Tue March 24, 2015 10:39 am By Patricia Sharpe

Chefs from Austin and Houston are among six finalists for a regional chef award from the James Beard Foundation, a competition often described as the Oscars of the restaurant industry. The Texas competitors for Best Chef: Southwest are Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue) of Austin (pictured); Bryce Gilmore (Barley Swine, Odd Duck) of Austin; Hugo Ortega (Hugo’s, Caracol) of Houston; and Justin Yu (Oxheart) of Houston.

The other two competitors for the Southwest award are Kevin Binkley (Binkley’s Cave Creek, Arizona) and Martín Rios (Restaurant Martín, Santa Fe, New Mexico).

The finals were announced today, February 24. Winners will be revealed at a black-tie gala in Chicago the evening of Monday, May 4, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Celebrity chef and television personality Alton Brown will host the ceremonies. Chef co-chairs of the awards gala are Grant Achatz, Rick Bayless, and Paul Kahan, of Chicago. Tickets will go on sale Wednesday, April 1, through the Beard website.

Texas chefs had been nominated in six other categories, but they did not make it to the finals.

(Photo by Wyatt McSpadden)

Wed February 18, 2015 1:25 pm By Layne Lynch

It’s that time of year again: The James Beard Foundation, the nation’s culinary institution, has announced the semifinalists in its 2015 Restaurant and Chef awards. A handful of Texas names are included among them.

Read below to see if your favorite Texas chefs, bars, and restaurants made the cut:

Best New Restaurant:

San Salvaje, Dallas (included in Texas Monthly’s Where to Eat Now 2015)

Olamaie, Austin (included in Texas Monthly’s Where to Eat Now 2015)

Outstanding Bar Program

Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston

Outstanding Chef

Stephan Pyles, Dallas

Outstanding Wine Program

Hugo’s, Houston

Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional

James Tidwell, Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas, Irving

Rising Star of the Year

Mark Buley and Sam Hellman-Mass, Odd Duck, Austin

Grae Nonas, Olamaie, Austin

Best Chef: Southwest

David Bull, Congress, Austin

Omar Flores, Casa Rubia, Dallas

Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue, Austin

Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner, The Pass, Houston

Bryce Gilmore, Barley Swine, Austin

Matt McCallister, FT33, Dallas

Hugo Ortega, Hugo’s, Houston

John Tesar, Knife, Dallas

David Uygur, Lucia, Dallas

Justin Yu, Oxheart, Houston

Hugo Ortega’s Houston restaurant, Hugo’s, received two recognitions this year: one for Best Chef Southwest and another for Outstanding Wine Program. “It feels great to be recognized in this way,” Ortega tells Texas Monthly. “I am very proud of the work we are doing at each of the restaurants and especially happy that Sean [Beck, Hugo’s sommelier,] was recognized for his solid effort over the years.”

Bobby Heugel, owner of Anvil Bar & Refuge, says it’s always an honor to receive recognition from the James Beard Foundation. “We’re excited that our effort to open a small cocktail bar that Houstonians would love has somehow resonated with a broader national community,” he says.

The James Beard Foundation awards ceremony will take place at Lyric Opera of Chicago on Monday, May 4, 2015. 

Fri February 13, 2015 12:44 pm By Patricia Sharpe

One of the most anticipated openings in what promises to be a jam-packed restaurant season in Austin is less than a week away. Here’s how things are shaping up in the converted washateria now known as Launderette.

The contemporary room, lit by track lighting, wraps around an open kitchen. Arguably the best seats in the house are at the wood counter that fronts that busy work space. In the dining room, modern Windsor-style chairs surround wooden tables.

In charge of operations are chef Rene Ortiz and pastry chef Laura Sawicki, the duo who created the menus at La Condesa and Sway. Departing from the Mexican and Thai themes of those two restaurants, they are taking Launderette in a Mediterranean direction.

Toasted focaccia is spread with whipped taleggio and mascarpone, then topped with a five-minute egg, asparagus, radishes, black-truffle dressing, and thin-sliced bottarga (salted cured fish roe).

Grilled broccolini is boosted with a fresno pepper romesco sauce, then finished with slivered almonds and a drizzle of olive oil.

House-made garganelli and fresh kale comes topped with pork/fennel sausage and black trumpet mushrooms, all garnished with pecorino romano.

Over a layer of Greek yogurt is red-beet hummus with pickled beets and a crunchy multi-grain topping, all garnished with beet greens and parsley.

Rosewater-pistachio parfait cream comes with a mixed citrus and fennel salad, candied pistachios, whipped Greek yogurt, and a tahini-and-agave-nectar powder.

