Melissa Yanc, Pastry Chef / Gjusta

“Irvi, this is Melissa! My baker friend I wanted you to meet!”

photo credit: eric michael pearson

photo credit: eric michael pearson

It’s no surprise here that Yana Gilbuena knows just about everyone there is to know in whatever city you throw her way. I mean, the woman does pop-up dinners all over the world, so it’s a given that she’d introduce me to some amazingly talented people in the food world.

Picture this: me, in the weeds trying to finish up all the food we’re about to serve to the largest guest list I’ve had the pleasure of cooking for. Yana is my calm before the storm, while I’ve mastered the art of being seemingly collected while in my head, I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Thoughts racing like, “Holy crap, EVERYONE is here and ready to sit for this dinner but we’re still scrambling to finish all of these courses, what the fuck do we do?!”

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

Enter in: Melissa Yanc, Yana’s baker friend that she’s raved about. “You two would really get along,” I briefly remember Yana telling me earlier in the day. Yanc walks right up to me, with this huge smile on her face and offers any assistance throughout the night. And boy, did we need the assistance (or at least I did). Melissa’s good nature and infectious laugh got me through a hectic night and by the time the last of the guest were leaving, we’d already exchanged numbers.

There were late night drinks to be had on my last night in the city and I offered an invite to Melissa, so we could catch up. “Sorry, baker’s hours. I have to be up at five in the morning! Next time, though.” Ah, the life of a baker that lived on the Upper West Side and had to commute down to Brooklyn for work. All the kudos and appreciation for women like her. It was a given that we’d catch up another time.

Little did I know that we’d catch up in a different city, on the West Coast. Since last seeing Melissa in New York, she’s moved back to the West Coast. Settling in as pastry chef of beloved Gjusta in Venice Beach. Life seems to have come full circle for Melissa now.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

She’d been baking with her grandma since she was eight and always loved it but hadn’t realized that it could be a career for her until her dad (also he best friend, come on that’s the cutest thing ever) told her that she should pursue cooking. She then moved from California to attend Johnson & Wales in Denver, Colorado. She’s spent time behind the line before moving on to pastry, working at Uncle and pursuing her wholesale business, Sugar Vision, which led to La Fillette. Being such a heavy hitter in Denver, she decided to make a huge career move to New York, becoming the pastry sous chef at Bien Cuit.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

While we sat at Gjusta talking about life, she admits that she’s a self-proclaimed science nerd and combining her two loves has made her journey more fun than work. She doesn’t mind the long hours, even when she’s chugging along while confessing that she’s got a bun in the oven (yes, all my friends are having babies and I’m so happy!) and she does it all with pride, while cracking jokes with her staff and that infectious laugh of hers. Can’t wait to see her next time I’m back in Los Angeles.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

SALO Series x Flavor and Bounty: BARKADA / SHE TALKS: Food and Feminism

PHEW! Last week was a whirlwind, to say the least. I'd just like to share that this year has definitely led me to more opportunities than I can count and I'm blessed to even keep doing what I love to do. 

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

Special shoutout to my number one collaborator/bestie/mentor/most inspirational woman, Yana Gilbuena of Salo Series. Every single time she's back in Texas, we link up to host a pop-up dinner and it's nothing short of a rush. As soon as she arrived in Austin, we hit the ground running and we don't stop until the party's over.

photo credit: moyo oyelola

photo credit: moyo oyelola

FLAVOR_SALOa-001.jpg

Thanks to all the familiar faces that have come out to support us and we're so grateful for the new friends that have decided to join in. Sharing our food and culture is especially what makes the Salo Series x Flavor and Bounty collaborations important. There's nothing more than I'd love than a bigger platform for friends, old and new, to experience these kamayan-style dinners. Rest assured, Yana and I will be at it again soon enough. There's always a next time.

