clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How Austin's Restaurant Industry Would Change the World Through Food

How would you change the world through food? Local experts weigh in.

To mark the relaunch of Eater today, the Features team compiled a collection of seventy-two of the best ideas for how people around the world are or how they plan to or how they want to change the world through food. A lot of the ideas are incredibly earnest. Some are ambitious beyond reason. But what they all have in common is a belief that, with hard work and good food, the world is headed in the right direction.

As a local component to this feature, we asked the Austin community to chime in. So check out the national responses over here and scroll below to see what local thinkers and doers would like to do to change the world through food. Have a suggestion? Add it to the comments.

Franklin Barbecue. [Photo: Raymond Thompson]

Aaron Franklin, Owner and Pitmaster of Franklin Barbecue: I think we could take some lessons from how a large, unwieldy hunk of meat cooks. Slow down a bit! Pay attention to the details, enjoy your time spent with friends or family. Enjoy a cold beer....and hopefully reap the benefits of spending way too much time watching a fire and cooking something for as long as it takes.

Janina O'Leary, laV Executive Pastry Chef: In terms of culinary trends, it might be a played out term but honestly, I think that there's enormous value to responsible cooking and producing. Changing that starts with knowing what you are eating; understanding where it comes from. As a mom, one of my biggest goals and my biggest challenges it to teach my son the value of eating healthy and understanding what that means. At home I have to find  balance in being a mom and being a pastry chef,  which doesn't come easy since my son has sweet tooth.

At laV, I get to practice the same principle. Because I make everything from scratch including bread,butter, crackers, preserves, fruit purées, ice creams and sorbet,creme fraiche, ricotta, pastries and more,  guests can rest assured that there are no chemicals going in what they eat. I think its very rare these days to make everything possible from scratch but something I not only enjoy but take pride in. And, at laV I get to work with so many people who are likeminded, which is a true blessing. Hopefully more people will look at eating good food, that's sourced in the right manner not as a trend or fad but rather as a way to truly ensure our children are growing up healthy and that we are supporting our local food growing communities, which in the end also benefits our children.

Paul Qui. [Photo: Nicolai McCrary]

Paul Qui, Executive Chef of Qui and East Side King: I don't know how I'd change the world through food, but what food has taught me to do is believe. My hope is that inspiration is contagious.

Bill Mann, General Manager of Qui: I would like to see more programs like Fruta Feia started by Isabel Soares in Lisbon. This program takes an inventive and creative approach to utilizing food waste by buying and selling food that would otherwise be lost to waste for not meeting aesthetic uniformity standards. Working with local food producers, their program is making available to their neighbors 20 pounds of fresh produce per week for less than $10 per week. That's a very low cost solution where food producers and the people who need the food are both receiving benefit. Additionally, this is a program created and maintained by a very small handful of people, it doesn't require some government, or bank, or corporation. It can be started at the grassroots, and will only serve to bring people closer to their food source.

Johnny Livesay, Co-Founder of Black Star Co-op: When we first started working on the Black Star Co-op almost nine years ago, we had some pretty ridiculous ideas that somehow would all coalesce through drinking beer. We would change the world by starting this thing, this co-operatively owned pub, and our workers would be treated fairly, be self managed, empowered; we would drink beer and rainbows and kittens would arc across the sky.

Well, it all happened. It took a lot of hard work, and now we are leading the way in the fight against the dominant paradigm of the restaurant world: we pay great, livable wages, give comprehensive benefits to workers, empower ourselves through self-management and community ownership, and we do all of this without accepting gratuities! We sell great food, and of course, drink great beer.

Back then, the craft beer industry was still small, and there were very few of us here in Texas doing our thing. Now, we have this great community of breweries and brewpubs showing up in force, changing laws, and providing jobs. Shit, we even have new co-operatively owned breweries and brewpubs popping up all over the country, even here in Austin. We are proud to be a part of the ROC United family, and the burgeoning alternative restaurant association, RAISE (Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment). Nine years ago we were just hoping to brew a few batches of socially just beer so we could drink them, and now we're changing the world.

Odd Duck. [Photo: Jessica Pages]

Sam Hellmann-Mass, Chef/Partner at Odd Duck: We believe that if we keep buying food from the local farmers they will grow more of it.  Odd Duck and Barley Swine are proof that it is possible to run restaurants and feed a lot of people with delicious ingredients from people who care about how the world will look in the future if we don't start changing things now.

