Here are the learnings from our recent ICCA Culinary Immersion Austin. We have been creating Culinary Immersions since our 10th Anniversary with Roy Choi when he was one of the most influential chefs in the industry
igniting the food truck scene. Since then they seem to become more intensive each year. We revisited Austin, a site for our ICCA Summit in 2009, and experienced why this city is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation. We did not need to repeat any locations except the iconic Salt Lick BBQ since they have morphed into a winery respectable for Texas. We visited nine restaurants over the two day period and that does not include the brewery and cocktail bar. Thanks to our sponsors Mars Foodservices, Potatoes USA, Sweet Street Desserts, To-Jo Mushrooms and Tuxton China we visited Austin’s most creative restaurants and learned how to make drinks worthy of a major culinary experience.
The night before the event, as our members arrived, we began at Buenos Aires Café for an authentic Argentinean menu to start the networking experience we have become know for in the industry. The food included charcuterie, ensaladas, empanadas and Parrillada. Parrillada is a mixed grill of sausages and perfectly grilled meats as you would expect from an Argentinean chef. We started the first morning in Austin with breakfast tacos at Veracruz All Natural, from owners Reyna and Maritza Vazquez. The sisters grew up in Veracruz where Chef Reyna learned from her mother and grandmother while working in the family restaurant. One single taco was a meal featuring eggs, potatoes, cheese and your choice of an array of meats. Food Network named their Migas Taco in their top 5 tacos in America.
Next stop – Whole Foods headquarters and flagship store, which has been in the Austin community since 1980. We heard first hand about their quality standards and sustainability practices as we walk through each department. The store also features five restaurants or kiosks where you can dine in or take out amazing foods including pizza, pasta, seafood and barbecue. Lunch was probably the spot most ICCA members were excited to experience. Loro is an Asian smokehouse brought to you by James Beard Award winners, Chef Tyson Cole of Uchi and Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue, taking Franklin’s notorious smoked meats and adding Cole’s Asian influence. Crowd favorites included candied kettle corn with burnt ends, oak grilled snap peas, smoked prime bavette and their Thai green curry sausage.
A trip to Austin is not complete without a short drive to the Hill Country beginning with a tour of Jester King Brewery, an authentic brewer of farmhouse ales plus a restaurant, farm, event hall and 150+ acres of preserved land. Their crops on the farm include grapes for wine, peaches, melons, pumpkins and hops and they pride themselves in creating beers that are unique even from batch-to-batch by using their own yeast. After a wine tasting at Salt Lick, we enjoyed their ribs, beef brisket and slaw and as we exited, second generation owner Scott Roberts sent us away with their stolen recipe of peach cobbler. He claims that there are two other families claiming the bragging rights that it was their family recipe – he said it is a combination of both.
At Chef Tyson Cole’s Uchiko we were treated to a tasting menu highlighting Cole’s signature non-traditional take on Japanese food. The flavors were amazing and the menu speaks for itself. Each dish was creatively displayed and it took us on a journey of Asian delight. Perhaps the best way to describe it is through photos.
The final day of our ICCA Culinary Immersion started with an amazing tour of the brand new Easy Tiger Production Bakery. What was an idea from head dough puncher David Norman three years ago became reality six months ago. This state-of-the-art large production bakery supplies breads, pastries and other baked goods to Whole Foods and most of the major restaurants in Austin including their own Easy Tiger Beer Garden & Bake Shops. They also have what they call a “Grind House” in the facility where they make their own sausages and naturally processed meats for their award winning sandwiches at the two restaurants. We began with pastries at the production facility restaurant and ended with lunch at their downtown location before walking to El Naranjo for our second lunch of the day.
Chef – owner Iliana de la Vega presented us with a traditional Oaxacan tasting menu at her restaurant El Naranjo. Before helping create the CIA’s Latin Cuisine program in San Antonio, de la Vega and her husband Ernesto ran a restaurant in Oaxaca and had their food featured on the cover of the May 2003 cover of Bon Appetit magazine. The traditional Oaxacan Mole was very light and helped the flavor of the shrimp, asparagus and chayote squash come through.
Our third lunch was at La Barbecue where owners LeAnn Mueller and her wife Alison Clem are proving to the BBQ industry – the future is female. LeAnn learned from her father who became one of the legendary barbecue masters of Texas when taking over the family business in 1974. LeAnn and Alison have perfected their techniques using a variety of hand-crafted smokers. From there we snuck into the private “Floppy Disk Repair Co,” where there is a hidden speakeasy with a door code to get in. Red Headed Stepchild is the sister-bar to the popular Austin hangout, Handlebar, and is known for their whimsical take on cocktails. We enjoyed, of all things, jello shots and a spin on an old fashioned before a demo by their bar manager Anup Mistri. Their creative menu includes names like Nobody Actually Liked Miranda or you can order one of the drinks with a sidecar of Cocoa Pebbles and don’t miss the artwork surrounding the bar – think of horror flicks.
The wrap-up for the ICCA Spring Immersion was dinner at Arlo Grey, the debut restaurant from Top Chef 10 winner Kristen Kish. Chef Kish’s menu featured innovative use of potatoes, along with the other local ingredients of Central Texas. This was a precursor for a Street Dive the next day featuring chef RJ Harvey from Potatoes USA at the University of Texas. More details on that event in a future post.