, an elegant and measured take on rusticity, led the brigade of new restaurants in 2017, and all received extremely positive reviews from me and landed in the Top 20 of my annual dining guide. Paul Qui also returned to the scene with Kuneho, though the restaurant that had a promising opening in January closed in November, with the chef saying he has plans for the future of the space
Finally, the Austin restaurant scene said goodbye to two pioneers. One of the early leaders of the city’s culinary scene and a co-founder of seminal interior Mexican restaurant Fonda San Miguel, chef Miguel Ravago died in June at the age of 72. Ravago, who opened trailblazing Fonda San Miguel with Tom Gilliland in 1975, prided his restaurant on high quality ingredients sourced directly from Mexico. Equally well known for his personality as for his mastery of Mexican cuisine, Ravago spent most of his final years living in Spain and England.
Later in the summer, Austin lost another of its leading lights. An explorer and visionary with a passion for community and wellness, Casa de Luz co-founder Maryann Rose died in August at the age of 73. A native of Dallas, Rose moved to Austin during its bohemian heyday. She met Wayo Longoria at the East West Center in 1984, and together they opened the community center-restaurant Casa de Luz on Rose’s 47th birthday, Jan. 27, 1991.
Better Half, the all-day restaurant from the owners of East Austin coffee-and-beer bar The Brew & Brew, announced today that Rich Riembolt will serve as executive chef. Riembolt will come to Better Half after about five years with the McGuire Moorman Hospitality group. The Idaho native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America opened the revamped Jeffrey’s in 2013 and served as its lead sous chef for two years, and has spent the last two years working as the chef de cuisine at Josephine House. While there no menu has been released, Better Half, which will be located at 1203 W. Fifth Street (at Walsh Street) just west of Lamar Boulevard, will be an ingredient-focused and Texas-inspired all-day cafe. Owners say the menu will reflect the kind of food they love from years of eating around Texas.
In addition to Riembolt, Better Half also announced that general manager Mark Stowe will be running the front of house. Stowe’s career in the service industry includes time as a manager at Jester King Brewery and working as the food and beverage director at Violet Crown Cinema. He also worked on the opening teams at Brew & Brew and Pinthouse Pizza.
Better Half is slated to open at the end of the year.
Chef Adam Brick has left Spicewood fine dining restaurant Apis Restaurant and Apiary. The Austin native teamed with chef-owner Taylor Hall to develop Apis into a destination, using elevated technique and locally sourced ingredients to prepare French-influenced cuisine in a most unexpected place. Brick’s work at Apis helped the restaurant land the #9, #3 and #12 spots in the Austin Dining Guide’s Top 25 the last three years.
Brick says he intends to become a chef-owner of a concept in town and will announce those plans in the coming week.
“I look to build on the legacy that we built in Spicewood and bring that same energy, drive and determination to run independent, local and community supported restaurants,” Brick said in an emailed statement.
A native Austinite and alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, Brick worked in the kitchens of esteemed New York City restaurants Daniel, Aureole and Momofuku Ssäm Bar before returning home. In addition to helping Hall run Apis, Brick also launched Pizzeria Sorrelina on the same Spicewood campus.
“My time at Apis, and specifically with Taylor has been the most rewarding, sometimes frustrating, but productive years of my career. It takes a lot of work to imagine and build a restaurant of that caliber and with that ambition,” Brick said.
Earlier this year Apis hired Alejandro Munoz from Counter 357 as its new chef de cuisine, and he remains in that role, and will run the restaurant with Hall and sous chef Marcus McCreary. Chef Chris Sapp will oversee Sorellina.
Asked last month about the current state of Apis, Hall said the following: “We are still pushing all of the fun and interesting programs we have become known to explore, and our dining room menu is similar in format and identity to menus from the last 1-2 years. We have shrunk our kitchen staff and concentrated our menu a little, but the format and details remain the same. We have a small, but talented staff, which operates with the underlying common thread of really caring about the people we work with, and the product and experience we convey.”