The Hollow, the Georgetown bistro, is now closed. Chef Jacob Hilbert announced this via a lengthy, rambling letter sent to Eater Austin, as well as other news outlets. Buried within the note was the announcement that he is joining Jester King Brewery’s forthcoming restaurant.
Hilbert has worked with Jester King Brewery co-founders Jeffrey Stuffings and Michael Steffing before, on various beer dinners. Together, they want to open “one of the best restaurants in the world,” as Hilbert wrote.
Hilbert described it as “a more casual accessible restaurant built on the cuisine of nomads and ancient peoples.” The restaurant will use grains and produce grown on the farm land, as well as animals raised on the property. It’ll serve up charcuterie, bread, roasted vegetables, dairy, and more.
Austin 360 confirmed the collaboration. Stuffings revealed to the publication that there will be two restaurants, the first will be a casual one, whereas the second will be more narrow in menu scope.
The unnamed Jester King restaurant is pegged to open this year. The brewery is already offering tours of its farmland with goats. Stuffings and Steffing purchased the property next door to the Dripping Springs brewery in early 2016, with the goal of turning it into farmland, vineyard space, and a restaurant.
Elsewhere in Hilbert’s letter, the chef opines on his childhood, baseball, his restaurant background starting in New Mexico, how his late mother informed his cooking style, his drug addiction and rehabilitation, how he met his wife Lynda, and the history of The Hollow, which he opened in 2013. The full letter follows below, in its original, unedited form.
Jacob Hilbert’s Letter
Many years ago I walked away from baseball. I was good, I was strong, I loved the game. So distant in years that the memories are captured frozen daguerreotype with captions written Bernard Malamud across the bottom of my youth. Like many things we are rarely privy to know the last time. I did not know when I crossed that baseline the threshold I was crossing, I did not know I would not stand again on the pitcher’s mound a bottacelli gladiator facing down demons and insecurities with my strongest gift, a 95 mile an hour fastball moving Baryshnikov across grass and clay. Then, like the lightning bolt giving way to wonder boy there was a tear in my shoulder, a pain across my chest and a broken heart…it was over. The memories vestigial.
For years after I could not watch baseball, the history books of the game collected dust, my teams went unwatched and unloved. It was too much to watch, like I was witnessing the theft of dreams and I was mute to scream, to let the authorities know. Occasionally I would pass by a little league game, a youth parade, and I would pull over and watch. For a few moments I could walk with them, become a listener for the banter of the game, a voyeur not for the love of watching but for the want of being.
My love for baseball was slowly supplanted by a love for cooking and a disdain for my college studies. I was to be a therapist, like my mother, father, stepmother and stepfather. I was to attain a doctorate and begin a path riddled with Jungian academia, a Jewish archetype, professorial and argumentative. The last weeks of graduate school, thesis in mind, sleepless nights informing daydreams, I quit. I had been making salsas at a little Mexican restaurant in Las Cruces New Mexico, I had become drunk in vats of menudo and posole, my thoughts were irrational, my studies lost in the steam of simmering pots, and I quit. Telling my parents, monoliths of academic discipline, purveyors of footpaths to success as determined by most, was akin I believe to coming out of the closet. In fact, to have been gay would have been an easier conversation. My mother would have been thrilled and I have often wondered if her love of reading me Allen Ginsberg as a child was some sort of conversion therapy to discourage me from becoming part of oppressive patriarchal social constructs, to open me up to the infinite erotic and ontological joys of homosexuality. To take a bite out of The Night Apple. But it was not to be, sadly I was straight, and I wanted to be a cook.
