Tue March 31, 2015 9:30 am By Patricia Sharpe

olamaie austin

Once again, Food & Wine is giving Texas some love. The two chef-owners of Austin restaurant Olamaie—Michael Fojtasek, 35, and Grae Nonas, 28—have been named to Food & Wine’s list of the Best New Chefs in America for 2015. The announcement was made this morning (March 31, 2015).

When contacted by email yesterday and asked how they were reacting to the news, Nonas (pictured below, right, next to Fojtasek) replied, “It hasn’t really hit me yet, but I’m very humbled.” He added that they were in New York at the moment and that he intended to celebrate later by having a slice of Crack Pie, the famous chess pie with an oatmeal cookie crust from Momofuku Milk Bar.

Fojtasek said, “It was an out-of-body experience when they gave us the news. We were blown away!”

michael fojtasek grae nonas olamie

Olamaie is a modern Southern restaurant in the vein of Husk (Charleston and Nashville), McCrady’s (Charleston), and Catbird Seat (Nashville), which are known for lightening up the region’s traditional, often-heavy cuisine.

It serves dishes like a variation on purloo, a time-honored rice stew, with squab over Carolina gold rice with fresh okra and fermented cayenne peppers. Other dishes are highly creative, like a smoked wahoo dip laced with Alabama’s luscious mayo-based white barbecue sauce.

Olamaie (pronounced Ola-may) opened in August 2014 and made our annual list of the best new restaurants in the state (it was number two of ten). Olamaie also recently received recognition from the James Beard Foundation, a national culinary organization.(The restaurant was a semifinalist in the JBF competition for Best New Restaurant 2015; Grae Nonas made the semifinals for Rising Star Chef of the Year,  for chefs thirty or younger.)

Texas has been a frequent presence in Food & Wine’s Best New Chef line-up since it began in 1988. Texas chefs made the list the last three consecutive years, and overall, twenty Texas chefs (representing eighteen restaurants) have been selected. Here’s the list:

  • 2015      Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas (Olamaie, Austin)
  • 2014      Matt McCallister (FT33, Dallas), Paul Qui (Qui, Austin), Justin Yu (Oxheart, Houston)
  • 2013      Chris Shepherd (Underbelly, Houston)
  • 2011      Bryce Gilmore (Barley Swine, Austin)
  • 2009      Bryan Caswell (Reef, Houston)
  • 2005      Tyson Cole (Uchi, Austin)
  • 2003      David Bull (Driskill Grill, Austin) and Scott Tycer (Aries, Houston)
  • 2001      Will Packwood (Emilia’s, Austin)
  • 1998      Danielle Custer (Laurels, Dallas)
  • 1997      George W. Brown Jr. (Seventeen Seventeen, Dallas)
  • 1996      Monica Pope (Boulevard Bistrot, Houston)
  • 1994      Michael Cordúa (Churrascos, Houston)
  • 1990      David Holben and Lori Finkelman Short (both at the Riviera, Dallas)
  • 1988      Bruce Auden (Polo’s, San Antonio) and Robert McGrath (Four Seasons, Houston)

(Photos by Robert J. Lerma)

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