Deep in the Heart of Austin
On the Road with Flavor Forays: An Insider’s Tour of Four of America’s Hottest Food Cities —- Austin, Charleston, Portland, and New Orleans — takes readers along on memorable culinary immersions. Stir the pots. Meet the characters. Listen to the stories. And if you get hungry, whip up one of the recipes provided by the chefs and producers on these tours.
Authors Barbara Mathias and Beverly Stephen spent over two decades covering chefs and food trends at Food Arts magazine. After the magazine closed, they started a travel company, Flavor Forays, to bring chefs and food and beverage kingpins on culinary journeys to food meccas.
When they tell people what they do for a living, the typical response? Can I come? In their book, you can be an armchair traveler on their insider culinary journeys.
The following excerpt will give you a taste …
Saddle up! Flavor Forays is inviting you to come along for a wild ride “Deep in the Heart of Austin.” The Texas capital is reputed to be the fastest-growing city in America and its food scene is phenomenal. No longer just a sleepy university town, Austin is also a burgeoning tech outpost. Construction cranes appear as numerous as the Mexican free-tailed bats that take flight from the Congress Avenue Bridge at twilight.
Never fear. Our itinerary won’t overlook the brew and ‘cue. But a cadre of creative chefs, makers, and bakers, millers and distillers, urban farmers and food truckers are catapulting this live music capital into the gourmet stratosphere. We’ll spend time with the chefs who pioneered Austin’s prominence and the newcomers who are moving it forward. We’ll take a look at some ancient desert food and drink making a comeback. We’ll taste some leading local wines, watch the butchering of a feral hog, and enjoy some Texas spins on dining high and low.
Talk about starting off with a kick-ass lunch! We’re heading to Loro, one of the hottest and most talked-about new spots in Austin. Texas meets Asia here at this smokin’ smokehouse created by two of Austin’s top chefs, BBQ guru Aaron Franklin and Uchi’s Tyson Cole. Think smoked beef brisket marinated with Vietnamese nuoc mam sauce, Thai green curry pork sandwiches, or candied kettle corn with burnt brisket ends.
Next, we’ll head over to make some masa with ATX Cocina’s Executive Chef/Partner Kevin Taylor. He’s a leading practitioner of modern Mexican while paying deference to tradition.
Corn, the foundation of Mexican cuisine, is the focus here. Heirloom corn, imported by Masienda from small farmers in Oaxaca, is nixtamalized in house and ground to make the masa for tortillas, sopes, and tostadas.
In Dripping Springs, we’ll visit the 28-acre Treaty Oak Distillery named after the 500-year-old oak tree under which Stephen F. Austin signed agreements defining the border of Texas.
Locally revered miller James Brown, who’s credited with changing Austin’s relationship with grain, has recently installed a milling facility on the grounds of Treaty Oak.
We’ll taste some breads made from his flours by Miche Bread’s Sandeep Gyawali, a neuroscientist turned baker now employed by Whole Foods to develop an innovative bread program for its stores.
Gyawali is also a mesquite missionary on a quest to bring the ancient superfood of Southwest desert dwellers back to the modern diet. Chefs have been grilling over mesquite wood since the early days of California cuisine but who knew you could eat the pods.
It’s getting on toward cocktail hour and time to head over to The Desert Door Distillery in Driftwood, on the Eastern edge of wild sotol country. Sotol, or dessert spoon, is a type of cactus but it’s not agave. We’ll sample Sotol at the distillery where the firewater of peasants, first sipped some 9,000 years ago in the Chihuahua desert, is now promising to lay any worries about a tequila shortage to rest. It makes a killer Paloma.
When we reconnected with Fall Creek Vineyards owner Susan Auler by phone, she immediately grasped the concept of Flavor Forays and proposed an idea for a unique demo and dinner by her friend Chef Jesse Griffiths of Austin’s Dai Due restaurant. “Jesse can come out to our ranch and shoot a feral pig and then do a butchering demo and grill it for dinner,” she enthusiastically offered.
Griffiths is an accomplished butcher as well as a chef/restaurateur. He began hunting in hopes of educating people on how the hunt fits into the food cycle. So that’s where the feral hog fits in. Griffiths explains that feral hogs are invasive and destructive. “They’re out there just tearing up our water supply, eating baby deer and digging up crops,” he says. “And yet, they’re delicious and don’t require any human intervention to house them or feed them.” In Texas, if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em …
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Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is a principal of the culinary travel company Flavor Forays.