Ilbersalle Fallon, Catering Chef / Niella Catering

“It’s just something I did, when I hung out in the kitchen. Or I’d find myself outside, fishing. If you catch it, you clean it and eat it”, Ilbersalle Fallon recalls of his childhood in Nebraska. He’s been cooking since he was young, around 7, and found refuge in fishing and the outdoors while growing up. Cooking has been his main creative outlet for the past ten years, taking him from state to state.

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

Fallon started his culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando, Florida and has spent time in the kitchens of Disney and the House of Blues. After graduating in 2007, he stayed in Orlando for another year before moving to Oklahoma to help open a new restaurant concept, an “amalgamation of everything I’ve learned - the House of Blues style with an Italian bistro concept”. He then moved forward in his career to cook for the student body of Oklahoma Panhandle State University, which taught him the speed and tenacity to cook for the masses.

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

After realizing he needed more in his education, he moved down south to Houston to attend the Art Institute briefly. Houston is where he found solace in another creative outlet, poetry. He began to attend poetry slams and network with other artists, finding time to bring baked goods and treats to events he attended. Niella Catering took two more years to come to fruition and by this time he had moved to Austin, following his wife’s move to attend the University of Texas.

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

“You get a sense of home with Niella Catering”, Ilbersalle says when he mentions his work and family. Niella Catering, named after his daughter, is a pursuit of bridging the gap of the creative community, having worked with local artists like Hakeem Adewumi and Moyo Oyelola. Fallon is a self-proclaimed filmophile and has now filled his calendar with catering on film sets along with helping Joi Chevalier with The Cook’s Nook, which is a culinary incubator that provides help and production space for aspiring cooks in the community.

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

Ilbersalle is one of the several chefs featured in the inaugural Taste of Black Austin event on January 31st. When he speaks of African culture in food he says, “This is so unprecedented and so necessary”. Tickets are still available.

Nate Pearlman & Elana Schiff, Catering Chef & Wedding Cake Decorator

Nate Pearlman and Elana Schiff’s fairytale of a relationship started in the sprawling hills of upstate New York at the Culinary Institute of America. Their stories started on different coasts before intertwining in culinary school and finally landing in Austin, Texas.  

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

Elana hails from Orange County, California and has been baking for as long as she can remember. She found herself baking in the kitchen with her mother, who encouraged her to take baking and decorating classes at an early age. Her passion and drive then led to her to attend CIA in the fall of 2012.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

Nate started six weeks prior to Elana’s arrival, coming from nearby Washingtonville. A stint at the University of Buffalo while working at the student union led him to culinary school. He was closing down for the night and smelled something that reminded him of his mother’s meat sauce that was so nostalgic that brought him back to his childhood. “All I want to be able to do is help create memories, that’s been my biggest motivation”, Pearlman recalls as he emphasizes that moment that led him to withdraw from his classes and enrolled in nearby Rockland Community College for the culinary management program. Down the path, Nate finally made his way to CIA in Hyde Park.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

The two knew each other through social circles and were finally introduced through Elana’s roommate, who was working in Sarasota, Florida, with Nate working on his externship. The Culinary Institute of America’s program is two years, with an eighteen week externship in between. During this break, Nate spent his time in Sarasota while entertaining his budding romance with Elana as she spent her externship in Austin, Texas, working at Sweetish Hill Bakery.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

After jokingly suggesting he visit her in Austin, Elana agreed and Nate booked a plane ticket four days later. At this point, they hadn’t spent time together one on one until he landed. When they met, “It just clicked. We sat at a crepe food truck off Barton Springs and just talked for two hours. We had a wonderful weekend”, Schiff says. The two began dating in the midst of their externships and finished school, Nate in February 2014 followed by Elana in May 2014.

Within the first six months of dating, they finished school at CIA and decided to leave for Austin and move in together. Elana continued to work at Sweetish Hill Bakery followed  by her working at Loved Birds Sweets, which led to starting her own business, Iced Cakes & Confections last June. She’s been featured in Wedding Wire and has made a name for herself by word of mouth. Nate has spent time in kitchens across the board: Foreign & Domestic, Lox Box & Barrel, Second Bar and Kitchen, and Boiler Nine. He's now in the process of starting his own catering company, Seasoned Catering, along with good friend and partner, Keith Thornton.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

Elana recalls when she almost gave up on dating chefs. She swore them off right before Nate and after a rocky relationship ended. “I’m over chefs, I’m never dating them again!”, she told a girlfriend. Luckily enough, Nate came around and changed her mind. Together, the two speak lovingly of each other’s endeavors and plans, especially of their upcoming wedding in November. The two have the rest of their lives to make memories over their love of food together.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

Jane Sumita & Melissa Carroll / Pastry Chefs & Bloggers, Lemongrass & Thyme

One of my last positions in Las Vegas kitchens was as a pastry cook at Michael Mina’s Stripsteak. I moved my way from garde manger (French fancy words for the cold station), to sides, and finally made it to the coveted pastry position.

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

I went to culinary school with my main hobby as baking and focused on gaining a position in pastry. Goodness, I sure did learn a lot when I finally made it there. There, I trained under the amazing Chef Lincoln Carson, learned the pastry ropes from some pretty badass women, and realized that I could execute a recipe but I’d never be able to temper chocolate without it blooming (that’s when chocolate develops a certain whitish color since the temperature of properly melting it was off). I’ve ruined countless batches of fiddle faddle (our caramel popcorn topped with dark chocolate and Maldon salt) by incorrectly tempering chocolate. There’s a precise science that pastry and baking has versus savory cooking that I’ll never be able to fully understand.

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

Jane Sumita and Melissa Carroll are two ridiculously talented women that have mastered the science of baking and pastry. I met Jane first, while working at Central Standard at South Congress Hotel. I was immediately drawn to her, plus she gave me snacks on my first day of training, which always wins my heart. Give me all the snacks and you’re immediately my new best friend. 

