culinary royalty

Chef Marcus Samuelsson's lifestyle website, Food Republic, takes on the Austin Food & Wine festival

Chef Marcus Samuelsson's lifestyle website, Food Republic, takes on the Austin Food & Wine festival

Austin Photo Set: News_Claudia_food republic_april 2012_2
Tyson Cole, Phillip Speer and Paul Qui, from Uchi/Uchiko Photo by Claudia Alarcon
Austin Photo Set: News_Claudia_food republic_april 2012_3
La Condesa’s Laura Sawicki and Rene Ortiz Photo by Claudia Alarcon
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Trace Austin Executive Chef Nadine Thomas, the restaurant’s forager Valerie Broussard, and Springdale Farm co-owner Paula Foore, Photo by Claudia Alarcon
Austin Photo Set: News_Claudia_food republic_april 2012_2
Austin Photo Set: News_Claudia_food republic_april 2012_3
Austin Photo Set: News_Claudia_food republic_april 2012_1

The Living Room at the W Austin became a temporary studio on Friday for a series of interviews featuring participants in the Austin Food & Wine Festival by the folks at Food Republic.

Food Republic is a New York City-based food and lifestyle website created by Chef Marcus Samuelsson, alongside Richard Martin and Matt Rodbard, aimed at “men who want to eat and drink well, and to live smart.”

Martin explains, “Men are more and more interested in food, whether it is cooking, or eating at restaurants, or finding discovering new ingredients and finding out where they come from. Marcus thought there was a gap on internet content geared specifically for this demographic, so we’ve been developing the website for a year now."

Martin conducted informal interviews throughout the morning with some of our local talent, including Trace Austin Executive Chef Nadine Thomas, the restaurant’s forager Valerie Broussard, and Springdale Farm co-owner Paula Foore, who discussed sustainability in restaurants and Broussard’s role in sourcing local ingredients for the menu at Trace.

Broussard, who acts as the liaison between Trace’s chefs and local farmers, explained how ingredient availability drives their menu. She relies on farmers like Foore to relay information on seasonal ingredients, determining when certain fruits and vegetables will be ready so chef Thomas can plan menu items ahead of time.

“Right now we have an amazing dish,” says Thomas. “Potato gnocchi with a pesto of basil, dandelion greens and lamb’s quarters which we get from Springdale Farms. It’s a popular menu item.”

Foore mentioned that chef’s requests for specific vegetables and fruit has an influence in what they plant at the farm. She also talked about the challenges of farming in Austin’s hot climate and explained how the fall is the best season for the greatest variety of produce.

Martin asked Chef Thomas about the menu for the recent unveiling of Willie Nelson’s statue: “We made brownies,” she said, to which Martin replied, addressing Broussard, “Did you forage any ingredients for that?”

Rodbard got a chance to talk to the Uchi/Uchiko team of Tyson Cole, Phillip Speer and Paul Qui, who explained their philosophy of creating dishes in which every bite is a “perfect bite.”

“The spirit of Uchi is taking individual ideas and evolving them as a team,” said Speer. “We experiment new dishes on our staff during employee meals,” added Cole.  

Rodbard gushed on Qui’s recent celebrity status, asking him what it was like to receive the keys to the city. “It was pretty amazing! I thought, maybe I should have run a red light or something,” he said laughing.

He then asked him, rather awkwardly, about the money he won on Top Chef and his plans on what to do with it. Always the gentleman, Qui replied “I don’t know yet. I can neither confirm nor deny anything.”

The last of the homegrown chefs to be featured were La Condesa’s Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki, who was recently named Best Pastry Chef Southwest by Food & Wine magazine.

“At La Condesa we try being local while using what we’ve learned globally,” said Ortiz, who has traveled extensively and worked in restaurants from Manhattan to Australia. “But we do it here, and it makes us happy.”

Sawicki admitted that at first she was hired only as a consultant for a two week period, “but by day four I had fallen in love and decided to stay,” she said. "I love it here; I have a great life, a house, a dog. It’s my home now.”

The duo have stayed very busy lately with the opening of La Condesa in St. Helena, and the upcoming opening of another outpost in Los Angeles, as well as the La Condesa-owned Thai concept being built on South First Street. “In Australia I lived very close to one of the best Thai restaurants,” Ortiz said, “so I am very excited to bring that cuisine here.”