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: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

I also had the opportunity to moderate a panel for the ever inspiring, ##BBATX. If you haven't heard of Boss Babes and you live in Austin, look 'em up right away. They've given a platform for women all over the spectrum to connect and network. Their new speaker series, SHE TALKS: Food and Feminism, builds on a panel discussion to for professional development and a platform for women to answer hard-hitting questions. The panel was a thoughtfully curated group of amazing women that are killing the game: Deepa Shirdhar of Puli-Ra, Priscilla Jerez of Cool Beans Eatery, and Stephanie Scherzer of Farmhouse Delivery. This isn't the last you'll hear about these women, too.  

photo credit: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

And yes, you guessed it, food and feminism? Of course I wanted to be a part of this conversation! Two subjects that are near and dear to my heart plus meeting a slew of inspiring women in the industry? I'm happy to report that my voice only cracked once during my introduction and I was able to touch on the issues of sexism, race, and sisterhood all in one sitting. Does that sound like a win-win? You bet your ass it does. 

panel11.jpg
photo credit: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

photo credit: alexandra kacha

Katy Milam, Chef & Tatanka Guerrero, Owner / Al Campo, Marfa, TX

“I’m moving to Marfa, I’ve got ten days.”

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

Katy Milam moved to Marfa from Los Angeles earlier this year. On a whim, she visited for three days after her good friend, Tatanka Guerrero, asked her to. He offered her a position as chef at Al Campo - the newest restaurant in town. The rest is history.

Katy spent the last 15 years in Los Angeles, working at a company that wasn’t challenging or creative enough. “My soul was dying,” she recalls as talked about her job search - she eventually responded to an ad from a production company that needed help executing workshops. When she interviewed, they admitted that they needed someone that could also cook. Within weeks, it turned into only cooking. It spiraled from there - she started doing catering gigs, productions, doing popups, and everything in between.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

She comes from a long line of Cajuns from New Orleans, so it's no wonder that Katy felt at ease in the kitchen. Most of what she’s known in the kitchen, she learned from her mother and grandmother. The slower pace in Marfa has seeped into her routine, like it does for everyone thats moved there. She enjoys spending her time in the kitchen, perfecting her smoked chicken taco recipe and looking out the window as someone takes their first bite of food. 

As for Tatanka, he’s been in the industry for a bit. He worked the bar scene in Miami, to opened new concepts in Las Vegas, and after an epiphany with his business partner, he found himself in Marfa, enamored by the small town charm and ability to attract expats from all over the world to the remote Texas desert.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

He spent the first three months in Marfa taking it in before breaking ground on the project. The idea of building out their hotel brand, Hotel Bohemio, was perfect for the environment.  “The journey that we are on right now is to become part of the community and to build culture,” he explains. You can tell that the man has put forth so much time and effort into the concept, making the Al Campo space as comfortable as possible. “You build a little bit of that passion every day here,” Tatanka stresses when he talks about the dedication and hard work that his small team has brought.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

These two are prime examples of what you’ll find in Marfa - individuals dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, in the middle of the desert. Marfa’s a carefree place, there’s no such thing as traffic jams, and people have to constantly remind you to slow it down when you’re out there. The community is supportive of endeavors such as Al Campo and open to tourists and weekend warriors alike.

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

photo credit: irvianne torremoro

It’s really a magical oasis smack dab in the midst of West Texas, full of art, creatives, warm greetings, and quirky townspeople.

photo credit: jake pritchard, adventure assist

photo credit: jake pritchard, adventure assist

Jen Cumberbatch, Founder & Owner / Cumberbatch's Sweet Tater Torte

“That’s what we do, we break bread. It’s in our culture, this has been passed down in my family.”

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

I was completely taken by Jen Cumberbatch when I first sat down to speak to her. The woman has such a delightful presence and is so poised when she speaks of the beginnings of Cumberbatch’s Sweet Tater Torte. Not only is she the founder of these delicious concoctions, she’s also an actress, mother of four, and a pastor.