Hailing from Indonesia, Jane’s journey to Austin and into pastry has been a long time coming. By her aunt’s suggestion, she and her brother applied for their green cards in 1999 and didn’t think about it until ten years late in 2009, when they received a letter indicating that they’d been approved. She then spent time in two months in Sydney, Australia, learning English while staying with her cousin. After processing her papers, she found herself in Seattle, earning her CNA and began a career in the medical field, followed by the pursuit being an RN. Four years of working as a certified nursing assistant along with going to school to become an RN wore her down and she realized that she’d rather pursue something else. This led to her move to Houston in 2012 as she contemplated what she should do besides nursing.

photo credit: nicolai  mccrary

photo credit: nicolai  mccrary

Baking and pastry was always an interest since high school and after much research, Jane moved to Austin to attend Le Cordon Bleu’s pastry program. With a brief stint at Better Bites Bakery under her belt, she became one of the opening team at the South Congress Hotel, which is where she met her partner in crime, Melissa.

photo credit:  nicolai mccrary

photo credit:  nicolai mccrary

“I was always drawn to more creative fields”, Melissa says as she emphasizes this as her focus right after high school,  specifically on fine arts and graphic design. She attended community college in St. Louis until she decided to pursue a career in the culinary field. She left the mid-west to attend the International Culinary Center, formerly the French Culinary Institute in Campbell, California. After the intensive six month pastry program, Carroll moved back to St. Louis and accepted the pastry chef position at local London Tea Room. In the midst of her pastry chef duties, she went back to community college to finish her degree in fine arts. A change was needed and she made her way to Austin in the summer of 2015. Melissa splits her time between South Congress Hotel and Dolce Neve. The ability to be creative in both of her jobs has helped her bring more ideas to Lemongrass & Thyme. After Jane approached Melissa with the idea of starting a blog earlier this year, the two launched Lemongrass & Thyme in March, with the focus of bringing their diverse backgrounds to their project. 

Though Jane has since moved back to Indonesia to be at the helm of a new hotel as head pastry chef, she and Melissa still make time for Lemongrass & Thyme between their busy schedules. Before her move home, Jane invited me into her kitchen to help her and Melissa with an idea for the her new venture. I can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for these two and especially for Jane to visit again, so we can catch up over more sweet news.

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

Paul Ozbirn / Sommelier & Beverage Director, Parkside Projects

You know that feeling after you’ve bought a new car and suddenly you see it everywhere you go? After meeting Paul Ozbirn, sommelier and beverage/wine director of Parkside Projects, I run into him all around town and I’m definitely not complaining about it. He’s a self-proclaimed former skater kid with full tattoo sleeves that hide under his button up and slacks. It’s such a sight to see the man outside of work clothes, to be honest.

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

Ozbirn has always found himself in food & beverage, starting at 15 while working at a sandwich shop in Hunstville, Alabama. After college, he made the move to Austin in 2006 with a finance degree under his belt. Realizing that finance wasn’t his calling, he found himself back in the service industry, working at Vin Bistro and Botticelli’s. He worked his way up from various serving and bartending gigs, learning that wine could potentially turn into a career. After accepting a wine buyer position at wink, he became a certified sommelier in 2011. 

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

A quick stint at now defunct Paggi House was followed by accepting a job at Parkside Projects in 2013. Paul spent a year managing Olive & June before becoming their beverage director in June 2014. He’s now at the helm of the wine and beverage programs for some of the most recognizable restaurants in Austin, including Bullfight, backspace, & parkside. In 2015, he passed the Advanced Sommelier Exam, which is a feat in of itself since only 18 people passed this rigorous test at the time. 

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

“I latched on to Amarone”, Paul explained as he began to tell me of when he first started to fall in love with wine. On a recent trip to New Orleans, he came to mind when I stood in the middle of Bacchanal Wine (best spot for a bottle and live music, by the way!), staring at a lovely bottle of the same wine he told me about. The man is so knowledgeable in an industry that can be overwhelmingly intimidating. It’s fascinating hearing him talk about the different nuances in one glass of wine. He was gracious enough to give me a quick tasting of a couple wines on parkside’s wine list and I was intrigued with his ability to thoroughly explain the distinctions between grapes, regions, and the science behind it all."Doesn't that have a puke-y kind smell? It should and that's how you'll recognize a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc", he told me as I sniffed. Surprisingly, I agreed. Wine can smell like puke (I know it sounds absurd but I promise it's the case!) along with so many different aromas that Paul can easily delve into. Even in a short tasting with the man, I've learned volumes than I would have on my own. 

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

San Francisco & Redwoods, CA

The West Coast was calling my name after visiting Maine. These recent travels have made me realize that I’m surrounded by some of the best people, most I’ve met in the food & beverage industry. Maine was spent with good friends that I’d met at my time working at Four Seasons, and San Francisco wouldn’t be any different, except sprinkled in are more amazing creative friends I’ve made over the years.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

I was excited to make my way back to San Francisco. It’s exhilarating to be in that city, in all aspects of the word. Creatively speaking, no other city has it beat (besides maybe New York) and I feel refreshed every time I go back. This was a very special trip, to be honest. Some of my very best friends (once again, Four Seasons alums), Rebecca Borrelli and Olivia Clark, met in San Francisco and took a trip up the the Redwoods to honor a very special person that passed away last year.

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Winston Shipman was a staple at Trio in the Four Seasons Austin. He had plenty of people that requested his presence when dining at the restaurant and everyone loved him. His childhood was in Indiana, went to Purdue (acquired two degrees swimmingly), and ended up being a career waiter (he always joked about his degrees versus profession but he was held in such high regard and the industry folks all adored him). He gave it to you straight, which I always admired and needed. Winston took me under his wing, as well as Olivia and Rebecca, and the four of us could be found walking Town Lake every Sunday.

photo credit: wesley verhoeve 

photo credit: wesley verhoeve 

When he passed away last September, I found out while in Los Angeles, at dinner. I was devastated and drank my feelings away in Malbec and bourbon on the rocks (yes, I know, worst combination ever). I woke up early the next day to a call from Olivia (she’s since moved from Austin back to Los Angeles) and comforted me as I cried in the bathroom of my Airbnb. Rebecca and I had a tearful, practically incoherent conversation, of how I should still make the trek to Joshua Tree to honor Winnie (one of his favorite spots in California besides the Redwoods). The day of of the blood moon, after exploring Joshua Tree in all of its beauty, I penned an emotional note to my friend and mourned his loss. After arriving back home, the three of us made a promise amongst ourselves to scatter his ashes in his second favorite place in California and thus our journey to the Redwoods was in the making.

