Food filmmaker Christian Remde tells the stories in and around Austin's bestkitchens
You may have already heard that Paul Qui and Moto Utsunomiya's newest East Side King truck is opening with a revamped menu and a beautiful new truck at the old Grackle location.
But have you heard the story behind the truck from the owners' mouths?
Thanks to the dedication of Austin filmmaker Christian Remde, we're getting a look into the busy kitchens and brilliant minds of some of Austin's best eateries, including Contigo, La Condesa and Sagra. His short, beautiful food narratives unpack the mystery of what makes these locations so special and the difference that a passionate chef can bring to a restaurant.
What started as a curiosity project in New York City has turned into a full-fledged obsession for the multi-talented filmmaker, whose background also includes writing and producing narrative films as well as documentaries.
"I wanted to get into directing, and I decided to make a short film every month for a year, to really push myself to work on things I'd never worked on before," recalls Remde.
"And when I was looking around for a documentary subject, I'd just eaten at Bryce Gilmore's since closed Odd Duck trailer. I was so fascinated by how he put himself at a tremendous disadvantage using only locally-sourced foods, and still he was turning out such amazing meals and doing great business."
Right about the time Remde approached Gilmore about doing a short documentary, the rising star chef was named as one of Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chefs. "I assumed he'd not have time for me, but he turned out to be so kind and so humble about the whole thing," says Remde, who reports that he has only met similar easy-going personalities from the chefs he's since shot in town.
After shooting Gilmore, Remde was hooked on the intimate, engrossing nature of these "kitchen confidentials," and he next chose Lawrence and Lee Ann Kocurek of former farmers' market favorite Kocurek Family Charcuterie for his next food film. The video became the July entry in his 12-videos-in-12-months series he was now calling "The Twelve Films Project."
Soon afterward, Remde discovered the unique kitchen stories that most fine dining establishments have related to the tradition of "staff meals," a daily or weekly communal meal that a restaurant prepares for its staff before the dinner crowd arrives, allowing for bonding time among the front- and back-of-house. As Remde discovered, every restaurant has its own traditions, and, luckily, they love sharing them.
At La Condesa, Executive Chef Rene Ortiz and Pastry Chef Laura Sawicki explain that staff meal is a fun challenge to come up with creative ways to make the "trim" of the night before into an impressively satisfying meal to bond over:
After striking up a relationship with the owners and chefs of Contigo, Remde found a muse for his next series of films all set at the same location.
"When you walk into Contigo, it reminds me — in the best way possible —almost like you're walking into Disneyworld," Remde laughs. "Once you walk through that gate, you feel transported into a different land, where the food is authentic and every detail is accounted for. Like they just went out and killed your food and prepared it just for you. That's what it's like for me."
His first video from the Contigo series documents nearly 24 hours in the life of the restaurant, from the 4 a.m. baking shift to the 2. a.m. closing shift the next day.
"Whenever you eat at a restaurant, you should never have to think about all the effort that goes into what you're eating. But for those who are interested in it, I think it's a real eye opener," says Remde about his intention for the piece.
"People are more and more interested in what's going into their food, what's going into their bodies these days," states Remde. "So I think these stories speak to the rest of it: how you're eating it, why you're eating it, what it means to you. I think that's why people are responding so well to it.
As evidence, the most watched video in Remde's collection of food documentaries to date is his shortest piece, which follows a bushel of local okra from its home at Johnson's Backyard Garden to its delivery and preparation as one of the favorite appetizers on Contigo's menu.
"I suppose it probably helps that it's only two-and-a-half minutes long," Remde jokes. But there's no denying the web appeal of his short documentaries.
He admits that documentary short filmmaking is more solitary and often much easier than longer narrative features, because of the singular one-on-one nature of the shooting process.
Still, he is also writing a long-form narrative film that is based — surprise! — in and around the Austin food scene. "It's a way to take a lot of what I've learned these last couple of years and apply it to what I really love, which is scripted narrative film," he says.
Additionally, Remde is lending his food shooting know-how to the new "Hungry In... Austin" series being shot for the Food Network's YouTube channel, Hungry, hosted by friend and Austin Eavesdropper, Tolly Moseley. He is also working with Kendall Melton, pastry chef at Contigo, on a pastry-based cooking show for Hungry, as well as a few top secret projects he can't yet discuss.
"I'll keep making these videos as long as I can keep finding new inspirations. I don't want them to ever get repetitive," Remde says about the future. "I'd like to do one at Lenoir — I hear they do a cool staff meal. And I'd also like to try doing one in New York, although I don't know what that would look like yet."
With all these projects on his plate, it's clear that Christian Remde is capturing the stories that Austin's hungry elite wants to hear. And he's perfectly content, since he's got the best seat at every restaurant in town.
"It's pretty great now that I know a lot of the chefs in town, I get to go back there and hang out while dinner is happening," Remde smiles. "I prefer it now. It's just more fun in the kitchen!"