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!”
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)