Within South by Southwest is the festival’s SouthBites programming, geared towards restaurant obsessives. It’s when attendees get to listen and talk to chefs and experts about everything related to food, from getting started in the restaurant industry, creativity and inspiration, mental health, to the role of social media.
Already, Eater spotlighted the best SouthBites panels and films to check out during the 2019 conference. This meant pastry master Christina Tosi talking about the constantly growing phenomenon that is Milk Bar; James Beard Award-winning San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Atelier Crenn talking about food access and health; food editor and founder of Chefs With Issues Kat Kinsman talking about mental health with chefs; blind MasterChef winner Christine Ha on the television show competition; and even Austin’s own Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue and Sam Hellman-Mass of Suerte, among others.
With that, Eater gathered the best 17 quotes from SXSW SouthBites, presented in no particular order.
1) Kat Kinsman on the need for discussing mental health in the industry: “For so long, it was ‘shut up and cook’ — no one cared how you felt, who you are, as long as you cooked. If you did show weakness, you were just chum and walked away to cry in the walk-in.”
2) Boston chef Matt Jennings on #MeToo: “Food and hospitality is having a renaissance [...] we’re in a ‘burn it down’ moment.”
3) Kyle Connaughton, chef of three-Michelin-starred California restaurant Single Thread, on the appeal of restaurant culture: “I find people just want to learn, want to serve, and want to watch people be happy. It’s the best feeling — you have these big tattooed badass chefs who just want to put flowers on the plate and send it out to people, and that’s the culture I love.”
4) Sam Hellman-Mass on putting in the work: “The biggest thing you get as a young cook working somewhere is knowledge [...] Just focus on getting better, and you’ll have the opportunity to make more [money] later if you’re very good.”
5) Dominique Crenn on America’s food past: “There was a food system in place before America became what it is today.”
6) Padma Lakshmi on being politically productive: “Put the names of your representatives on a sticky and whenever you’re feeling frustrated and like you can’t do anything, call them. If you’re at a bar with your friends complaining, call them.”
7) Christina Tosi on the power of food nostalgia: “My collaborator was my ten-year-old self. We innovate around the food memories that already exist, whether it’s eating a bowl of cereal or bringing a new idea to chocolate chip cookies into the mix. We’re collaborating with the person eating that cookie and their memories.”
8) Kinsman on the effect of Anthony Bourdain’s death on the industry: “God forbid you ask someone how they feel because you seem like you care. But this started changing in a very real and painful way a year ago when Anthony Bourdain took his own life — this conversation suddenly had to happen immediately and by people who weren’t used to dealing with it.”
9) Aaron Franklin on the appeal of Austin: “I grew up in Bryan/College Station and needless to say that place was maybe kinda not for me…[Austin] is a city where you can be anyone that you are.”
10) Kinsman on how to check on your colleagues’ mental health states: “Don’t single anyone out, but say ‘This is an issue in the industry and we’re bringing someone in to help.’ Yes, there are HR risks, but it’s a much bigger risk to go to one of your line cook’s funerals. Have the damn conversation.”
11) Jennings on people reaching out to him: “I spend half an hour every day answering direct messages on Instagram from people going through the same [addiction] issues.”
12) Crenn on modern food systems: “I don’t believe in supermarkets or industrial farming, I think everyone knows that.”
13) Tosi on the magic of grocery stores: “I grew up in the suburbs, so my access to ingredients and innovation was in the aisle of the grocery store. It’s about taking those things that exist, standing them on their heads, then asking, ‘Why not?’ Grocery stores in the suburbs of Ohio and Virginia are the one place that still sparks joy, and that’s the place for our next biggest and greatest ideas — it needs it.”
14) Christine Ha on the editing of MasterChef: “I was upset they cut out all of my witticisms and sarcasm and made me seem like an innocent girl that cries a lot.”
15) Franklin on the heart of Franklin Barbecue’s famous lines: “The same spirit I saw at [defunct music venue] Liberty Lunch is the same spirit I see in my line, and that’s why I keep it.”
16) Hellman-Mass on social media and influencers: “If someone has 20K followers on Instagram and they want a free brunch to come talk about the restaurant, most of the time I’m just excited [...] Social media I think is the most impactful way to find out about a restaurant. The [influencers] that are most impactful don’t ask for as much free stuff as the ones who are just getting started.”
17) Tosi on whether she’d open a Milk Bar in Austin: “I’ve been walking around, eating too many tacos, loving this town hard while looking for the right place for Milk Bar to come home, which has always been a dream.”
With additional reporting by Nathan Mattise