Living your passion
Aquarelle closes as owner finds her roots: How Chonita's came to be
Despite Austin's rapid culinary evolution, few local restaurants have achieved the precision and elegance of French cuisine as Aquarelle.
When it opened more than 11 years ago on West 6th Street, it was considered a fine dining darling tucked away in a then quiet neighborhood near downtown.
Today, the face of West 6th Street has certainly changed. And though Aquarelle has continued to wow patrons with extraordinary French-inspired menus, chef/owner Teresa Wilson has decided to end its tenure in Austin on September 3 and transform the location into something a bit more personal and representative of her Latin roots.
With the Food Network, food travel shows such as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, competition shows like Top Chef and a whirlwind of celebrity chefs of both global and local stature alike, it’s easy for foodophiles to see the world of chef-dom as an inspiring and glamorous life. And in many ways it is.
But as Wilson points out, chefs are normal people too. They have interests other than food, mortgages, hobbies and families. And sometimes it pays to reevaluate how they can all work together.
This is Wilson’s story. One best revealed in her own words. And one that proves that a little reinvention not only gets you back to what’s important in your current life, but also in your heritage.
“Last year made me want to reinvent myself. My two youngest children needed more attention with school. Between my husband and myself, we were living a rat race. We had three days a week of three to four hours of homework. I would pick up the kids, we’d eat a quick dinner and then jump on homework. Evening service at Aquarelle required me to be at the restaurant by 6 pm so I would pass the baton to my husband once he returned home from work and I’d be out the door to work.
I loved my time with Aquarelle. But I knew we had to make some changes. We moved the kids to a new school to better support their needs, but I knew this would not be enough. I needed to change my work life.
I never thought about how hard the restaurant business was on family life. I raised two older girls who have grown into two beautiful women. I was a single mom for most of their lives. Yet, for me, it was never difficult. I loved working in the restaurant business and had worked at Basil's (a former Austin Italian favorite in the late 90’s) long enough to have Sundays off and any night I might need to be there for sports or school events. I didn't think they lacked for much. As I’ve heard stories from my daughters now that they are grown, I realize they would have benefited from me having more evenings with them when they were young.
My husband has always been supportive of my work in the restaurant business, but it has taken a toll as well. He likes to joke that he is a widower on the weekends!
Maybe I am also at an age where I am questioning what is really important in life. Love of family has always been on the top of my list. Sundays have always been a time for me to spend not only with my husband and children, but with my siblings and parents as well.
Despite that, once you’ve been bit by the restaurant bug, it’s hard to let it go. I have a passion for it. It is in my blood and I still love going to work every day; even when my legs hurt from standing too long!
So, after much reflection I have come up with Chonita's. Chonita was my grandmother's nickname. She was my first experience of how cooking was an expression of love. When I was young, we would cook, eat, clean and then start preparing the next meal of the day. It was a constant process. While we cooked, we would talk and laugh. And when the meal was served, our family was together. I remember there was always story telling and laughter.
I think this is something America has lost. Where are their roots? Where do they come from? What are their traditions? At Chonita's, I would like to share some of my Latin culture and traditions. I am working on a way to include how food has importance through history, myth and, of course, nutrition. The food is a natural evolution of my background. I am doing dishes classically prepared with flavors from the Spanish-speaking world! I am still developing our menu and I want it to reflect a few things that we are familiar with in Austin, but also items that bring us all a better understanding of Latin American and Spanish culture.
We’re also lucky to have a location off of West 6th Street that has taken on a new identity. We really want to embrace the neighborhood we live in with Chonita’s. The area has changed so much since we opened 11 years ago and we want to offer something just as vibrant as the neighborhood.
What I really hope I to achieve is to offer the city a fun but unique experience at an affordable price. I want people to leave with something more than when they first walked in. And when the time is right, I look forward to being able to spend more evenings and weekends at home with my family!”
Wilson hopes to open Chonita's in October.