Twitter is a dangerous place. On Twitter I tend to commit to ideas whose concept fits into 140 characters or less, but whose execution is much, much larger in scale. This list is one of those projects.
Last month I tweeted about the article, “30 under 30: Futurist Foodies,” published by Splashlife, a list of 30 young food professionals who are making waves in America’s food scene.
“Why no Texans??” I tweeted indignantly after reading the piece. I was certain that Austin alone held at least 30 culinary phenoms whose work and talent deserved recognition. My friend Megan tweeted back, letting me know (1) that there was, in fact, a Houstonian on Splashlife’s list, and (2) that if I wanted to recognize deserving young Austinites, I should make a list myself. ”That sounds fun!” I tweeted back.
With those sixteen characters, I committed to discover and document which young Austinites were most influential in shaping the city’s food culture. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
There are many, many more important people in the Austin food scene than I initially suspected. My first round of brainstorming yielded over 70 possible listees, and as I continued my research, the group swelled to almost 100. After verifying many of those people’s ages, I calculated the average age of the group as about 35 years and settled on that number and age as the cutoff point for my list.
Once I identified those who were eligible by age, I whittled the list down by weighing the influence of each person or team against the following measures. Has his or her work:
- Received media attention or awards?
- Foreshadowed culinary, economic or demographic trends?
- Changed how Austinites eat, cook, access or think about food?
- Inspired other people in Austin to do similar work?
- Helped to define the food culture of a particular Austin neighborhood?
Owners, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop
John and Kendall Antonelli’s commitment to stocking the very best merchandise– and to let customers sample every bit of it– ensures that their Hyde Park cheese shop stays busy any time it’s open. Their placement of Antonelli’s cheese plates on the menus of such acclaimed Austin restaurants as Asti, Fino, Max’s Wine Dive and Frank, to name a few, has increased the profile and quality of cheese offerings across the city.
Bar Congress was named one of the best bars in America by Esquire, thanks to its intimate atmosphere, impeccable bar menu, and genius old-school cocktails. Adam Bryan, who helped establish East Side Show Room, is the man behind the bar’s friendly service and inspired cocktail selections. Bryan’s work at both East Side Show Room and Bar Congress has been much imitated across Austin, as he foreshadowed a national trend towards throwback cocktails and liquors.
Jeff Young, 31, and Johnny Livesay, 30
Beer Team Leader (Young) and Kitchen Team Leader (Livesay), Black Star Co-op
Black Star Co-op’s upscale, farm to table menu and microbrews set it above many Austin neighborhood bars, and its co-operative business model is the first of its kind in the world. Brewer Jeff Young and chef Johnny Livesay are leading the food and beverage operations there, helping to revitalize the Crestview and Airport Boulevard areas of Austin.
Karen Morgan, 33
Founder, Blackbird Bakery
Author, Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free
With celebrity clients like Courteney Cox, gluten-free lifestyle consultant Karen Morgan is at the forefront of the celiac movement in the United States. Besides working as a baker, Morgan develops custom gluten-free recipes for restaurant kitchens, maintains an award-winning food blog, and has authored the cookbook, Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free.
Angela Henry, 35
Nutrition Education Manager, Capital Area Food Bank
The Capital Area Food Bank’s nutrition education programs reach hundreds of thousands of Central Texans every year, through programs in schools, community centers, and through the food bank’s partner agencies. Registered Dietician Angela Henry leads a team of four nutrition education staff at the food bank, secures grant funding for education programs, and helps to ensure that everyone in Austin is empowered to make healthy food choices.
Josh Watkins, 33
Executive Chef, The Carillon Restaurant at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center
Executive Chef Josh Watkins came to The University of Texas’ new hotel facility in 2008 on the heels of successful stints at The Driskill and Dallas’ French Room at the Adolphus Hotel. The success of The Carillon demonstrates Austin’s increasing demand for fine dining, and Chef Watkins’ innovative approach to traditional foods makes the hotel restaurant one of the best dining experiences in town.
