Rachael Ray, television personality, cookbook author, and Austin devotee, returned to SXSW to host her 10th annual Feedback food and music event, which welcomed Weezer, De La Soul, and others to Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. This year’s queso-heavy menu meant tater tots with queso, nachos with queso, street corn with queso, and panchos (hot dogs) with yup, more queso. Ray was also a featured speaker during the music portion of the SXSW conference. During her session dubbed Conversation with Rachael Ray, she singled out Austin as “the city I love when I’m not in New York and working.”
Eater caught up with her after Friday’s session to get the scoop on which local restaurants she’s trying, how Austin has changed over the years, her take on queso, and more.
You've long been a champion of notable Austin institutions like Threadgill’s, Shady Grove, and (shuttering) Maria’s Taco Xpress. What new Austin restaurants discoveries have you made lately?
Wu Chow I love — going there tonight. Emmer and Rye was real good, ate there yesterday. I’m trying Grizzelda’s the day after tomorrow. I’m dying to go to the ramen place [edit note: Ramen Tatsu-ya]. I’m doing that on Sunday. There’s no bad food here, though. You trip in the street, and you get the best food you’ve ever had off the truck next to you.
Do you have any restaurants that you must visit every time you're here?
I’m not that kind of person when it comes to food. I’m an equal opportunity eater. My husband [John] always grabs a slice from Home Slice and we go to Jo’s every day and get the iced coffee, and John has the migas there. There’s no “If I don’t have it, I’ll die.” I’m hard pressed to think of a meal I didn’t enjoy here.
It’s your 10th Feedback, and you’ve spent a lot of time here. How has Austin changed to you?
People say that all the time that the place has changed, and that the people who live here are over it, that it’s too crowded, and that it’s too this, and too that. Everything that I’ve always loved about Austin I find and feel as true today as my first time here 20 years ago. It’s a place that there is no ageism, no sexism, and that everybody has a dog — and they are all rescue dogs — and you can bring your dog anywhere. And it celebrates small businesses, the arts…it’s a perfect community. I think it’s the same. That’s why I keep coming here. I think it’s a beautiful place where like anything is possible.
In your opinion, is queso a cheese dip or its own thing?
I love queso. Traditional Mexican queso is a white sauce that’s very mild and smooth and lovely and soft. Texas-style queso, I believe, should be bright orange and made of cheddar and American cheese. It should have chiles, cumin, and a hint of granulated garlic and onion and tomato. And it should look like Texas queso. It should look like Ro-Tel and Velveeta when it’s done, but taste a little, well, I hope I turn it up a little bit.