My mother died before I ever took control of a kitchen. I cooked for her a few times. She enjoyed the cuisine of my mentor, it was a timeless cuisine familiar in images of relative stasis. The gastronomique remained, more or less, unchanged for decades trading nothing but still life for kinetic visages of artichokes in boiling water, meant all the same for the overcooked plates that represented haute cuisine for generations. My cooking originated in this style, one that moved in a direct line from Escoffier to Troisgros. Mom recognized these dishes borrowed from the pages of the day’s Bon Apetit being the same dishes from yesterday’s Bon Apetit. French cuisine was, at the time, just post nouvelle and was different in totality from the days of Careme but remained so for decades as though the museum had been built and curated for the capturing of an epoch in which evolution was a non starter or even a blasphemy. It is not unusual for resistance to revolution as the conservative machines rely on inertia to attain autocracy and even divine right supremacy. So it is with food as it is with all things human, art, politics, literature. My mother liked rack of lamb, overcooked with tomate provencal.
I have been enchanted by tradition, I am reverential in many ways. Love for tradition does not mean distaste for change, it is the exercising of curiosity, it is the building of time machines where one can sit at ancient tables and dine with ghosts. Who amongst lovers of cooking could resist dining with Elizabeth David, M.F.K. Fisher or James Beard? Who amongst lovers of cooking could resist watching them experience the new, imagine dinner with Adria and Richard Olney?
I tasted fame, it was a demi tasse spoon, but it changed me. It was written once that I was to be the next great Southwestern chef, I was sexy and brash, I was stupid and immoral, I was arrogant and intoxicated…all the time. I believed it was a rite of passage, I believed in cocaine, I believed in fucking into oblivion, I believed that I was great, I believed that everything was as it was supposed to be, that I was Henry Miller with a wooden spoon and hydrocolloids, that the whisk was mightier than the sword, that the experiences given to the guests were the currency exchanged for a harem of women and sycophantic men, that I was wielding Freudian weaponry. Until I died, which I did. When I died there was no light, I did not see my mother or my grandfather with hand oustretched to pull me into the warmth, I was not overcome with salvation, I was simply dead, my heart had stopped. I had walked to a denny’s in Santa fe with nothing on my body but a chef coat and shoes, in my pocket was a thermometer, a sharpie
and a bag of cocaine. I walked the street without consideration for my nudity, without a care. I stopped to blow a rail on a newspaper stand. I wanted a moons over my hammy. When I entered the denny’s I was not seated as there seemed to be a problem with my attire or lack thereof. I went into the bathroom, blew another rail off of the back of the toilet and shortly thereafter died.
28 days later I emerged from rehab, homeless, jobless, directionless, hopeless. I took a job at a shitty restaurant back in Las Cruces. I made bad desserts and terrible pasta. I had not learned much really. death had not taught me anything yet. I was still an inculcation of competing viewpoints. I had been a very ugly child, curious, thoughtful, and deeply unpopular. I don’t know if I was ugly but I was told so. Children can be beautiful and cruel and the indelible fingerprint of anti-semitism and social caste can impregnate a world, a world where a child will grow into adolescence and adulthood informed by little other than what people say about him/her. Baseball was my Christ, it was the field on which I was forgiven the sins of existence. Then it was soup. When the world decided I was valuable, wanted, needed I believed it in the Newtonian sense of law. These physical laws of being are immutable to the sufferer of gravity. The calculus of circumspect yields only to the caprice of critics with equation-like differentiation. Love becomes a given, unearned and without causality indulging an infinite mass of asshole moving loudly to a point of singularity where abyss and a black hole await, where hands do not reach out from the evernight, where you are forgotten by your most intimate ghosts. At this moment I was gone, nothing, just an undeniable piece of shit, a child who lost his toy, a toy that was the people in his world who had packed up their hearts and gone home. Then I met Lynda.
Lynda believed in me when she should not have, she loved me when I did not deserve it. She did not give up. She did not give up through lies, infidelity, grotesque dedication to my lost craft, absent fatherhood, narcissistic rants. I took her to hell, and she stood among the perils of tectonic consequence. I did not ask her to be stoic, but she was, and I am now just a slight reward for her suffering, the miracle being that I may just be enough for her, as I am, without dazzling plates or articles extrapolating my character, without my be anything to anyone other than her. She is a hand that reaches out in the breathing light of day. For this there was an endeavor for anonymity. Difficulties, however, seek us out no matter the light we live in. There are all kinds of lies, lies we tell and lies we live being just a couple.