June Rodil, 31
Beverage Director, Congress Austin
Born in the Phillipines and raised in Dallas, June Rodil cultivates the wine list at Congress Austin, David Bull’s nationally-acclaimed trio of restaurants. Rodil previously worked at at The Driskill and Uchi, and she was named “Texas Best Sommelier” by the Texas Sommelier Association and the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas in 2009.
Plinio Sandalio, 29
Pastry Chef, Congress Austin
Campari pop rocks and green chartreuse ice cream are all in a day’s work for Congress Austin pastry chef Plinio Sandalio, who arrived in Austin from Houston’s Textile restaurant last year. Sandalio’s creative and playful desserts have earned him national recognition, including a 2010 James Beard Award nomination for “Best Pastry Chef.”
Ben Edgerton, 28, and Andrew Wiseheart, 30
Owner- General Manager (Edgerton) and Owner- Executive Chef (Wiseheart), Contigo Austin
Contigo Austin is where several of the city’s biggest trends intersect: there are hipsters, exotic game, charcuterie, upscale casual dining and a mixologist, all served up on a big ol’ patio in the Mueller neighborhood. None of this seems contrived, though, thanks to owners Ben Edgerton and Andrew Wiseheart, whose work makes Contigo the city’s top dining destination east of I-35.
Chef Jason Donoho balances familiar Mediterranean offerings like pizza and tapas with adventurous specials at partner restaurants Asti and Fino. These restaurants have helped to elevate the culinary scene in Austin’s Hyde Park and West Campus neighborhoods, which one might otherwise associate with bars and sandwich shops for the campus crowd.
Tony Yamanaka’s website “Food Trailers Austin” is a comprehensive directory of the city’s burgeoning food trailer scene, with reliable information about each trailer’s whereabouts, operating hours, chef and type of food. Yamanaka took the business model a step further when he put togther the Austin Food Trailer Alliance, a volunteer membership organization where vendors and patrons alike can work together for the betterment of the industry.
Jodi Elliott, 31, and Ned Elliott, 35
Owners and Chefs, Foreign & Domestic
Foreign & Domestic is one of several small businesses with attitude in the up-and-coming North Loop neighborhood of Austin. (The restaurant’s just down the street from the anarchist book store.) The personalities of chefs Jodi and Ned Elliott, married in 2003, shine through the restaurant’s open kitchen, its ever-changing menu, and its lively media presence, bringing a welcome dose of charisma and candor to the central Austin dining scene.
Aaron Franklin, 32
Owner and Chef, Franklin’s Barbecue
If you’ve read anything about barbecue in the media lately, it was probably about Franklin’s. Aaron Franklin’s food-trailer turned brick-and-mortar restaurant was proclaimed “The Best BBQ Restaurant in America” by Bon Appetit this summer. Meanwhile, outside the restaurant, there are lines around the block for the renowned meat.
Daniel Goetz, 25
Owner, GoodPop All-Natural Frozen Pops
Daniel Goetz was a college student when he founded GoodPop a few years ago, and his 100% organic paletas quickly became a hit at area farmers’ markets. Now they’re available for sale at Whole Foods grocery stores in Austin and Houston.
Mason Arnold, 33
Founder, Greenling Organic Delivery
Voted “Best Local Food Company” in Austin for four consecutive years, Greenling Organic Delivery is a big driver in the local food economy, because of the volume of local food they distribute, and because they literally drive deliveries to customers’ doorsteps. Founder Mason Arnold has overseen the business from its beginnings in a home garage, to the company’s recent partnership with Whole Foods stores in San Antonio and Austin. [Disclosure: Greenling is a sponsor of The Austin Gastronomist blog.]