We left Tuesday morning, after breakfast and tea, in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, at Hazel’s Kitchen and Farley’s. There’s an air to San Francisco coffee shops, with a mix of hipsters and older intellectuals, that is unlike any other city. At one window, two older men conversed over pourover coffee while millenials checked their e-mails on the other side of the shop. We ate outside (admiring hipster families with kids dressed better than I’ll ever be in my life) while discussing our plan for the drive up to Crescent City. At one point, Olivia emerged from Hazel’s with tags and pens, explained that we write what we’re grateful for, and hang them on the “Gratitude Tree” on the sidewalk. It was a great-ful way to start our trip (see what I did there?).

photo credit: olivia clark

photo credit: olivia clark

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: olivia clark

photo credit: olivia clark

photo credit: olivia clark 

photo credit: olivia clark 

As we drove out of San Francisco and into Northern California, the girls indulged me in my obsession of oysters, by making a pit stop at Hog Island Oyster Company. I’m basically a professional oyster shucker at this point, y’all. If you invite me over to an oyster party at your house, I’ll bring my own shucker (just ask my good friend, Nicolai, since mine is still at his house from the last one). Two dozen oysters later (Kumamoto and Sweetwater, yes please!), we were shucking fresh bivalves, enjoying local Cowgirl Creamery and Cypress Grove Chevre, along with bubbles.

photo credit: olivia clark 

photo credit: olivia clark 

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

Food & beverage has introduced me to such a variety of wonderful people down the road. Winston, having been a career waiter at the Four Seasons, helped me tweak my approach to people and coworkers over the years. He helped shape the way I looked at service industry and how it is a noble profession. Had I not worked in Trio, I wouldn’t have met these amazing people. Rebecca is an artist but finds herself grounded in the industry. We met at Four Seasons while she was receiving her Master’s in Art Education at University of Texas and we re-connected during our time at VOX Table. She found the service industry organically, supporting herself through college and couldn’t wait until she left it. ‘I lost energy. I became lonely behind a studio table all day long. I felt stagnant. And most importantly when I was serving- even part time- I would come home positively energized to make art. When I left serving, my creative energy was funneled totally into my art job, and I stopped making art at home, almost all together. That was my "aha" moment. I realized F&B was a necessary ingredient for my art career’, Borrelli explained as she told me of the importance of food & beverage to her. Nowadays you can find Rebecca, busy as ever, at VOX Table as well as supporting her business along with her wildly popular project, Austin Coloring Book. Bigger and better things are on the horizon for her and I can’t wait to witness it.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

Our trip back to San Francisco was a bit rushed, trying to make it back to the city in time for dinner plans and drinks with friends that had been waiting to see us. I was dropped off at the Airbnb offices to spend time with Shawn Sprockett, principal designer and all around inspiration, while we chatted about creativity and goals over drinks and a tour of their breathtaking offices.  We met in Austin years ago (we had to think long and hard about this since it was so brief, over a drunken Halloween party), reconnected in New York last June (over cocktails in Chelsea and rainy nights in Williamsburg), and I was so very excited to see him in San Francisco. While studying International Relations at Florida International University, he realized he was interested in design. He then went to the the School of Visual Arts in NYC for grad school, honing his skills under the likes of Milton Glaser and Stefan Sagmeister. Shawn also teaches for General Assembly saying, ‘Teaching is a great way to share the craft and to help students in a career transition that life doesn't always go the way you expect it—and that's ok. By repeating the basics in my classes, I get better and I learn how to explain things to people better. It makes my work better and makes my collaboration with others better. Watching people get excited about design and go on to fascinating projects is a pretty amazing side gig.’ He hopes to start hosting design dinners (a concept we’ve both discussed in depth over for quite some time) in order for creatives to connect and enjoy meaningful conversation. Believe me, he's lovely company and hours of conversation can go by before you even realize with this gem.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

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A quick walk from Airbnb is Oddjob, where we met more friends for quick libations before dinner. Patrick Lu, former Austinite, has raved about this cocktail bar for quite some time. He’s finding his niche in the city as well and it’s a pleasure seeing him grow in his endeavors, especially photography and most recently, his recent zine, Loaf Life. He took me to SRO, introduced me to the bartender, who asked what my choice of poison is and what kind of cocktail I usually drink. Standing Room Only is to the left when you first walk into Oddjob and it can maybe fit up to sixteen people (SO tiny!) but worth it. I responded with, “I like bourbon, scotch, and rye. I want a boozy cocktail, it’s my last night in town, and I’m in the service industry.” Let’ just say that cocktail knocked me off my feet and was probably one of the biggest deciding factors that led me to extend my trip.

photo credit: olivia clark

photo credit: olivia clark

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

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Dinner at Zuni Cafe was a drunken dream I wish I could remember more clearly. Wine flowed, between good friends that hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, followed by plenty of appetizers (I clearly remember the burrata, I always remember burrata, ask anyone that’s dined out with me), and the world famous roasted chicken (we ordered two, which was overly indulgent at this point).

Let’s just talk about dinner in San Francisco. There are so many restaurants to geek out on and it was very difficult to narrow down where to indulge while there for a week. I spent Friday night walking from Ritual Coffee Roasters in The Mission to Petit Crenn in Hayes Valley, putting my name down for the Chef’s Counter, for dinner with Shawn. It was almost an hour wait, so I walked down the street to Two Sisters Bar and Books for a quick chamomile old fashioned until he arrived. Do yourself a favor, if you don’t know Dominique Crenn, look her up (watch second season of Chef’s Table on Netflix, even) and now prep yourself for dreams of French food for quite some time. I saved the menu from this dinner because I’m a geek and if I can save a coaster/menu/postcard/anything, I will. The heirloom tomato salad with savory granola, local Tomales Farmstead Creamery Teleeka, and succuclent greens is a dish that will be forever ingrained in my memory. There’s just something about California produce that makes such a simple dish absolutely outstanding. Shawn and I took a couple deep breaths to really take in what was happening before us. Looking back on it now, from the heirloom tomato salad to the gnocchi with summer vegetables, pan-seared Dorade, and coconut custard (this isn’t even half of what we ordered, by the way), I don’t think I’ve had a meal better than this in a long while. Crenn’s use of memory in the kitchen, bringing forth dishes that spark recollections that you didn’t even think existed, is fascinating in and of itself.  

