StarChefs.com Celebrates Rising Stars of Austin/San Antonio
Award ceremony comes to Texas
By Virginia B. Wood,
4:59PM, Wed. Feb. 29, 2012
These days, it seems there are national awards and culinary galas every week in Austin. Hot on the heels on Austin chefs and restaurants being recognized by Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Esquire, the Daily Meal, and the James Beard Foundation, last week's most impressive shindig was an awards show and tasting party hosted by the
online culinary magazine, StarChef.com, at the Driskill Hotel. The magazine has been staging these events around the country for almost ten years now, but this is the first time they've considered culinary professionals from either Austin or San Antonio as potential recipients of their Rising Star Awards. While all the Austinites singled out for awards are already pretty well-know locally, it was rewarding to see the home team getting props from a bunch of New Yorkers! Austin honorees included: restaurant chefs David Bull of Congress, Ned Elliott of Foreign & Domestic, Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine, Rene Ortiz of La Condesa, Paul Qui of Uchiko, and Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo; pastry chefs Plinio Sandalio of the Carillon and Philip Speer of Uchi/Uchiko; chef/restaurateur Tyson Cole of Uchi/Uchiko; hotel chef Josh Watkins of the Carillon; pit master Aaron Franklin of Franklin's Barbecue ( a no-show, as it turned out); culinary artisans John Bates and Brandon Martinez of the Nobel Pig; sommelier June Rodil of Congress; and brewer Kevin Brand of (512) Brewery. Each honoree received an awards certificate and a hearty round of applause before the tasting commenced. Guests were treated to signature dishes created by each chef complemented by wine pairings from June Rodil and custom cocktails created by the winning mixologixt, Jeret Pena of Esquire Lounge in San Antonio. The charity beneficiary of the evening was the Sustainable Food Center and the best news I heard all evening was from Rhonda Rutledge and Susan Leibrock of that worthy organization. They had just learned that the Texas Department of State Health Services had withdrawn its request to re-classify farmers' markets as food establishments- news that was certainly worth celebrating! The food was mostly wonderful and it was thoughtful of our magazine hosts to provide a booklet containing recipes for each dish. The most interesting spectator sport was observing how Top Chef Texas favorite Paul Qui blushed every time eager female fans requested that he post for a photo with them and their cleavage. Guests were asked to vote for a people's choice award to be given towards the end of the evening, with Qui receiving a Jade range from one of the sponsors (a coveted prize, mind you). Unfortunately, my evening reached a point of diminishing return before the winner was announced. While I was sitting on my scooter engaged in conversation with one of the winning pastry chefs, a drunk woman lurched up to his table and managed to fling one of his plated desserts directly into my lap, squealing with laughter as it slid down my dress. Sure, this was probably a karmic reward for my own obnoxious drunken behavior as a young woman, but once I was wearing ice cream and a grapefruit section, the party was over for me. Now, I revere the grande dame of Austin hotels and respect them for offering to host events like these. However, packing that mezzanine with a big bar, a stage with a band, twelve to fifteen chef serving stations, and 200 people determined to eat and drink everything in sight, is a recipe guaranteed to produce claustrophobic discomfort. Anyone who attended that party knows it.