Roberto Ainslie, General Manager / Olamaie & An Ode to Pre-Shift

“Honestly, it was really happenstance, you know?”

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

Roberto Ainslie hadn’t planned to land in food & beverage. Way back when, “Ro” as he’d rather be called, was in his first semester of graduate school for counseling while doing some art consulting on the side. He met Scott Walker and Chef David Bull of now defunct fine dining establishment, Congress, by way of his childhood friend and chef, Rebecca Meeker. Starting as a server assistant at Second Bar + Kitchen, he eventually worked his way up to managing Congress. After juggling a year and a half of grad school and managing, he was offered a job in New York.

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

A stint at an advertising agency as their events manager then led to Michelin-star Betony in Midtown Manhattan. Though Betony has since closed, Ro lovingly talks about the in’s and out’s of fine dining that he learned at his time there. “Restaurants in New York are super, super intense. I was working here, without exaggeration, eighty-five plus hours a week. Everything we did expanded.” New York can take a lot of you, folks. You don’t have to live there to know that the lifestyle, especially for those that work in the service industry, can be tirelessly draining. But when you hear Ro compare a napkin fold be as important as the garnish of a dish is, you can tell that the man really cares about his work.

Eventually, he made his way back to Austin in 2014, working at some wonderful Austin restaurants: Jeffrey’s, opening Gardner, Boiler Nine, and now landing at Olamaie. I had the opportunity to witness Ro at work at this James Beard award-winning restaurant, during pre-shift. 

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola 

photo credit: moyo oyelola 

So, here’s the thing about pre-shift in restaurants. You know how before the big game, the team and coach get together to go over their game plan? This is the equivalent for the restaurant industry (sorry I tried to throw a sports reference in there when I know hardly anything about sports but I’m sure you feel me). Back in the day, when I worked in restaurant kitchens in Vegas, I’d try and eavesdrop on pre-shift talk from the front of the house managers and servers, because I was always intrigued by this daily ritual before service.

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

While I watched Ro in the midst of pre-shift, his staff so attentive, Chef Michael Fojtasek also at the helm of this meeting, it was all overwhelmingly inspiring. They went through the motions, what was available on the menu, new ingredients and rotating wines on their menu, and answered each other’s questions. Literally, you could have picked my jaw up off the floor because this is it, y’all!

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

This is Southern fine dining at its best in Austin, Texas. Locals love to gloat on how casual it is here and that we aren’t stuffy like them Yankees up in New York or those Californians in San Francisco but if you aren’t looking too closely, you may just miss a fine dining experience that is offered by some of the most dedicated professionals in the food & beverage industry.  

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

They ended their pre-shift with a word of the day, as Ro asked one of the sous chefs for a suggestion. “How about ‘welcome’? Since we have a new team member, I’m back in town, and it just seems appropriate.” On the count of three, the whole team shouted “Welcome!” in unison and broke for what I’m sure was a wonderful dinner service.

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

Thanks Ro, and thanks to the team at Olamaie, for making it known that there are some amazingly dedicated folks in our industry. 

Ashley Cheng, Owner & Partner / SPUN Ice Cream

“It was important to them that we went and got educations and didn’t end up in the food industry but somehow we did.”

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

The industry runs in the family, Ashely Cheng fully admits. The family landed in Austin in the seventies, with the help of her great uncle, a former math professor at Huston-Tillotson University, sponsoring their move. Looking back on it now, Ashley beams at the closeness of proximity between the SPUN Ice Cream flagship store and Huston-Tillotson in East Austin.

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

Her father owns Chinatown in the Bee Caves area (where she and her siblings learned the ways of industry, hands on) and her aunt owns Freda’s, a Cajun-influenced North Austin restaurant. She and her sister Christina, focused on degrees that weren’t based in the industry (Ashley went to Boston University and Christina went to UT after a stint at the University of Chicago). After a few years in journalism, Christina decided to get back in the family business and earned her pastry certificate from Le Cordon Bleu.

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

With the help of their cousin, Christopher, they opened SPUN in 2015. The trio manage the ice cream shop, with their focus on liquid nitrogen ice cream. “It’s not just a gimmick, it has a different texture. The ingredients are really fresh”, she says. Their focus of local and fresh ingredients and made from scratch mentality sets SPUN apart from other shops. Along with their flagship store on the East Side, they just opened their second location at the Domain along with their ice cream truck. “There’s so much room for creativity in the ice cream world. We focus on nostalgic, childhood flavors we grew up on”, Ashley points out. Not only does SPUN make it fun to play with your food, they tug at your heart strings with childhood flavor combos made for grown palettes.

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

SALO Series x Flavor & Bounty at Space 24 Twenty

Summer’s arrived in Austin and what better way is there to kick off the season than with a Filipino pop-up dinner?! A couple weeks ago, Yana Gilbuena of SALO Series came back to town and we threw INIT: A Filpino Summer Feast. This menu was an homage to our culture’s hot weather food full of whole fish, pickled vegetables, and plenty of that bright, green rice she’s known for!

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

photo credit: benjamin garrett

Thanks so much to Space 24 Twenty, Topo Chico, Chameleon Cold Brew, Tito’s Vodka, and all of our wonderful friends that helped out that night. Biggest thank you to Benjamin Garrett for capturing the night. <3

Kendall & John Antonelli, Owners / Antonelli's Cheese Shop

“It’s a cheesy love story, through and through”, Kendall Antonelli says when she talks about the labor of love that is Antonelli’s Cheese Shop.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

The two met in college, at Georgetown, and have been inseparable ever since. Kendall, hailing from North Texas, and John, coming from just outside of New York City, decided to move to Austin after college and get married. At the time, John was a CPA while Kendall worked for a local nonprofit in town. During their honeymoon, John turned around to Kendall and expressed his interest in the cheese business. They had no clue what was in store for them in that world but they decided that after the honeymoon, they’d pursue their dream. Two years later, the duo opened their doors to Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin’s Hyde Park Neighborhood.

kendall antonelli, adorably showing us around the cheese shop. photo credit: irvianne torremoro

kendall antonelli, adorably showing us around the cheese shop. photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

At first, the duo started out with themselves along with one other employee and have now expanded to 18 employees and plenty of regulars. Both their cheese shop and house have plenty of smiling faces willing able to help customers out in their selection of cheeses. They do practically everything: from working in wholesale with local restaurants and chefs, to their cheese of the month club, e-commerce, and events. 

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

At any given moment, there are about 75-100 cheeses in their store with an additional 100 cheeses at the cheese house, for local suppliers. Antonelli’s are proud members of the local Slow Food Austin chapter along with the Good Food Retailers Collaborative, supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Though the cheese world can be very overwhelming, they break it down in seven different categories: fresh, bloomy/soft rind, washed rind, semi-soft, firm, hard, and blue. Feel free to walk into the cheese shop at any given moment and ask their friendly cheesemongers for a Cheese 101 Tutorial, they’re always happy to walk you through ‘em! Though they’re often asked whether they make their own cheeses, they do not, but Kendall’s response is, “We don’t craft cheese, we craft stories.” Their story is one made with an abundance of passion and love, between each other and for what they do.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

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.

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