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

The next morning was spent over coffee and London Fog lattes at Trouble Coffee Company (theirs is called the Girlfriend, with lavender syrup and soy milk, it’s a dream!) in the Outer Sunset and lunch at Kingdom of Dumpling. San Francisco beats any other city for Asian food, especially dim sum and Chinese. I find myself craving soup dumplings as soon as I land and couldn’t believe it took me a whole week before I made it here. It’s a total hole in the wall with the best selection of traditional Asian fare. Two dozen soup dumplings were ordered along with an array of veggies, green onion pancakes, noodles, and green tea. The authenticity of this restaurant has regulars and tourists coming back for me (I almost opted to come back a second time because it’s just that damn good).

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

I’d been introduced to Kingdom of Dumpling by a good friend of mine, Katrina Muñez, who currently works at Airbnb, formerly of Real HQ. This girl and I go waaaaay back, like way back. Like, her mother is my godmother kind of way back. We spent our young lives running around South Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, until her family moved to Austin and mine to Las Vegas. We reconnected when I moved to Austin and since then, we’ve taken trips to Los Angeles as well as her hosting me in her lovely Outer Sunset home full of some of the best roommates I’ve encountered. Muñez went to University of Texas for a BA in Psychology, spent some time in Austin working at Apple, then moved to San Francisco with Real HQ. She elaborates on finding her passion saying, ‘I'm still trying to figure out what my calling is! I know that's a very typical, "millennial" answer, but I think it's also true for a LOT of people, regardless of age. That said, I do think my current work is a great combination of things I love - interacting with people, creating positive experiences, contributing to companies or products that just make life more enjoyable.’ She also works with the Creative Mornings San Francisco team as their volunteer coordinator (Yay Creative Mornings, I’m a huge proponent for this breakfast lecture series that’s available to everyone. Austin’s always has breakfast tacos and coffee, y’all!) and runs her style blog, Hello Neighbor (this woman is effortlessly stylish, I always go to her for tips). San Francisco’s creative community has several motivating factors as Katrina perfectly puts it, ‘Given the current circumstances, I think it's even more important to remember that "creatives" span all mediums, ages, and backgrounds... That said, I think there are so many talented, purposeful, weird people that occupy this 7x7-mile space, which has made SF's creative community so incredibly diverse. And if it doesn't seem like it to you, you're not looking hard enough.’

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: tiffani broyles <3

photo credit: tiffani broyles <3

After lunch, we made our way to Noe Valley and found the best treasure I could have ever imagined. Omnivore Books on Food in Noe Valley is a food lover’s dream. Housed in a former butcher shop, this bookstore focuses only on food & beverage (HELLO! The foodie geek in me was freaking out!) Celia Sack is a San Franciscan through and through, having been a rare book specialist with her collecting interest on cook books. Both her parents were collectors (her mother being a handbook binder) and always loved food when growing up. Sack spent seven years at San Francisco auction house, PBA Galleries as the head of Modern Literature, before opening up Omnivore in 2008, which has housed an array of modern cookbooks as well as books dating back to the 1600s. She and her partner also own the pet store around the corner, Noe Valley Pet Company. Imagine my face when I discovered this, puppies around the corner and books on food right next door, I was in heaven. Celia’s stories of Ruth Reichl acquiring some of her antique books along with being able to taste the first harvest of Mas Masumoto peaches is so captivating. Tourists and locals alike flock to her store to build their libraries, attend meet and greets with food authors, and browse the phenomenal collection that her store holds. Make your way here, you won’t be disappointed.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

The rest of the weekend was a blur of eating and drinking everything I could, from lunch at Mission Chinese Food (their fried chicken is insane and that cucumber salad is to die for!) drinks at awesome dive bars in walking distance from SF MOMA, like Tempest (they have an industry special which is a Coors stubby and shot of Fernet!), to Dogpatch Saloon (where I proceeded to have probably four more shots of Fernet to end the night, yes I know I’m a trooper), and everything in between.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro (my sf bay bae, miko being a great model/host)

photo credit: irvianne torremoro (my sf bay bae, miko being a great model/host)

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

Slowing it down on Sunday, a trip for the night in Berkeley was needed. We watched the sunset at Indian Rock Park, drinking wine straight out of the bottle while enjoying local cheeses (had to get Cypress Grove's Purple Haze one more time!). The next morning was spent walking to famed Chez Pannise and staring at it from the outside in, thinking about all my readings in culinary school of miss Alice Waters, and why I love food & beverage so very much. A quick coffee at Berkeley’s campus was a delightful way to end my short-lived trip to the other side of the Bay Bridge. Making my way back to San Francisco by the BART was surprisingly easy and I made it a priority to eat some pasta in North Beach, peruse the book collection at City Lights Bookstore, grab a drink at Vesuvio Cafe (pretending I was a beatnik and wondering why I was born in the wrong era, of course) and people watch in such a funky part of San Francisco.

photo credit: tiffani broyles <3

photo credit: tiffani broyles <3

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro 

photo credit: irvianne torremoro 

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

My last dinner was spent at a venue called The Lab and was a pop-up dinner by Chef Eric Pascual, a friend that was made through my good friend, Yana Gilbuena of Salo Series! Yes, life is seriously that awesome that things fall into place like that. Eric’s biggest influence, his grandfather, migrated from the Philippines to Hawaii, finding work on a sugar plantation. He followed him in the kitchen, every summer in Hawaii, falling in love with Hawaiian/Filipino cooking. As soon as I stepped in, the aromas of dinner filled the space and I knew it’d be an experience, to say the least. He playfully tweaks dishes like poke, loco moco, and lumpia, making them his own. Along with his charismatic friend, Alex (who’s at the helm of The Lumpia Company, a cool concept with a modern take on the classic dish), they pulled off a superb dinner. San Francisco’s hub of pop-up dinners has immensely grown compared to the likes of cities such as Austin, and I only wish that there will be more in my town. The Feastly team was present at dinner, and it was so lovely to connect with them as well as Eric and Alex after dinner. I hope to see more of them the next time I’m back in their city. 

