One of the most acclaimed pop-up dinner series in Texas returns this week. Indie Chefs Week, an event that matches up-and-coming culinary talent with critically acclaimed veterans, holds a four-night run of dinners from March 15-18 in Austin.
“[Foreign & Domestic chef-owner] Ned Elliott takes the lead on picking chefs,” organizer Grover Smith tells CultureMap. “He's got a huge network from living and working all over the U.S., and that comes in handy when you're trying to find people that haven't yet gotten much media attention.”
Since 2013, Elliott has tapped his network of chef friends from across the country and asked them to identify chefs who might be flying under the media radar. Those talented individuals get their first opportunity to shine on a national stage at Indie Chefs Week. The event also includes a few heavy hitters who may be cooking in Texas for the first time, which helps boost ticket sales.
Participants include a number of CultureMap Tastemaker Awards nominees, including Rising Star Chef of the Year finalists Page Pressley (Emmers & Rye) and Sterling Ridings (upcoming Guild) and Houston Pastry Chef of the Year nominee Julia Doran (Bernadine’s in Houston). Of the people coming from out of state, the highest profile chefs include Food & Wine Best New Chef Cara Stadler (Tao Yuan in Brunswick, Maine); two-time James Beard award semifinalist Jose Salazar (Salazar and Mita’s in Cincinnati); and Brett Cooper, the chef-owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Aster in San Francisco.
“The reality of being a chef-owner is that you're working so much that you're living in your kitchen and getting free time to get out and network, collaborate, and learn techniques or best practices isn't always a reality,” Smith says.
“That's the whole reason we pay for their housing, travel, and the food cost ... These are people that run a fantastic restaurant, pay their employees a fair wage, pay their bills, take care of purveyors, and don't worry about making a ton of money; they just want to do what they love.”
That love gets expressed with multi-course dinners where each chef serves one course on the first three nights. On Saturday, March 18, the chefs pair up for a blow-out, 14-plus course feast that’s followed by an after-party. According to Smith, limiting the numbers of diners to 70 or so really allows the chefs to focus on technique and plating in a way that they can’t when serving bites to diners at larger food festivals.
"We're all just having fun, and it shows," Smith states. "I can't think of another opportunity like that."
A few tickets are still available, but they’re going fast. Head to the Indie Chefs Week website for details.