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

Her grandfather was the oldest son in his family - with four other siblings to take care of. He dropped out of prep school to help his sister  with her catering businesses in order to put the others through school. During his time catering, he passed down the recipe for a sweet potato torte to Jen’s aunts. Jen learned of the recipe from her Aunt Lou and it quickly became a staple during the holidays. The Cumberbatch’s moved to Austin after college and have been a staple in the community since then.

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

She was inspired by dinner at her mentoring pastor’s house when a Cajun woman presented her pie. With the inspiration of her great grandfather’s souffle and that pie, she tinkered away until she perfected her own recipe. She presented her tortes to the public almost thirty years ago, working out of the kitchen of Hyde Park Bar & Grill. Eventually, the tortes were put on the back burner until recently.

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

As of October of last year, Jen has brought them back, mainly for holidays and hoping to start shipping her famed family recipe. She believes that storytelling through food is a powerful medium to evoke higher thinking and most of all, a better human connection.

CSTT_-100.jpg
photo credit: hakeem adewumi

photo credit: hakeem adewumi

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. 

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

SALO Series x Flavor & Bounty Popup dinner, Space Ninety 8

Serendipitous encounters and grit brought Yana Gilbuena of SALO Series and I back together in Brooklyn for a popup dinner at the wonderful Space Ninety 8 venue. Last December, my family and I had just driven from Las Vegas to Los Angeles for Christmas and I excitedly brought them to Lasa, where the Valencia brothers are at the helm of modern Filipino food. I looked over to my left and saw a familiar face and approached a table of two, “Hey this might sound crazy, but were you at a brunch popup back in November in Austin?” Tania Enriquez, looked up at me with a huge grin on her face, and we immediately hit it off. She introduced me to her friend, Diane Chang, of Eating Popos, who has hosted events at the Urban Outfitters/Space Ninety 8 venue, and they suggested a Filipino popup dinner in New York. We started an e-mail thread, wished each other happy holidays and good luck into the new year and were off.

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

Quickly after the new year started, the ball was rolling when Yana jumped on board for the popup dinner. Since the woman is a force all on her own and completely down for most anything, especially when it comes to travel and food, I knew she’d be on board. She booked her tickets, we put the menu together, and February rolled around in no time.

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

The week of the popup was hectic and crazy but definitely worth all the running around we did, from Brooklyn to Queens and back to Brooklyn. Asian markets in Flushing are no joke, if anyone was wondering. We’re so thankful for Neil Syham of Lumpia Shack for rolling through and bringing us plus all of our produce back to Williamsburg.

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

I cannot thank everyone enough for spending their Friday night with us and enjoying the food of our culture. It’s always a pleasant surprise when the nerves wash away and I can breathe a sigh of relief, look at Yana, and proclaim, “Dang girl, we did it, again!” She’s so used to the high energy that it doesn’t even phase her at this point. Thank you to Heidi Lee and Eric Michael Pearson for capturing the night. A huge shout out to the amazing team behind Space Ninety 8 and Urban Outfitters for helping us put this together: Tania Enriquez, Cara Flaherty, Cristina Fisher, and Sheewa Salehi.

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: heidi lee

photo credit: eric michael pearson

photo credit: eric michael pearson

photo credit: eric michael pearson

photo credit: eric michael pearson

photo credit: eric michael pearson

photo credit: eric michael pearson

photo credit: eric michael pearson

photo credit: eric michael pearson

squad goals/fempire: diane chang, cara flaherty, tania enqriuez, yana gilbuena, &amp; yours truly. xoxo, ladies, now let's get in formation. &lt;3&nbsp;

squad goals/fempire: diane chang, cara flaherty, tania enqriuez, yana gilbuena, & yours truly. xoxo, ladies, now let's get in formation. <3 

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.

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 &nbsp;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: &nbsp;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:&nbsp;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:&nbsp;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:&nbsp;nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit:&nbsp;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:&nbsp;nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit:&nbsp;nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary