Community makes Austin food
It's probably apparent from my column that my baseline is anxiety. The more I care about something, the more I worry that it will be taken away. And I deeply, deeply care about Austin food. I hover, I helicopter, I quibble and grouch, but it is all in service of protecting this thing that I believe in. Still, it occurs to me that by pointing out the things that will make our local scene stronger – something I have been doing a lot of lately – I have neglected to point out the things that make this scene strong.
A lot of it comes down to community.
I know that sounds flip – and I have criticized this town's sometime inability to say something is not quite up to snuff for fear or pissing someone or other off. But most of the time, the close-knit scene keeps Austin hospitality from being solely transactional.
Community is there in the way that restaurants open up their kitchens to other chefs. Sure, pop-ups are good business, but they often require genuine collaboration. And that creates something new. Counter 3. Five. VII's 15-course dinners are an example of that, as are the collaborative dinner series at Apis. And it is now common for other restaurants to debut in existing spaces – as Juniper did at qui, Barley Swine, Foreign & Domestic, and Lenoir.
It's there in the way Austin restaurants are continually raising money for charity, like next week's party (see "Meal Times," p.39) for Lone Star Paralysis Foundation at Jack Allen's Kitchen. Or the Red Ribbon Series, benefiting AIDS Services of Austin, that has been going on since 1993. Or the several nonprofits that are focused on food.
It's there in the way we support our local farmers – not just in times of controversy, but also on a day-to-day basis. Farm-to-table has become so ubiquitous here that it is now a cliche. But that's a very good thing. We don't just give lip service to the idea of sustainability, we have built it into the idea of eating out.
Heck, it's even there in food media. We may have more restaurant bloggers and websites than actual restaurants, but that's a good thing too. That means that the scene continues to be inspiring to a lot of people – whether they are making recipes based on local ingredients, interviewing food artisans, or just taking photographs of pretty food. But it may surprise some to know we don't really consider each other rivals. We eat out together constantly. Sometimes we watch The Bachelor.
I'm sure next week I'll be grumbling about something – our town's low service expectations or the inability of local restaurants to dampen sound. We can always get better and better. But sometimes it is worth a reminder that as a kind, energetic, thoughtful, bustling community, we are already pretty damn good.