The holiday season has come and gone, and New Year’s Eve is but a faint glimmer of fireworks and champagne. Now it’s time to set your appetite on Austin’s inaugural Indie Chefs Week.
A four-night, food-centered extravaganza hosted at north Austin neighborhood favorite Foreign & Domestic, the event kicks off Wednesday, January 9 with an all-Texas chef eight-course meal and follows Thursday and Friday with eight-course meals by a league of chefs from both the east and west coasts. On Saturday, January 12, all participating chefs will work together to pull off a 21-course blow out meal to finish off the weekend.
It's something F&D Chef/Owner Ned Elliott has wanted to do almost since the restaurant opened in May of 2010.
"It’s really a result of getting up and running with social media to launch the restaurant,” says Elliott. “We’ve met so many different chefs across the country just through Twitter that have opened our eyes. I’m amazed at the level of cooking both in the U.S. and internationally, and a lot of it is undiscovered.”
Among the Austin chefs sharpening their knives to serve up something special for the event: Andrew Wiseheart (Contigo), Anthony Fusco (Foreign & Domestic), Jodi Elliott (Foreign & Domestic), Mat Clouser (Swift’s Attic), Nathan Lemley (Foreign & Domestic), Plinio Sandalio (The Carillon), Rosie Shipman (Foreign & Domestic), Shawn Cirkiel (Parkside, The Backspace, Olive & June), and Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher (Lenoir).
Indie Chefs Week is not only a great chance for Austinites to taste some of the best of what local and out-of-state chefs have up their sleeves, but it’s Elliott’s way of bringing these chefs together to learn from each other and build a stronger network of support.
“Whenever there’s an opportunity to get together with chefs in your community and others, it’s worth it,” says Shawn Cirkiel of Parkside, Backspace and Olive & June. “It’s part of the responsibility of helping a food community grow, not to mention the fact that it’s just really fun to have an excuse to get together to eat and cook and talk about eating and cooking.”
But getting together to have fun and cook isn't the only reason Elliot put this thing together, although it certainly is a large part. The truth is, he sees this as the perfect way to give back. Inspired by the many friends, family and even strangers who supported him in his formative years as a young chef, Elliott knows it takes a lot of support to one day have your own restaurant.
“I really found my voice and comfort zone from being in restaurant kitchens, and I feel strongly that kitchens are the one place where you can take the strife of everyday life and throw them out the window,” says Elliott. “If you really put your mind to it, it doesn’t matter what your background is or if you even have a high school education, all that matters is what you put into it. It’s a great equalizer.”
And so Indie Chefs Week is one way he's making a difference in the lives of many of the visiting chefs who may not have their name billed at large food and wine festivals or splashed across the latest celebrity chef TV show — at least not yet. These are chefs who have more of a mind to open smaller, neighborhood spots rather than the large cavernous restaurants commanding impossible reservation waiting lists.
“I’ve seen what a lot of these guys are doing and it’s amazing,” says Elliott.
“Ben Sukle out of Providence and Craig Thornton from Wolvesden in Los Angeles are doing things I’d never even thought about. Greg Gourdet from Departure in Oregon has all this great experience from places like Jean-Georges and his food is so approachable. Tamer Riad of Boke Bowl in Portland has one of the best Ramen shops I’ve ever been to; it’s so traditional but so forward and it all makes sense. I’m also excited to have Monica Glen who just moved to Austin after helping open Uchi Houston. She has so much talent. This gives all of them an experience that they wouldn’t normally have.”
Glen, who happened to meet Elliott for the first time at a Lucky Dog Rescue charity event a few months ago in Houston was thrilled at the opportunity to work with him in Austin.
“I’m excited to be doing something like that right when I’m moving back to town,” says Glen. “My new position at the Scottish Rite Dormitory at the University of Texas will be a great experience, but this sort of thing keeps me involved around town and working around chefs like this really helps hone your skills. Ned is really jumping into this thing head first and it’s inspiring. All of these chefs have a lot to offer and he understands the importance of having relationships like this around throughout the country.”
Lenoir’s Todd Duplechan is equally as excited to join the team. So much so that he’s hoping he’ll get to spend a few nights at the large house rental where all of the out-of-town chef will be staying, just for some “off time” to get to know them.
“There are a lot of these people that I’ve followed on Twitter, but I’ve never met them before. And it’s great to work with other chefs from Austin but it won’t just be the taste of our city, we’ll get a true sense of what’s going on in other cities that are similar to Austin, like Portland and Providence,” says Duplechan who sees the chefs involved in Indie Chefs Week as the next generation of great American chefs.
“One of the biggest pluses for me is getting to draw inspiration from these other guys, what they’re talking about, what they’re seeing and how they update the food that they’re putting down. Danny Myers used to say to me that ‘all boats rise to the tide.’ You have to be paying attention to what I’m doing and keep pushing to make it better and better. And we benefit by doing stuff like this, just to spend a few days exchanging ideas and inspiration."
If things go well with the first Indie Chefs Week, Elliott plans to host it every year, and hopes the concept will spread to other cities as well. Considering Thursday, Friday and Saturday night dinners are already sold out, with only 18 seats left for the Wednesday night seating, it’s likely he’s stumbled onto something special.
“This is about the discussion of food that is often missed,” says Elliott. “It’s hard to open up a restaurant, put out good food and still have time for your family. But it’s important that we find that next layer of doing food well and band together as chefs so that we can take the conversation deeper. We’re all like-minded and that’s the coolest thing about it.”
And we certainly hope he's right. We're looking forward to the tasty impact the inaugural Indie Chefs Week will have not only on Austin, but on all of the chefs involved as well.
As mentioned, most of the week is already sold out. Only a few seats are left for Wednesday’s 8-course meal. Check the Indie Chefs Week site for details.