Austin chef Jacob Weaver has left his position as executive chef at Juliet Italian Kitchen and joined Hotel Zaza as that boutique hotel brand’s corporate director of food and beverage. Weaver, who is a veteran of Asti Trattoria and Café Josie, will helm the program for the Hotel Zaza locations in Dallas and Houston and will directly oversee the Austin property, which is slated to open next summer at Guadalupe and Fourth streets.
“I am thrilled and humbled to have been given the opportunity to join Hotel Zaza, a brand that sets the bar for luxury, Texas style,” Weaver said. “Everything from the team, food and beverage offerings and of course, the magnificent properties are world class, and I am eager to bring my own skillset to the program, as well as grow with the company as Hotel Zaza continues to expand.”
“The last three years at Juliet have been some of the best times of my career to date. We have accomplished so much and I’m proud to say Juliet is doing better than ever by any metric imaginable. Though it is bittersweet to leave Austin and Juliet behind I am excited for the amazing opportunities for myself and the team at Juliet, including the promotion of my friend and partner in the kitchen for the last several years, the newly appointed Executive Chef Jayson Munguia. Jayson, General Manager Emily O’Connor and the rest of the team have been integral in the creation and building of Juliet Italian Kitchen. JIK wouldn’t be what it is today without the unyielding dedication to excellence and genuine hospitality this team brings to the table each and every day.”
Stiles Switch seems to be building some kind of Super Friends of smoked meat. In recent years the North Lamar restaurant has brought on Christopher McGhee (formerly of Freedmen’s), Bill Dumas (late of Smoky Denmark) and Marco Oglesby (Texas Ranch BBQ) to cook at the flagship and the newly opened The Switch with pitmaster Lance Kirkpatrick. And today they announced probably their biggest coup yet.
Stiles Switch posted on Facebook this morning that it had hired brisket wizard Braun Hughes, a longtime veteran of Franklin Barbecue. Braun’s LinkedIn states he had been at Franklin since 2010, a year before the brick-and-mortar restaurant opened.
The Stiles Facebook post calls him “pitmaster” but does not go into detail about where he fits into the hierarchy. We reached out to Stiles Switch last week for more info. and will post it here when we know more. The restaurant group last week opened The Switch, a barbecue and Cajun restaurant, off US 290 W.
Chef de cuisine James Dumapit and Loro, the Asian smokehouse from Hai Hospitality in collaboration with Aaron Franklin, have parted ways. Dumapit previously served as the opening co-executive chef at Old Thousand before returning to the Hai Hospitality team for which he once worked as executive sous chef at Uchiko. The departure of Dumapit leaves a vacancy that the Hai team says it is not currently considering filling. The casual restaurant opened at 2115 S. Lamar Blvd. on April 4.
“Chef James Dumapit is a very talented chef and we are grateful for his contributions to Loro. We wish him all the best and future success,” Hai Hospitality president John Baydale said. “We do not have plans for a replacement at this time but are happy with the amazing team we have in place “
One of Austin’s great culinary characters, a sushi obsessive with a relentless curiosity, is leaving town.
Kyoten Sushiko chef-owner Otto Phan, who started his business as an East Austin trailer before opening a quick-service lunch spot and austere omakase, has decided to move to Chicago to further pursue his lofty food goals. He has operated Kyoten, which ranked in the Top 15 in the city in both of the last two Austin360 Dining Guides, since July 2016.
“The goal has always been to be the best sushi chef in the world, and I know the pathway is a lot shorter if I move on,” Phan said. “It was going to take LeBron James a long time if he stayed in Cleveland to get that first championship”
Phan, who briefly worked for sushi master Masa Takayama in New York, said that in order to ascend to his desired heights in the food world, he needed to be in a “Michelin-starred marketplace,” a city where the restaurants are ranked by the vaunted Michelin Guide. The Houston native and University of Texas graduate has found a location in Chicago’s Logan Square, a seven-seat omakase located in a mixed-use development on the edge of the city’s excitement, not unlike his Mueller restaurant in Austin.
Phan will prepare his final dinner service — his meals are approximately 22 courses for $150 — at the end of July. Before he leaves, he will train his replacement, and Kyoten will remain in business under the same name. While he is not ready to announce the name of his replacement, Phan says it will be a young, hungry chef and not an established, well-known name.
“It won’t be exactly the same without me. He has some shoes to fill, but I think he will be able to do it,” Phan said.
While he said the move from the town he has called home off and on for 14 years is bittersweet, Phan, whose work is fueled by a love of ingredients and experimentation with vinegar flavor profiles, said the move is the next logical step in his career.
“The stage needs to be bigger, and the risk needs to be higher,” Phan said. “I’ll be better in Chicago.”
And Austin will be a little less great without him.
This is my favorite sushi in Austin. But let’s address the elephant in the room: This is a surreal dining experience. You’re in a space smaller than a millionaire’s walk-in closet. And, with only eight seats available at the sushi counter, there’s a chance you and your date may be the only two people in the restaurant for the omakase experience. OK, even calling it a restaurant feels a little strange. But this is the bizarre and beautiful world chef Otto Phan has carved out for himself in the Mueller development.
Kyōten doesn’t offer the gorgeous design, sense of atmosphere, mannered service or wine list that Austin’s other top sushi restaurants have (though the sake pairings are very good), but what it does have is a chef driven by a joyful curiosity who creates exceptional sushi. The (possibly awkward) intimacy of the silent space affords you the chance to inquire about sourcing, technique and process from Phan as he hands you a buttery piece of sockeye salmon from Alaska, a bulbous piece of Oregon albacore kissed by sesame oil, Japanese pike mackerel bold enough to stand up to aged vinegar, and madai marinated in a vegetarian Japanese fish sauce that has none of the funky smell but all of the flavor of the traditional Southeast Asian variety.
There are not many dimensions to this unique dining experience, but the one it has can transfix you if you share the chef’s curiosity and give yourself over to it. And, if omakase isn’t your thing, there’s no better sushi served at lunch anywhere in town.
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.
Austin will welcome a new face to its culinary landscape when the Line ATX hotel opens in the coming months. “Top Chef” season 10 winner Kristen Kish, who also will be recognizable to viewers of the Travel Channel’s “36 Hours,” will serve as the executive chef for Arlo Grey, the centerpiece restaurant for the hotel that will take the place of the former Radisson at 111 E. Cesar Chavez.
The restaurant will take advantage of its urban-meets-natural location, perched just above Lady Bird Lake. While there are few details on the specific type of cuisine that will be served at Arlo Grey, a look at the Korean-born Kish’s career is instructive.
The Michigan-raised chef and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago worked at the Michelin-starred Sensing in Boston before becoming an integral part in the demi empire of Barbara Lynch, the 2014 James Beard award winner for best restaurateur in the nation, eventually serving as chef de cuisine at Lynch’s Menton, a nationally lauded French restaurant celebrated for its technique, seasonality and sophistication.
Kish left Menton in 2014 and has spent the intervening years traveling the world, writing her first cookbook (“Kristen Kish Cooking”) and appearing on “36 Hours.”
The Line is owned and operated by the Sydell Group, which has a portfolio that includes the Nomad hotels in Los Angeles and New York and iterations of the Line in Los Angeles’ Koreatown and in Washington. In partnering with chefs at some of its other properties across the country, Sydell Group has often identified local talent to lead their kitchens (Roy Choi in Los Angeles, Spike Gjerde in Washington) but decided to take a different route in hiring Kish.
Sydell Group founder and CEO Andrew Zobler said that while he didn’t want to bring in a “celebrity chef” with properties in major cities across America, he was also leery of hiring a local Austin chef and possibly running the risk of having a redundant concept in the market. He wanted to respect Austin’s identity while also aiming for uniqueness and originality.
“When Kristen came along, a bunch of bells went off,” Zobler said. “She doesn’t have her own restaurant; she’s a great cook; she’s very hospitable; has a great story. Her personality to me vibes with Austin culture. We thought it would be more fun to bring in someone who is a little bit different and offer up something to Austin that it didn’t already have.”
While Kish will be new to Austin, she will be joined at the hotel by a chef familiar to discerning Austin diners. Chef Damien Brockway, formerly the executive chef of downtown tasting menu Counter 357, will helm P6, the rooftop lounge atop the hotel’s adjacent parking garage, which Zobler said will have a romantic vibe and sweeping views of the lake. Rounding out the culinary team will be Justin Ermini, previously executive chef at Las Alcobas in Mexico City, who will spearhead a ground-floor burger bar.
The Line ATX is slated to open in late spring, and while no exact dates have been set for the opening of the various food and beverage concepts, Zobler says they will have a strong impact in helping define the hotel’s personality and appeal.
“Our general theory is that people want an experience of travel. They want to go some place that gives them a feeling of being in that place, and food is one way of doing it; design is another way of doing it; art is a third way of doing it. Who you engage with locally, the people you hire … there’s lots of different facets to it. Food and beverage is clearly an important part in creating a sense of destination.”
Less than a month after coming on with sommelier Paul Ozbirn as a partner and executive chef at Hyde Park staple Vino Vino, Adam Brick and the restaurant/wine bar have parted ways.
“We have not made a decision as to whom will take the kitchen into 2018, but are exploring options and keeping an open mind,” said Ozbirn, who gave no details on the split. “Adam’s incredibly talented and we wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”
Brick, a native Austinite and veteran of esteemed New York City restaurants Daniel, Aureole and Momofuku Ssäm Bar, told the Statesman he has plans to open his own restaurant in late 2018, but is not legally allowed to disclose concept or location yet.