Food-o-File

Patricia Bauer-Slate's new company offers local, natural, and organic school lunches, and the Gallo Family Vineyards host third Gold Medal Awards

Sweetish Hill Bakery (1120 W. Sixth, 472-1347) has been an Austin fixture since it was founded by Patricia Bauer-Slate and Tom Neuhaus in a graceful Victorian mansion on Old Swede's Hill in 1975. The bakery soon moved to West Austin and has been a neighborhood mainstay for more than 30 years, turning out fine French pastries, artisan breads, hearty lunches, excellent coffee, and local juices for a very devoted clientele. Neuhaus left Austin early on to pursue other interests, and bread-baker Jim Murphy joined as Bauer-Slate's co-owner about 20 years ago. This spring, Sweetish Hill will experience a change in one key ingredient – Bauer-Slate has sold her interest in the bakery to Murphy and is leaving to pursue another career. "I've wanted to cook for schoolchildren since before I started the bakery, and I've decided that now is the perfect time to focus on that goal," she told the Chronicle last week. Bauer-Slate started down this new career path about five years ago when Sweetish Hill began providing healthy lunches to some local private-school programs. Just like the menu at the bakery, the hot school lunches are based as much as possible on local, natural, and organic ingredients. Bauer-Slate will now focus exclusively on the school-lunch business with her new venture, Patricia's Lunch­box (www.patriciaslunchbox.com). Her base of operations is the commercial kitchen at St. Martin's Lutheran Church in Central Austin, where her company provides a breakfast snack, hot lunches, and an afternoon snack to students there. She currently services two other small private schools and hopes to add one new school-lunch program a year, each run by a qualified, passionate cook. "This is a particularly good career for women with kids, because it offers them the opportunity to do something healthy for children and conforms to the same kind of schedule," she points out. This new business is very timely; there are like-minded programs sprouting up around the country: Some are being spearheaded by such high-profile chefs as Alice Waters and Anne Cooper; others are created by concerned mothers like Susan Rubin, the subject of Amy Kalafa's call-to-arms 2005 documentary, Two Angry Moms (www.twoangrymoms.com). Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs has been quoted as saying, "It would take 2 million angry moms to change school-lunch programs." Bauer-Slate isn't angry, but she does have a plan to change Austin school-lunch programs, one school at a time. Meanwhile, don't expect things at Sweetish Hill to change much; several longtime employees provide crucial continuity of service alongside owner Murphy: Head baker Trang Van Hoach (30 years) is in the bakery, retail manager Michael Landry (10 years) is back in charge of front-of-the-house operations, Dana Homick (15 years) is head chef, and Jeanne Martin (18 years) oversees the catering and takeout departments.

Gallo Family Vineyards Third Annual Gold Medal Awards

The family-owned California vineyard created the Gold Medal Awards program to recognize excellence in American artisan food production. The competition is open to artisanal food producers who have been in business at least a year, and entries can be made in seven categories: bread/baked good; condiment, oil, or vinegar; confectionary good; dairy; fish and seafood; fruit or vegetable; meat and charcut­erie. Category winners will receive a $5,000 business-development grant, a trip to New York for the awards ceremony, and gold-medal seals of excellence to display on their winning product. In addition, the overall winner will be featured in a national advertising campaign touting their product as a prestigious award winner and will win a trip to the 2008 Aspen Food & Wine Classic in June, where their winning product will be on display. Although this is still a young program, it offers small artisanal food producers an opportunity for invaluable national recognition. Texan Hugh Fitz­simmons, owner of Thunder Heart Bison, was a winner in 2007, and he encourages area food artisans to enter the competition. Entries will be accepted through Feb. 28 and will be evaluated by a distinguished panel of culinary judges. More info, rules, and entry forms at www.gallofamily.com.

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