Part June Cleaver, part Phoebe from “Friends,” part salty home-economics-teacher-of-your-dreams, Hilah Johnson is carving a big place for herself in the growing genre of internet television and e-books. Her hilarious and expletive studded cooking series Hilah Cooking! has earned her a mention in Nylon and Poor Taste Magazines and the title “2010 Austin Blogger of the Year.“
Christian Lane, 34; Joseph Lane, 30; Patrick Lane, 33; Brian Nunnery, 23; Christopher Pepe, 30
Founding team, In.Gredients package-free grocery store
Zero-packaging grocery store In.Gredients has been one of the most talked about local food businesses in Austin this year, and it hasn’t even opened yet. The store’s launch has been covered by 23 different media outlets– including the New York Times, Forbes and Rolling Stone– since the team of founders announced the concept earlier this summer. The team’s commitment to community collaboration extends to its capital building; the store is just a few thousand dollars shy of its $15,000 crowd-sourced fundraising goal.
Deegan McClung, 32
Executive Chef, Jeffrey’s Restaurant and Bar
Since it opened in 1975, New American bistro Jeffrey’s has become an institution in Austin’s fine dining scene. The restaurant remains fresh thanks to Chef Deegan McClung’s imaginative preparations of local ingredients and ever-changing seasonal tasting menus.
With a big momentum boost from her catering business, Luxe Sweets, Soraiya Nagree opened La Patisserie in south Austin in December 2010. The bakery offers many French pastries, but the macarons are what made Nagree famous; she offers typical flavors like lavender, rose, and pistachio, and also seasonal varieties like peach basil in homage to the Texas hill country.
Wes Mickel has two lives: in the first, he spends 80 hours a week running the cooking school at Whole Foods. In the second, he spends 80 hours a week at Argus Cidery, brewing artisanal ciders from Texas apples. That only leaves eight hours for sleep, so it’s a mystery how he manages to keep a smile on his face and impress clients at both jobs. Maybe it’s all the cider?
Food and Wine named Bryce Gilmore one of “America’s 10 Best New Chefs” this year, and we lucky Austinites know why. The food from his trailer could best that of most fine kitchens, and the menu and atmosphere at Barley Swine has upped the standards of intimate dining in the city. Both eateries boast flavors unique to Austin thanks to Gilmore’s commitment to using local ingredients in nearly every dish.
Eric Silverstein, 28
Owner, The Peached Tortilla
Telling someone about Eric Silverstein’s fusion food truck is like running down a list of best practices for mobile food vendors: Niche concept? Check. Reliable business hours? Check. Clearly defined brand? Check. Strong social media presence? Check. The thing is, those things almost never come up in conversations about The Peached Tortilla because everyone’s too busy raving about the food: offerings like pad thai tacos, pork belly sliders, sweet potato fries and banana nutella wontons.
Neysa King, 27, and Travis Czerw, 27
Owners, Round Table Farm
Farmers Neysa King and Travis Czerw have poured blood, sweat and tears into the Texas earth as they endeavor to grow sustainable produce and reform our food supply through their start-up, Roundtable Farm. Neysa’s documentation of that journey in her blog, Dissertation to Dirt, offers a compelling behind-the-scenes look at life as a young farmer.
Mason Popp, 25
Greenhouse Manager and Bartender, Sagra Trattoria and Bar
If you’ve eaten at Sagra, you know the work of Mason Popp and you might not even know it. In addition to working as the restaurant’s bartender, Popp grows most the restaurant’s tomatoes and herbs in a greenhouse off Slaughter Lane in south Austin.
Ben Runkle, 33
Butcher, Salt and Time
“Artisinal butchering” was named Austin’s best food local trend in 2010 thanks to the likes of Ben Runkle, the butcher behind the farmers’ market-based meat shop Salt and Time, launched in 2009. Runkle is part of a growing community of Austin charcutiers who share a commitment to the environment, the community and to producing traditional meat products at the highest level.
Olivia O’Neal, 34
Owner- Menu Development, Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop
Founded by Olivia O’Neal, Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop has only been open on South First Street for a few years, yet it feels like it’s been part of that neighborhood forever. A commitment to offering vegan and gluten-free treats, plus its rotating menu of offbeat cupcackes makes this rockabilly bakery one of Austin’s most notable confectionaries.