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve 

photo credit: wesley verhoeve 


Tuesday, my last morning, was spent having breakfast at Bernal Heights and taking the trek up to that point to take in some last views of the wonderful city. The fog hadn’t quite lifted yet and I didn’t feel like my time was up. After packing my bags and determining that all I needed before heading to the airport was a Sushirrito in SOMA (yes, that’s ALL I really wanted before leaving), I rushed in an Uber back downtown. In my haste (don’t ever take Uberpool if you’re in a hurry because you won’t make it, lesson learned), I forgot my luggage in my Uber as I jumped out downtown to try and run out before they closed. I didn’t make it unfortunately and scrambled to meet my driver in front of Blue Bottle Coffee to retrieve my luggage. Hungry and disappointed that my quest for a Sushirrito had failed, I sought refuge in a last espresso at Blue Bottle. Deciding to sit in front of the window for a bit of people watching before leaving for the airport, I took a deep breath, and looked out of the window to take one last look at the wild characters that San Francisco had to offer. I was exhausted, waiting for the espresso to kick in, and called my good friend Moyo for advice and a pick me up. “Come home now, you know better than this”, he said. Until next time San Francisco, I’ll be back for that Sushirrito soon enough.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

Portland, Maine / Sarah Rahl, Head Bartender / Four Seasons Austin

Lobster rolls, saltwater, and best friends. That’s all you needed to convince me to spend a week in Portland, Maine.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

I’ve never been to New England and have always been intrigued with it ever since Gilmore Girls and dreams of towns like Stars Hollow (I fancied myself Rory even though I realize now, I’m more like Lorelai). Side note: if you’re not at excited as I am for the Gilmore Girls revival, think long and hard about your life, consider binge watching before November, and then get back to me. You won’t be disappointed, trust.

Straight off the plane, I went to Tandem Coffee + Bakery, in the West End of Portland. Tandem Coffee Roasters started in 2012, by husband and wife team, Will and Kathleen Pratt. In 2014, they opened Tandem Coffee + Bakery, off Congress Avenue. The space offers spots with beautiful, natural light and the scent of fresh baked goods and coffee every morning. Hence, why I started the next three mornings off here.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

The countdown to lobster rolls in New England started as soon as I booked tickets for Portland. After Tandem, a trip to Eventide Oyster Co. was in order. Sitting at the bar, the charming bartender offered up fresh oysters, and all kinds of rolls. But, that lobster roll, y’all. For a Texan, obsessed with food, especially seafood, this was the holy mecca. Every piece was smothered with clarified butter on top of a perfectly toasted bun, I devoured that lobster roll in maybe three bites.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

After walking through the Eastern Promenade at sunset, dinner at Drifters Wife was a perfect way to end the night. Several husband and wife teams, like Peter and Orenda Hale, have moved from the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn up to Portland, to open such businesses as their adorable wine shop/wine bar. Bon Appétit just named Drifters Wife as one of the Best New Restaurants in 2016, fittingly. Dinner was delightful, to say the least, with daily dinner selections of pickled vegetables (pickled anything wins my heart!) and homemade hummus plus an adventurous wine selection. After buying a lovely Austrian rosé, it was time to call it a night.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

The next morning was spent at Tandem again, with a slice of their wonderful pistachio cake to start the day. Lunch was spent in downtown Portland, at the revered Duckfat, known for their fries and delicious sandwiches. I had some of the best tour guides for Portland, Sarah Rahl and Jay Gosh. I’ve known both for quite some time since we used to work at Four Seasons together. Ever since I met Sarah, I told her of my dreams to visit Maine, especially her hometown of Kennebunk. Last summer, her parents visited Austin and I promised them that I’d visit the following summer. The girls and I went to Maine Craft Distilling and adjacent Rising Tide Brewing Company for some local libations. Maine’s craft brewing and spirits distilleries are quite impressive, with a variety all over the coast.

photo credit: sarah rahl

photo credit: sarah rahl

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: jay gosh

Dinner at Fore Street was delightful, back in downtown Portland (dinner reservations fill up quickly and we were lucky enough to find a spot in their bar area). Their dinner selection changes daily but some of my favorites were the pork belly and local heirloom tart with goat cheese. Drinks at Portland Hunt & Alpine Club (best known for their craft cocktails) as well as Maps (decent beer & wine list, very kitschy indeed) ended the night with plans for a lobster boil the next day.

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: jay gosh

The next day was spent in Kennebunk, about a half hour from Portland. The Rahl’s were kind enough to extend an invitation to their lovely home for a lobster boil. Learning of where your friends come from is always insightful. Sarah’s been a fixture at Four Seasons for quite a few years, working her way up to head bartender in the Lobby Lounge. During her summers, she worked in fine dining and tourist packed joints learning the tricks of the trade of the service industry. She spent her undergrad at Lynchburg College followed by a stint at Ithaca, then serendipitously moved to Austin and found herself back in food & beverage. After waiting tables at Barton Creek Resort, a bartender spot opened at Four Seasons in April 2013, where she worked her way up to the position of creating the majority of the cocktails, which helped her get back into the creative world in an unexpected way. “My favorite part of bartending is the chance to be creative again and the fact that I’m not sitting behind a desk all day”, Rahl muses as we drank wine on the sprawling green acres of her parent’s land. Along with her time at Four Seasons, Rahl has invested in local craft brewery, Lazarus Brewing. She hopes to spend more time in the craft brewing and cocktail world that Austin has to offer. 

photo credit: sarah rahl

photo credit: sarah rahl

photo credit: sarah rahl

photo credit: sarah rahl

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: jay gosh

Lunch was spent over a table full of family, love, lobsters, and all the clarified butter I could handle. Afterwards, we spent time outside with Zuzu (her parents’ goofy standard poodle) and made our way to Kennebunkport (yes, there’s a difference between Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, any native will let you know, and yes it sounds like we were traveling through towns in Harry Potter) to spend the sunset on a boat off the coast.

photo credit: sarah rahl

photo credit: sarah rahl

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

Maine was full of delicious food, refreshing drinks, amazing friends, and unforgettable memories. Portland is a true gem and I cannot wait to go back. After all, I didn’t get to Holy Donut, I’ll be back for it soon enough.

photo credit: jay gosh

photo credit: jay gosh

Yana Gilbuena, Chef / Salo Series

“I have a crazy notion to ask of you on Monday. I’m obsessed with this woman and she has a popup dinner, her last one, is in Houston and I want to go and interview her. Want to come with?” I sent this text in hopes that someone, any one of my friends was willing to jump on board with me. I found two willing participants and we were off.

photo credit: chelsea laine francis

photo credit: chelsea laine francis

My newest talent as of late has been convincing friends to partake in trips where food & beverage is at the epicenter. This past Memorial Day weekend, two good friends and I made a trek to Houston from Austin to experience Yana Gilbuena’s pop up dinner series, Salo Series. Little did I know that the night would bring more opportunities but also a wonderful friendship to unfold.