When The Hollow opened it was to be a French bistro, it was to be provincial French cuisine run through processor of Chez Pannise and Pastis, decidedly unelectric delicious cuisine playing host to years of venerable dishes made slightly more modern. It was a lie that I could not tell. I did not know it at first. The goal was to cook en obscura. To disappear into the kitchen to make sauces and braises without a name and with only a point of view that could be subtly introduced in such a manner as the alterations could only be detected by the transcendent aspects of minimal adulteration. In that pomp I could hide in the cuisine quieted by derision self imposed. Know one would know me, know one would care, know one could judge me as there would be little to judge. Lynda and I had children, we bought a house, we had two cars and a project truck, we built tree houses and planted a garden, and we watched seeds grow and vines fruit. I cooked hamburgers and schnitzel and made the occasional foam, met the media on uncontroversial terms with an occasional foam thrown in, an aspic, a terrine and a sphere. I had created cuisine born of neuroses and pathos weighted down by the feeling of dying. I was deeply unoriginal and uninspired by my own pans and sick of my own rhetoric. I woke up one morning to a mirror, my beard was grey, my hair was thinning, my smile was dull and my children were fed, all was well, all was expected, all was inevitable and nothing was sacred.
The Hollow is closed, and it is with a whimper. A most inconsequential restaurant, a humble restaurant and a beautiful restaurant. The people that I worked with inspired me, taught me, the struggles to speak a new language were present in every menu, my inability to change and bend was painful to watch I am sure. I hope that the young people that I met will come with me, will want to embrace this new journey. The closing of the doors at The Hollow felt more like a closing down of a school, like I walked out of class and bid my students goodbye. I felt like I walked out of class and bid my teachers goodbye. So I did what anyone does, I cried a bit, and felt sorry for myself, and then I decided to let Lynda cut my hair.
When she cut my hair, I was not tied to the porch chair, there were no thrones, from my lips I drew no hallelujah. I was not changed and there were no intended biblical metaphors, I just wanted a change, a release, a vanquishing of body parts playing a role in mediocrity. Since cutting off my head would have been inconvenient, and my hands are necessary, the hair was all that I could think off. In the days after closing the restaurant came spring and the fields and forests were imbued with mis en place, flora ignited the frontier and the trees in renaissance showed timely vulnerability, the brontosaur’s baby lettuce salad, the forager’s cue. I was saddened as the dishes ran through my head that would not be this year, the things I would not do and only think of, the mistakes I would not make, the sicknesses I would endeavor and fail to avoid. The Texas fields are bitter, aromatic and serrated, sometimes sweet, always changing and forever in need of catalogue. These are the first steps I think, to begin a canon, to figure a starting point, nearly a prayer, for finding something new and different, an exposition of a new cuisine that will either have value or not. It is my thought that good cooking is objective, this thought will be challenged in a world without precedent. So the realization of this particular goal is in chiaroscuro, hidden, beautiful, not very well lit, much like twilight. When I first met with Jeffrey & Michael from Jester King there had been much talking prior, however the question or the statement had not been made. I said “I know this is crazy, but I want to make one of the best restaurants in the world.” Without so much as a hesitation and in harmony the response was “we want that too.”
So this letter begins a story, a story that asks a question. How do you build one of the greatest restaurants in the world? I suppose we’ll find out together.
This year the farmhouse will open, a more casual accessible restaurant built on the cuisine of nomads and ancient peoples, there will be fire and spit roasting and vegetables cooked in mud. We will muddle sauces in ancient ways and walk the land looking for tomorrow, we will bake bread and we will preserve things. The goal is to have the restaurant completely self-sustained, growing all of the produce, milking the cows and goats, making the cheese, hanging the charcuterie. Over the next two to three years we will be building accum. The restaurant that will change everything about the cooks working there, about the service and will make every effort to be great, even if it fails.