If you want to see what it’s all about prior to the official opening (set for February 19), Launderette will host a benefit for the nonprofit Austin Food & Wine Alliance’s grant program on Tuesday, February 17. The multi-course dinner will feature a signature cocktail, wine pairings, and a dozen-plus items from Ortiz’s menu, including assorted crudos, “snacky bits,” and specialties like pork saltimbocca (with capers and prosciutto) and “sticky Brussels sprouts” (with apple-bacon marmalade). Dessert is Sawicki’s chèvre cheesecake with candied ginger ice cream. Tickets are $200 (which includes a $50 donation to AFWA) and are available at http://austinfoodwinealliance.org/.

Once Launderette is up and running, the chefs will focus on the second half of their endeavor, a Chinese take-out operation called Angry Bear, across the parking lot from Launderette, which is at 2115 Holly Street. More information will be available at www.launderetteaustin.com (at the time of writing, information on the site was very limited).

Besides Ortiz and Sawicki, the proprietors of Launderette and Angry Bear are Margaret Vera and Tracy Overath (the owners of Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon). 

(Photos by Jody Horton)

Wed January 21, 2015 12:01 am By Layne Lynch

Dig out your pants with the elastic waistband: a gluttonous lineup of Texas chefs, interactive culinary demos, and tastings is on the roster for the fourth annual Austin Food & Wine Festival, which runs from April 24–26.

Tickets to the highly anticipated event go on sale today, January 21, at 10 a.m. Similar to years past, the gourmet gathering at Austin’s Auditorium Shores and Republic Square Park promises a substantial lineup. The forty-odd events include the ever-popular grilling demo by Tim Love, owner and chef of Lonesome Dove Bistro and Woodshed Smokehouse in Fort Worth; chefs cooking over fire pits; celebrity chef book signings; and a smorgasbord of other delicious tidbits. 

For those who want the no-holds-barred experience, the $550 “All-In” admission package grants access to all the cooking demos, one of Love’s grilling demos, interactive fire pits, food/beverage tastings, book signings, Saturday’s and Sunday’s Grand Tasting and tickets to the Taste of Texas, Rock Your Taco, and Sip & Sweets events. (The name of the package really seems to say it all.)

At less than half the price, “The Weekender” buys you most of the same perks, but you’ll miss out on the grilling demos and you’ll have to purchase separate tickets to the Taste of Texas, Rock Your Taco and the Sip & Sweets events. 

A private pre-festival dinner, dubbed the Feast Under the Stars, kicks off the festivities on April 23. It’s a five-course, family-style dinner cooked up by many of Texas’s most acclaimed chefs, including Love, Uchi’s Tyson Cole, Matt McCallister (FT33, Dallas), Eric Waksmunski (Red Star Southern, Austin), and Jason Dady (Tre Trattoria, San Antonio). 

The next day the festivities open up to the ticket-buying public, starting with the Taste of Texas, where people can sample dishes made by both the rising and established chefs of Texas chefs, like Justin Yu (Oxheart, Houston), Hugo Ortega (Hugo’s and Caracol, Houston), Tatsu Aikawa (Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Austin), Allison Jenkins (La V, Austin), and Wayne Mueller (Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor), just to name a few. 

A signature of the festival has become its fire pits demos. Chefs cook over open flames, and people are able to have a front-row view to watch them practice their craft. Demos will be led by a number of notable culinary masters, including David Bull (Congress, Austin), Thai Changthong (East Side King and Thai-Kun, Austin) Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner (both from The Pass and Provisions, Houston), Jack Gilmore and Bryce Gilmore (Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Barley Swine, both Austin), Jorge Hernandez and Paul Qui (Qui, Austin), Pat Martin (Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Nashville) Tandy Wilson (Nashville’s City House), and Andrew Wiseheart (Contigo and Gardner, Austin).

Saturday and Sunday’s signature mix-and-mingle event, Chef Showcase, is a sampler’s paradise, hosted by an all-Austin group, including John Bates (Noble Sandwich Co.), Ji Peng Chen and Ling Qi Wu (Wu Chow), Shawn Cirkiel (Parkside and Olive & June), Sonya Cote (Hillside Farmacy and Eden East), Andrew Curren and David Norman (Arro and Easy Tiger), Todd Duplechan (Lenoir), Jesse Griffiths (Dai Due), James Holmes (Olivia), Lance Kirkpatrick (Stiles Switch BBQ), Sarah McIntosh (Épicerie Café & Grocery), Eric Silverstein (the Peached Tortilla), and many more.  

Also on Saturday is the Rock Your Taco competition. Last year’s winner, Richard Blais (FLIP Burger, San Diego’s Juniper & Ivy), goes up against the following chefs: Hugh Acheson (Atlanta’s Empire State South), Paul Qui, Tyson Cole, Tim Love, Jason Dady, Bryce Gilmore, Antonia Lofaso (Black Market in Los Angeles), Jenn Louis (Portland, Oregon’s Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern), Tony Mantuano (Chicago’s Spiaggia, Bar Toma and Terzo Piano), Chris Shepherd (Houston’s Underbelly), Levon Wallace (Cochon Butcher in Nashville), and several more celebrity chefs.