I’ve been following Yana for quite some time now, especially since her foray into cooking is fascinating, to say the least. I looked up to her: a woman from the same country, blazing a path in an industry dominated by males, in the most non-conventional way. She was born and raised in the Visayas region of the Philippines, by her grandmother, who taught her everything she now knows in the kitchen. Gilbuena graduated from University in the Philippines with her psychology degree and moved to Los Angeles to work as a behavioral therapist. As with anyone in their early 20’s she bounced around professions, from therapist to architecture to carpentry.  

She eventually found herself in Brooklyn, missing Visayan food from her childhood. Her first pop-up was held in Bushwhick, which was a learning lesson in all proportions, literally and figuratively. Since then, she’s taken her tour of 50 Weeks in 50 States, bringing Filipino food to the forefront across the United States, then eventually taking her dinners overseas, to the Philippines, Canada, parts of South America, and Mexico.

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

The first night I met Yana, I was not only utterly impressed by the food but also the community that she’s built over these dinners. She brings the “kamayan” experience to the table, which is essentially laying out food on top of banana leaves and eating with your hands. “The rules of kamayan dinner is you serve with your non dominant hand and eat with your dominant hand, and have fun!”, she exclaimed as she and her friends proceeded to place food in front of diners.  I looked across the table at my good friend, Moyo Oyelola, and asked his opinion of dinner. “I’m home”, he said as he grabbed another handful of rice. It really was like being home, he had a good point. I was born in the Philippines and my family moved to the States when I was five but these tidbits of our culture have resonated deep within me nonetheless. Eating with your hands, for example, was something that comes as second nature for me. Yana also has a way of making the familiarity of Filipino cuisine different to even those raised on it. She’s influenced by the different regions of the Philippines and puts a spin on them that is approachable and not too overwhelming.

Conversations flowed easily as diners bonded over food and the experience, from first timers to seasoned veterans of Filipino cuisine. At the end of dinner, she sat and talked to every single guest as if they were family. Excitedly, we suggested she bring the dinner to Austin if she had the time. “Yes, I leave for Mexico in a few days, maybe when I get back!”, Yana exclaimed as she told us of her plans to bring Salo Series across the border to Mexico City and Tulum. Eagerly, I e-mailed her days after our initial encounter to suggest a possible collaboration.

A month passed as I watched her adventures over social media and I reached out one more time until she e-mailed back saying she’d love to collaborate, as soon as she got back. “Sure, let’s do it! July 3rd?”, she said. For a split second, I didn’t know what to think. She wanted to throw a popup dinner together in a week? She was still in Mexico talking about our collaboration and I’ve never taken on a task like this. “Well, it’s now or never”, I thought to myself.

The days leading up to the dinner were some of the most exciting and stressful I’ve had in quite a while. I was juggling work, projects, and now an additional popup dinner, which sounds crazy to most but I thrive off a busy schedule. Yana arrived on Saturday, the day before the popup dinner, with much collaboration via e-mail under our belts. We then ran around like mad gathering ingredients and tools for the dinner. Sunday came around, with a guest list of sixteen, we pulled off a wonderfully exciting dinner that showcased what we grew up on and introduced several new friends to each other.

photo credit: chelsea laine francis

photo credit: chelsea laine francis

photo credit: chelsea laine francis

photo credit: chelsea laine francis

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: chelsea laine francis

photo credit: chelsea laine francis

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

Our menu was simple yet delectable and easily shared amongst new friends: to start, shrimp chips paired with seasonal pickled vegetables in spicy coconut vinegar, followed by garlic fried rice and kinilaw, a take on the more commonly known ceviche, paired with the right amount of heat from chiles and coconut milk. The main course, humba, which is pork slowly braised in pineapple, soy, and star anise, was so tender and juicy by the time it reached the table. Dinner was paired with two refreshing cocktails, the Gabriela: mezcal, mango, and the slight heat of Thai chilies as well as the Sampaguita: champagne, elderflower, and calamansi. Yana let me take charge solely on the dessert, which was always my forte, in the kitchen. Individual flans were made with macapuno, a young coconut, and ube, a purple yam popular in Asia. Making this dish made me feel like I was back in the kitchen with my grandmother, with all the same flavors and textures that reminded me of what I loved most from my childhood. An after dinner drink paired well with the flan, the Tsokolate-eh: Oaxacan chocolate (which Yana so graciously shared from her recent trip to Mexico), coconut milk, and whiskey. It was such a treat to share the food that was dear to us with friends over a communal setting.

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis

photo credit: chelsea laine francis

I learned so much from Yana that weekend, especially how to calm down. At one point, I felt like I checked the clock every five minutes to keep track of dinner being ready by the allotted time. She was so calm, practically floating on air as she prepped food up until the last minute. Picture this: my running around like a chicken with its head cut off as she took her time and paid attention to every detail of dinner. It was a sight to see, honestly, but the dinner went swimmingly. Guests filtered out afterwards but most stayed to have conversation with her, asking about her background to how many dinners she’s done. “I think this one is over two hundred”, she calmly replied. Well, no wonder she wasn’t as panicky as I was!

photo credit: moyo oyelola 

photo credit: moyo oyelola 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

Not only did we pull off a pop-up dinner together in a week’s time, over a busy holiday weekend, but a grand friendship unfolded. She’s due back in the fall for another one, which we’ll be collaborating over, once again!

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: chelsea laine francis 

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

Julia Doubleday / Cake Decorator, Quack's 43rd Street Bakery

“Most people in baking are always like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been baking since I was a little kid!’ I was not one of those people. I had no intentions in baking.”

photo credit: nicolai mccrary 

photo credit: nicolai mccrary 

Julia’s tall frame, long blonde hair, and cheeks that could cut diamonds makes it hard to believe that she’s a baker. You’d expect her to be in the front lines of the service industry but she finds her comfort in pastry and cake decorating.

In high school Doubleday excelled in drawing, which led to attending school at the University of Texas for studio art, focusing mainly on painting and photography. Her intentions were to curate an art gallery at the time. Her plans took a turn in her Junior year when she found a flier in the art building. Polka Dots, a local bakeshop in West Campus, was looking to hire artists for the summer. Conveniently located two blocks from her house, she walked to work every day, quickly learning the ins and outs cake decorating. As summer ended, she enjoyed the extra money in her pocket and continued to work there through the year. After graduating from UT in 2010, her parents suggested pastry school, realizing her immense talent. Julia then moved to Chicago to attend The French Pastry School, to hone her skills in pastry and baking. The program was an accelerated program, for five months, with the focus on cake decorating. “It’s fun doing the baking part but I’m definitely the artistic side of it,” Julia muses.   

