The Austin Chronicle

Grocery Store Heaven

By Virginia B. Wood, September 4, 2014, 3:30pm, On the Range

Like any debutante with a long, respectable Texas pedigree and family branches in all the state's major cities, Central Market celebrates its birthday with two weeks of events starting on Sept. 10 and culminating in a festive gala outside the flagship store on Sept. 25.

The years have flown by since the venerable H-E-B company debuted its new gourmet grocery concept in Austin in the fall of 1994. Along with the homegrown Whole Foods Market health food chain, Central Market helped transform Austin's culinary culture forever, turning our city into a grocery store heaven.

While it's likely many folks now take the store for granted, in it's first few years it was quite a wonder, becoming a shopping mecca and an important culinary tourist attraction. With it's unconventional serpentine floor plan, exclusive product lines, exemplary meat, cheese, fish, and wine departments, in-store cooking school, and a cafe offering a family-friendly playscape and live music, Central Market was a groundbreaking operation. It was heralded in the national press and lauded as the most unique grocery store in the country by visiting chefs and cookbook authors who came to teach at the cooking school.

To commemorate those accomplishments and get the next 20 years off to a roaring start, Central Market has planned two weeks of special events that include cooking classes taught by chef Lou Lambert (Sept. 12), chef Charles Mayes and beer and wine manager Seth Pollard (Sept. 13), and chef Alma Alcocer-Thomas (Sept. 17). At the outdoor gala on the evening of Sept. 25, renowned South American chef Francis Mallmann will dazzle the crowd with salmon, chicken, whole pigs, and vegetables cooked over above ground, wood burning fire pits. Mallman will be joined by Austin chefs Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo and Daniel Olivella of Barlata Tapas Bar who will serve signature dishes representing their cuisines. After dinner, Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel will provide a Western Swing nightcap for the party. Purchase $40 tickets in the store or here

Central Market has also created a very important party favor to complement the festivities - the Central Market 20th Anniversary Cookbook (Texas Monthly Custom Publishing,181 ppg, $20) by Barbara Rodriguez and Megan Edwards with food photography by Jody Horton. In addition to end pages that share the same pattern as the chain's paper grocery bags, the book includes a historical timeline that chronicles the store's development. The recipes are presented by the season and offer selections from longtime shoppers, Hatch chile cooking contest winners, visiting chefs and cooking teachers, Central Market store team members (known as "foodies"), and some recipes developed for sale in the stores. It's an attractive compendium of accessible recipes chosen to keep customers cooking in the years to come.

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