The taco competition will be judged by Christina Grdovic (Food & Wine publisher), Graham Elliot (Graham Elliot Bistro), and Andrew Zimmern (national television personality).

The festival continues into the evening with the Sip & Sweets after-party. The casual dessert and cocktail party features creations from Austin pastry chefs Mary Catherine Curren (Easy Tiger and Arro), Thomas Calhoun (Lenoir), Janina O’Leary (La V), Callie Speer (Swift’s Attic), and Finney Walter (Olivia). 

The Austin Food & Wine Festival’s full talent lineup and schedule of events will be released on February 18. For more information in the meantime, please visit the Austin Food & Wine Festival website

Fri November 21, 2014 5:09 pm By Jessica Dupuy

lost draw vineyards brownfield
Earlier this year I reported on the status of the 2014 grape harvest. Though better than 2013, this year also proved to be a challenge for Texas grape growers due to late spring freezes, especially for the operations in the High Plains. 

But one grape grower seems to have broken through on combating some of Mother Nature’s most challenging antics. Andy Timmons, of Lost Draw Vineyards in Brownfield, has been investing in more progressive technology and agricultural practices to protect his vines. He’s also diversifying his portfolio by starting his own winery, Lost Draw Cellars, in Fredericksburg, a strategy that will allow him to control his product from farm, as it were, to table. . 

Timmons’ journey from vine to glass looks more like a meandering river rather than a straight path, but for all the mentors he’s gained and techniques he’s learned—and continues to learn—along the way, he wouldn’t trade any of it. 

Originally from Brownfield, a small town near Lubbock, Timmons graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in agronomy, a fancy word for professional farming. This kind of work is almost a family legacy for Timmons. His ancestors grew row crops in the South until the Civil War forced them to relocated to Graham, Texas. “The boll weevil finally chased us out of there and into the High Plains and we’ve been farming this red earth ever since the early 1900s although I’m really the only guy left in our family who is farming.”

We had a chance to talk with Timmons following harvest this year to find out more about his experience in transitioning from cotton and peanut farming to grape growing, the biggest lessons he’s learned a long the way, and his anticipation for Lost Draw Cellars, which opens this weekend. 

(Andrew Sides, Andy Timmons, and Troy Ottmer of the new Lost Draw Cellars | Photograph by Claire McCormack)

TM: You originally began your farming career with row crops like peanuts and cotton. What made you get into grapes? 

Andy Timmons: It was about 2005 when I first got the idea to grow grapes. My good friend Larry Young had taken over his dad’s vineyard up here. My brother Dusty had already gotten involved with grape growing and they convinced me I could do it. 

Because Texas is still such a new frontier, almost everyone has to have a mentor. Larry and Bobby Cox took me under their wing and taught me everything they could. Bobby is one of the original Texas grape grower with vineyards from the ’80s that are still producing. They were the first to tell me that Texas was different than any other place for growing grapes and that we had to make our own way of doing things. 

TM: What’s different about Texas? 

Timmons: This is not California or Washington. In this state, our problems won’t be the same from year to year. We’ve got hail and wind, freezes and drought. It’s been a difficult learning process for me. But it’s worked out because the wineries I work with have been really good to talk with me about exactly what they’re looking for in their grapes. We’ve been able to walk through the process together. But I’ve realized it’s a complex business. Growing grapes is sort of like onion. Once you peel back a few layers, there’s all this other stuff you have to learn. It’s never-ending. 

When you look at what people are doing in Washington or California, you have to filter what really applies to you. It also helps that we do have a few decades of grape growing under out belt in Texas. We may not have everything figured out, but with the speed of information over the internet as well as sites like YouTube, you really can learn just about anything and figure out how to make it work here. 

TM: You’re not the first person in the High Plains to move from row crops to start growing grapes. Neal Newsom, Jet Wilmoth, Cliff Bingham and others have also done it to name a few. Do you think this is a growing trend for the High Plains?

Timmons: I hope so. I have a lot of friends who are really good farmers who have started talking about doing it. If you’re a good farmer, you’ll be a good grape grower. The thing that holds people back is the snobbery of wine. It can be intimidating to walk into a winery to sell your grapes not knowing if someone is going to buy them or not. The job is yours to do the selling and it’s really important to know how to build relationships to get that going. And you have to be willing to take a hit when you’ve made a mistake in the vineyard. I’ve had several situations where I’ve had to let wineries out of their contract for the amount of grapes they wanted simply because I wasn’t going to sell them bad fruit. In the end, it’s my name by that product and I have to be proud of what I’m selling them. 