Jason James, Partner, Odd Duck: We believe we are in the middle of the "movement of food" where individuals are becoming more aware of the food they are eating, where it comes from, and ultimately how it is produced. We believe that starting from the top is key.  By top we mean the beginning which is childhood. If we can show children how to make responsible food choices and show parents how to prepare these foods, then we will forever change the landscape of the industry forever. One step we have taken to start this process is by joining forces with Edible Schoolyard and raising funds to plant many seeds at Zilker Elementary.

Vilma Maizate, Advanced Sommelier laV: When it comes to food and hospitality, there are a lot of ways to make a difference and since laV launched Allison, Janina and I get asked often about being a woman in the industry. If it's fair, if it's a boy's world, if we have to work harder. I think I can speak for all of us when we say, whether or not biases exist or things may be different for women in the industry, for us it's never been about that. Instead it's about passion and commitment to providing the best experience for guests.

And so, when it comes to 'changing the world with food' I suppose the most important thing that we all can do, is recognize passion and support it. When I came to the US I was fresh out of college in Europe and was planning to become a journalist, not a sommelier. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time (managing a buffet in Las Vegas of all places) when I met Rajat Parr. I had no experience, but he saw something in me and took me under his wing. I dedicated myself to learning everything I could about wine and he supported me. ( I was fortunate to go on from their and work for great chefs including Paul Bartolotta and Mario Batali who also provided great platforms for passion and growth.)I am so grateful for the chance that Raj took on me and I learned from him that the world of wine doesn't have to be stuffy and it doesn't have to have pretense. From him I learned about mentorship and see first hand, that it's not always about the pedigree but rather the passion. Give people a chance and offer them support.

Jack Gilmore, Chef/Owner of Jack Allen's Kitchen: Food would/should be the thing that brings family and friends together. Whether you pick up food to take home or if you grew it and cooked it. It's an open 'plate' for open conversations and laughter with old friends and new in addition to the family.

Epicerie. [Photo: Raymond Thompson]

Sarah McIntosh, Chef/Owner of Epicerie: If phones could automatically be turned off when people walk into a restaurant and there was more communal seating so that people actually had to meet and talk to each other, the world would be a better place.

Tyson Cole, Executive Chef/Owner, Uchi: One thing that occurs to me about how we try to change the world through food is mentorship. We strive every day for people of all stripes to recognize that culinary careers are attainable. Various events and programs that we have started like Citywide 86'd create a culture of opportunity and motivation that we want to build upon. At our restaurants, everyone from line cooks on up the chain participate in menu tastings, all with the opportunity to have dishes they created make it on to the menu. We send our staffers to stage all over to gain experience as well as encouraging them to participate in high level competitions like Top Chef. Kids who may not have thought they could work in the industry with chefs creating at a high level are considering careers in the field and we want that energy to grow and expand.

Jesse Herman, Violet Crown Management, La Condesa, Sway, South Congress Hotel: I recently had the honor of attending the MAD Symposium in Copenhagen organized by Rene Redzepi, renowned chef of Noma. The most memorable talk of the symposium was given by Isabel Soares, who started a non-profit in Portugal called Fruta Feia, which means Ugly Fruit. Less than 30% of the produce grown commercially in the world ends up being sold in retail outlets. The vast majority of it is destroyed because it does not look like the perfect ideal of that apple or that bell pepper as we have been educated it should look like. Isabel struck deals with farmers to buy the fruit that would otherwise be destroyed at a fraction of the price that the perfect produce is sold for. Some of that fruit is distributed and some of that fruit is sold directly to consumers at low prices through CSA boxes and through other means.

Fruta Feia is a young organization, but the impact could be enormous at scale. Imagine a model like Toms shoes, where for each CSA box that you buy, another is given to a person or family in need. Even more importantly, when you consider that there are over a million seats in restaurants in NYC alone, and that the industry employs more people than any other in the city, imagine the impact if restaurants purchased produce from organizations like Fruta Feia. Restaurants often break down product before serving it anyway, so what we really care about is on the inside. Visualize the instant scale if restaurants started sourcing this ugly product, not to mention cutting down on waste in the industry and benefitting not only organizations like Fruta Feia and the people they help feed, but the entire supply chain down to farmers. It could be world changing.

Josh Hare, Owner of Hops & Grain: I've long held the belief that every human, before they reach the age of 20, should be required to work for at least 6 months in the service industry.  The service industry is one of the noblest occupations on the planet and if every person was required to spend some time serving other people and creating a dining and drinking experience for them that's memorable and enjoyable, the world would be a much better place!  It's tough to understand the dynamic and inner-workings of the places that we visit on a very regular basis for breakfast, lunch dinner or drinks.  But once you've experienced it first hand your dining and drinking experiences become so much better!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Eater Austin newsletter

The freshest news from the local food world