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

I first met Julia working at Four Seasons in 2012, when she was hired in the bake shop and given the dreaded overnight shift, from six at night until two in the morning. We bonded quickly, mainly because I love sweets and always hid around the corner in the bake shop, chatting with the girls while munching on any confections they’d throw my way. If anyone was looking for me, they could find me there or hiding in the pastry walkin, cooling off from the Texas heat. I was quickly fascinated by her talent, especially in decorating cakes. Every year, the pastry department puts together a themed gingerbread village for the holidays and I was blown away by her skills and the ease in which she brought to the table. Soon after, I found myself in the bake shop, watching her progression from a baker into a cake decorator. Once she worked her way up in the department, she was handed all the wedding cake orders, which is where she thrived. In the midst of working and learning at Four Seasons, she started her own business, Pretty Sweet, in order to have more creativity and say in her process.

During this time, she also competed on Duff Till Dawn on the Food Network in 2015, with her former Polka Dots coworker, Natalie Sideserf. Sideserf, a former art student, is at the helm of Sideserf Cake Studios, which focuses on realistic cakes. (Her Willie Nelson and Lebron James cakes are out of this world!) Together, the two learned plenty from the competition, especially how to handle the pressures of putting a cake together in seven hours, in front of the shine of lights and cameras.

Doubleday left Four Seasons in October 2015 to take on the task of cake decorator/manager at Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery. She now has more free reign in regards to her creativity and cake decorating. Her talent is on display at the darling shop that’s nestled in the adorable Hyde Park neighborhood.

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

Her journey from art student to cake decorator has been quite a transition but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Julia expands on her passion saying, “Every art student is like, ‘How do I make money with my art?’ I’m not the kind of person that’s going to sit in a studio and paint something and hope that somebody buys it for what I want for it. I like with cakes, that you have somebody coming to you, and you design something together. What I do is basically making a custom piece of art for each person”.

When we worked together at Four Seasons, I used to sneak in and help as much as I could in the shop or play around with chocolate writing. Recently, I revisited my days in pastry with her. She’s patient, kind, and very knowledgeable in her craft, especially dealing with someone like me, who’s pretty rusty in the pastry/cake decorating department, after all these years!

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

Stone Barns Center

“No offense Irvi but you don’t look like much of a farm girl.”

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

I get it, I definitely don’t look the part. That statement resonated with me even after I excitedly told a colleague of mine of the trip to Stone Barns Center right outside of New York City. Little did that friend know how much this experience, at Chef Dan Barber’s farm in Tarrytown, meant to me.

Recently, I convinced some wonderfully adventurous Brooklynites to take a trip to upstate New York and accompany me on a farm tour at the Stone Barns Center. With all my heart and soul, New York City is eventually where I find myself, fully immersed in all of its beauty but especially its world of food & beverage. Having done my time in kitchens in Las Vegas after culinary school, I’ve done the constant trips to Los Angeles, and while I absolutely love the food scene there, nothing compares to The City.

From Brooklyn to the Upper West Side, New York is constantly churning out the best of the best. Ever since my days in culinary school, I’ve always dreamt of exploring the food world that The City has to offer. I’m no stranger to New York but upstate is a fascinating dreamland I’ve never ventured to before. The drive out of Manhattan (which, on a Friday right after the work day ends is the definition of a nightmare) into upstate displays the grand transition of skyscrapers and industrial buildings to lush greenery as far as the eye can see. Wide-eyed, even after a long day of running from brunch in the Lower East Side at the coveted Russ and Daughters Café to Dominique Ansel Kitchen, I couldn’t close my eyes even for a minute, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to take in my surroundings had I even dared to doze off.

In a funny way of miscommunication, we found ourselves an hour and a half north from Tarrytown, in the town of Hudson, at one of the loveliest Airbnb’s I’ve been privy to stay in. Calling it an early night after bubbles and a quick lesson in poker (yes, I’m a Vegas girl that doesn’t know how to play cards or gamble, blasphemy, I know), we called it a night in order to prep for our tour the next day.

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

There’s something about waking up in the countryside, with its natural light and beauty that had me up and ready to go quite early in the morning. After coffee and tea, we took the trek back down to Stone Barns. When I was younger, my family used to take several road trips over the summer. One of them, in particular, was to Disneyworld, and I couldn’t keep my excitement from showing. From my sweaty palms to daydreams of which ride I wanted to jump on first to the long gazes out of the window wondering if we had arrived, I couldn’t wait until we had arrived. This ride was practically the same thing except Dan Barber’s The Third Plate was in my lap as I re-read my favorite excerpts quietly daydreaming of the farm and all of the wonderful people I would encounter.  

The drive into Stone Barns is nothing short of magical. The Rockefellers owned and operated the eighty acres of land that the farm rests on. Grandiose stone buildings rest on rolling green hills, the scent of the country, followed with the morning dew and light mist made it a perfect day for our tour.

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

From meeting the sheep, collecting eggs, grabbing coffee and treats at Blue Hill Café, and every activity in between, I found myself in awe of the people that make Stone Barns what it is. We met Chris, the livestock manager, who went to great lengths to explain their composting system after speaking to the volunteers at the sheep’s meadow.

Multiple trips were made to the café for snacks and conversation with Jose and the rest of the friendly baristas. After ordering a London fog latte and asking for any milk alternative, Jose responded with, “You must be from the city if you’re asking for alternatives.” I promptly responded with: “No, even worse, from Austin.”  I was lovingly dubbed Miss Texas for the rest of the day.

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

After lunch and a quick stint of making spring rolls with vegetables straight from the farm, we found ourselves walking the grounds and being distracted by all the dogs but especially one in particular. I ran up to this beautiful pup, asked his owner what his name was and excitedly loved on him as I do with all the dogs I run into. “His name is Zeke”, he said as I looked up and to my surprise, Jack Algiere, Stone Barn’s farm director, was standing in front of me.