TM: Are you still working with peanuts and cotton? 

Timmons: Not as much in the last two years. I have a business partner who manages the land I have in row crops. I’d like to focus just on the grapes, but the truth is, with a dismal harvest like we had last year and this year, you do need something on the side to support the grape growing habit. It’s not 100 percent every year so until we figure out something different, it’s just what I have to do. 

TM: It seems you’ve really hit the ground running trying to learn how to progress Texas viticulture to take pace with other American grape growing regions. How have you gone about doing it? 

Timmons: It’s a combination of a few things. I’ve made a point to travel to other wine growing regions in the country to find out what I can from other people have. I’ve met people with 40+ years of experience doing this in different areas and they’ve all been willing to share information with me. Texas’ story is not unlike Washington in the 1980s and wineries like Chateau Ste. Michelle changed everything for that region. 

I’ve also used technology to come up with better irrigation strategies. I didn’t really have to do that with row crops. It’s possible to under water and over water. And a lot of it has to do with the canopy of the vine, which has everything to do with the plant being able to balance itself and not have too much vigor. But you can’t do just do the same thing across the board. Every grape variety needs something different. Every clone, every root stock. It’s a lot to manage when you have a wide range of grape varieties to work with.

This year was the first time I used wind machines. They use them all over the world, but no one was using them in Texas. Last year I bought four of them that stand about 45 feet above forty acres of my vineyards with 18-foot panels that fan wind over the vines to keep temperatures a few degrees above the actual temperature. That investment saved me this year. I had those machines blowing over five acres of Viognier and was able to bring in six tons an acre during harvest. Last year, without the wind machines, I was only able to bring in 800 pounds after a devastating number of spring freezes.

TM: These machines cost about the same as a luxury car. Do you plan to order more? 

Timmons: I already have. I want to see the Texas Wine industry work. To do that, we can’t paint our hat on certain grape varieties if we can’t do them well consistently from year to year because of frost. We need to be able to perfect the grapes that work well here each year. That will also prevent wineries from having to go out of state to buy fruit. We’ve got to progress beyond that. 

If we can get to the point where we’re not losing money on years where we have freezing, it keeps things moving forward for all of us. Since I’ve been touting the wind machines, I understand from the Washington company that sold them to me that there are about 40 wind machines coming to Texas this year. That’s definitely progress. 

TM: You’ve talked about wanting to have 1,000 acres of vineyard planted and under your management by the end of 2015. That would make you the largest grape grower in the High Plains. Why the ambition?

Timmons: It may seem like I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve in Texas but it’s really just trying to catch up with the rest of the American wine industry. We’re so handicapped out here because we’re still figuring so many things out. A lot of it is lack of enology education that’s specific to Texas. That’s slowly starting to change, but when you add equipment, vineyard management and overall acres planted into the mix, we’ve got a long way to go before we really catch up. 

Bottom line, we have to have more grapes, so the growers have the ability to fund the research we need. I don’t know how far we are from that, but we’ve got to keep moving forward. There are other challenges we’ll have to overcome, like finding more tank space to handle more fruit coming in at harvest each year, but I’m optimistic that we’ll get there. 

TM: And now you’ve decided to open a winery? Was grape growing not enough? 

Timmons: I guess you could say it was just a natural progression. I’ve always wanted to be vertically integrated in this business from growing, to selling, to being a part of the end result. I really enjoy seeing other people enjoy something that I’ve put time and effort into and you don’t really get that with cotton or peanuts. You don’t really see anyone enjoy the underwear your cotton helped make or the peanut butter some of your peanuts went into. 

The opportunity came through a nephew of mine Andrew Sides, who married into a Fredericksburg family, the Ottmers. I met with Troy Ottmer and we decided to build a tasting room out of a building he owned in town. Andrew joined are partnership and we developed our business plan. For wine, it was easy. I live ten minutes from one of the best winemakers in the country, Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars. He’s agreed to teach me as much as he can and make my wines for me for our label, Lost Draw Cellars, which is an extension of my vineyard name, Lost Draw Vineyards. I’ve always believed that if you get the best people you can find to surround you and keep your ears open and your mouth shut, things will start to happen.   

TM: What has been the biggest challenge to opening the winery?

Timmons: We really want to sell wines that have 100 percent Texas fruit, but the harvest has been so rough in the past two years that I’ve had to get fruit from other states just to have wines ready for when we open. About a third of our wines this year will be from Texas fruit. Next year, that will be different. Being a grower, I have a vested interest in selling wines that have grapes that I grew in them. That’s a priority for me. Right now we’ve got about 3,000 cases to work with and hopefully next year’s harvest will bring us enough fruit to build on that number.