Sari Albornoz, 28, and Jess Guffey, 31
Co-Directors, Sustainable Food Center Grow Local Program
Texas is ranked third in the nation for food insecurity, which means many Austin residents can’t afford to buy enough healthy food at the grocery store. Sari Albornoz and Jess Guffy head up the Sustainable Food Center’s Grow Local programs, which provide free and low cost gardening supplies, lessons and space to everyone who needs it, with the goal of making healthy, clean food available to all in Austin.
Jodi Bart, 32
Writer, Tasty Touring blog
Jodi Bart’s award-winning personal blog, Tasty Touring, contains humorous restaurant reviews, travel stories, recipes and personal musings about the Austin food scene. Bart is active in the food community beyond her blog; she serves on the board of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance, appeared on KGSR radio as a food commentator, and hosts events like her upcoming Ice Cream Social in order to interact with readers offline.
Shortly after moving Austin last year, self-described “half-assed domestic goddess” Kate Payne started hosting a food swap with local blogger Megan Myers. Now the swaps are one of the hottest food events in town, and Payne has become increasingly visible in Austin’s community of home cooks. That visibility increased when she celebrated the release of her new book, The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, in Austin before embarking on a national book tour earlier this year.
Meagan Jones, 29
Environmental Coordinator, The University of Texas Division of Housing and Food
Most people don’t think “local, organic and sustainable,” when they think about dorm food, but Meagan Jones is working to change that. Now in her fourth year at UT’s dormitories, Jones has made drastic reductions in food waste and the dorm’s environmental impact through dozens of innovative programs that reach students, faculty and staff at one of the largest universities in the world. [Disclosure: I am employed at another department at The University of Texas at Austin.]
Brian Chen, 31, and Tiffany Taylor, 32
Founders, CEO (Chen) and President- COO (Taylor), Tiff’s Treats
Named “Best Dessert in Dallas-Fort Worth,” and with plans to expand to Houston this year, Tiff’s Treat’s Cookie Delivery company is on the move! The wildly popular business started years ago here in Austin, when Brian Chen and Tiffany Taylor were just sophomores at UT.
Anyone who doubted whether food trailers in Austin were here to stay probably became a believer at last year’s Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival, which drew over 20,000 eager eaters to Auditorium Shores. The event was conceptualized by Tiffany Harelik, the blogger behind “Trailer Food Diaries,” in partnership with Austin’s biggest event company, C3. Harelik’s influence continues to grow, as does Austin’s trailer food scene; in the past year, she has authored a trailer food cookbook, filmed a teaser for a television show, and started working as a freelance advisor for food trailers nationwide.
Daniel Barnes, 34
President and Owner, Treaty Oak Distillery
Treaty Oak Platinum Rum is the landmark product of the eponymous Austin distillery, but it’s just one of the premium liquors owner Daniel Barnes is producing these days. The distillery is also putting out Graham’s Texas Tea, and will launch Waterloo Gin this fall. All three liquors are painstakingly developed by Barnes (a sommelier) and his team, and brewed in small batches using only ingredients sourced in Texas.
Most in Austin know Phillip Speer through his avant-garde desserts at Uchi and Uchiko, or because he was a semi-finalist for the Beard Award for “Outstanding Pastry Chef” in 2010. I feel like I know Speer best through his food blog, which offers occasional insights into life in the Uchi kitchen, recipes, and first-hand accounts of cutting edge gastronomical techniques.
Paul Qui, 31
Executive Chef, Uchiko
No one’s seen Uchiko chef Paul Qui in Austin lately, unless you count this grainy paparazzi shot at Whole Foods. Rumor has it that he’s kicking ass on the upcoming season of Top Chef, and I’m all for him winning the whole thing– just as long as he comes home Austin afterwards to keep making the food that made him famous in the first place.