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

Meeting Jack is probably the equivalent of meeting the Queen of England in my eyes. He was the first hire of the Stone Barns Center and is a huge advocate in the agriculture and sustainable farming movements. In Barber’s The Third Plate, he has an excerpt on just Jack that strikes a chord, humanizing the sustainable farm culture and his love for biodynamic and ecological systems. Algiere graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in horticulture and has been farming ever since. Having introduced myself (and blatantly telling him I was a huge fan, yes, what a nerd), he invited us into the greenhouse to have a chat about the farm, agriculture, and what sustainable farming means today. I swear, I could listen to that man talk about potato varieties for hours. He’s unassuming, kind, and very knowledgeable in his craft. It’s evident that the man loves what he does and I was in complete awe of his ability to differentiate between several varieties and the science behind farming.

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

After our chat, Jack informed us of swiss chard transplanting in the larger part of the greenhouse so we hurriedly made our way over. Gardening and getting my hands dirty reminds me of my grandmother, who had such a natural green thumb in her garden when we lived in south Texas. Excitedly, I sprinted towards the grids and volunteers where the transplanting would take place. “Hi! How many swiss chard can we plant?” Ashley Monk, the greenhouse apprentice replied with, “As many as you’d like!” I tore off both my jackets and threw them to the side, readying myself. I honestly lost count how many I planted because I was so enthralled by my conversation with her. 

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

Ashley’s fairly new to Stone Barns, being there for about three months, after leaving her job at a social justice non-profit in Minnesota. Her foray into farming began when she started volunteering at the Women’s Environmental Institute in North Branch, Minnesota. Ashley draws inspiration from her mentors, Karen Clarke and Jacque Zita, who have done tremendous work at the organization. She further cemented her decision to farm full-time after attending the National-International Urban and Small Farm Conference in Milwaukee in November 2014. The inspiration from the movers and shakers of the urban agriculture movement was a profound experience for her. Her background as a human rights activist helped form her belief that changing the food system has deep implications for social change and social justice. “Food is so alive, and deeply embedded with meaning”, Monk recalls as she explains the impact that it has on ecological sustainability, community, and health as well as racial, economic, and social justice. She further reiterates that self-renewing, resilient systems of farming create the conditions for self-renewal and resilience for entire communities.  

After watching Dan Barber’s Ted Talks: “How I Fell in Love with a Fish” and “A Foie Gras Parable” as well as reading The Third Plate, she made it a point to work there. “The regenerative farming practices, philosophy, and experimentation happening at Stone Barns really resonated with me, and I knew that something really special and unique was happening there that I wanted to be a part of and learn from”, she explains with such vigor. Determined to work at Stone Barns, she checked the Growing Farmer’s Initiative website to discover to her dismay that there weren’t any openings. Coincidentally, the next day, she received an e-mail from a sustainable AG-list server that said Stone Barn was hiring. She jumped on the opportunity and applied, interviewed with Jack, and immediately accepted the position as greenhouse apprentice. It’s clear the impact that he can make, as Ashley gushes, “It’s funny reading about someone in a book and then meeting them and getting to work with them; I was, and am, so excited and humbled to be able to work with Jack, who is an extraordinary farmer and human being!”

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve


Every single person I met that day helped shape the way that I look at farming, agriculture, and the way that our food makes it to our table. I’m thankful for all the new friends I made that day, the people that were adventurous enough to share this experience, and Stone Barns Center for being such a huge proponent for the farm to table movement and agriculture.  

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

photo credit: wesley verhoeve

Madelyn Kay / Bartender, VOX Table

Madelyn is a firecracker and you know it right off the bat when you meet her.

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

She’s friendly but will call you out when she deems appropriate, which I love about her, like those pesky bottle rockets that light, fizzle, and go off at the least expected time - but they still bring a smile to your face when they do. I actually waited on her the first time we met, at VOX Table. A couple weeks later, to my delight, she was our new bartender! The start of a new woman crush (on my end) was born.

Hailing from Nome, Texas, this good ol’ gal graduated valedictorian from Hardin Jefferson High School with the intentions of attending law school. After her freshman year at the University of Texas, she left the dorms for her own apartment, thus leading to bills that needed to be paid. Her easy fix was a bartending gig on Dirty Sixth, complete with rough, long hours. A two year hiatus from the profession soon followed.

After a summer abroad, she found herself in the profession again. Her concern for her lack of experience almost drove her to walk out of Peché as soon as she entered to apply. “I am not qualified to work here but I’d like to be”, she wrote on her application. They gave her a chance since her determination was obvious.

Kay immediately dove headfirst into craft cocktail bartending, reading Dale Degroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail. Her study habits from college resurfaced with her collection of classic cocktail flashcards, amounting to 108 cocktails she familiarized herself with. Peché was a great stepping stone for her as well as Haddington’s before leaving for Australia in 2013.

Her time spent in Australia, specifically Melbourne, was spent exploring and further honing her skills at bars such as Madame Brussels and Ra Cigar Bar. “I never picked more mint in my life”, Kay recalls, while explaining the concept of batched cocktails at Madame Brussels. The batched cocktail method is an easy way to streamline serving consistent drinks but can be a tedious process in preparation. Melbourne treated her well, though she worked all but one day of the week with late nights at work followed by even later nights of partying (as bartenders and industry folk tend to do). She took some time to backpack through Asia for the latter part of 2014, then found herself back in Australia in 2015, before heading back to Austin.

We love a lot of the same things about Austin and its service industry: the culture and camaraderie being at the top of the list. “The people are amazing in this industry”, Madelyn muses as she mentions her inspirations, most notably her mentor, JR Mocanu, VOX Table’s beverage director.

Upon her return, she settled into the VOX Table family, and readied herself for her third attempt at Speed Rack, which is a national competition for women bartenders. The flashcards made their way back into her studying methods as she explains the competition is less about practicing but more about studying the plethora of Speed Rack classic cocktails. Madelyn won the Texas competition in San Antonio and is competing at the nationals held in Brooklyn, representing Texas along with Elyse Blechman of Houston as wild card.

Madelyn had me over to show me some of the tricks of the trade at VOX Table. This restaurant was home for me for the greater part of last year and I fell in love with every single one of my coworkers, so I keep coming back for more. Kay showed me the ins and outs of a bar: what a jigger is (that fancy looking contraption that measures out ounces), shaker tins, measuring, and especially taste. At 26, she’s well versed in her cocktails, explaining one of her signature drinks.

The Sprung cocktail is complex, refreshing, and showcases her ability to put together a damn good cocktail. Bols Genever, a Dutch gin, is complimented with bonal, citrus juices, lavender­-lemongrass syrup, and bitters. It starts with a tart bite and ends with a sweetness that’s not too overwhelming, much like Madelyn herself.

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola