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

Joe Anguiano, Chef / VOX Table

Joe isn’t the typical chef.

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

photo credit: nicolai mccrary

He’s always smiling, which baffles me. Chefs usually have a permanent scowl etched onto their brow but he’s different. I first met Joe while training to open VOX Table last year. I was thrilled to be part of the opening team, which was considered to be Joe’s baby. VOX Table is all-encompassing, mostly due to Joe’s vision of what the dining experience should be. From the environment to the food, the components are experimental yet approachable, which works in a town like Austin.

He’s Los Angeles born and bred, which is something we bond over. His Saturdays weren’t spent in front of the television watching cartoons, he could usually be found at his family’s tortilla factory, where he learned the ins and outs of making fresh tortillas, from production to right off the conveyor belt. He credits his love of the industry to his family, mainly his grandmother and mother. They’ve kept him grounded - you can tell when he adoringly mentions that he still dreams of their homemade tamales and carnitas.

At seventeen, his father passed away on New Year’s Day and he was left to care for the factory, along with his grandmother and uncles. He ran his father’s part of the business but couldn’t keep up with the demand and strain that was put on a teenager and eventually left to take a year off.

He struggled to find what he wanted to pursue. One night he noticed that his apartment was bare bones: just a couch, television, and bed. Yet his kitchen was filled to the brim with tools: knives, glassware, pots, and utensils galore. Cooking is what made sense, it was in his blood.

Joe toyed around with the idea of leaving Los Angeles for San Francisco but instead found himself at the Southern California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. Days were long and hard. Ten hour school days were followed by work at local restaurants, all while finding time to socialize. His graduating class consisted of eleven students and only two of them still pursuing a culinary career today.

During this time, Joe was taken with downtown Los Angeles and the solitude found in the early hours, before the local markets opened up. His vigor and enthusiasm when recalling local produce and fish is inspiring. His face lights up, his hand gestures become even more extravagant as he stresses that quality is the most important aspect of selecting ingredients.

Seizing the opportunity while within his grasp, Joe embraced a six month tour in Spain, having worked under chefs such as José Andrés. “It was amazing working in a place with so much natural beauty”, he recalls while warmly reminiscing about vast greenery and numerous meals enjoyed all over Spain and France.

His experience overseas went home with him to Los Angeles, until he and his wife decided to move to Austin in 2011. Joe promised himself that he’d take it easy in Austin and decided not to pursue a job for at least three months. He lasted only one month before the itch to get in the kitchen took over. After a brief stint at Uchi, Joe found himself at Eleven Plates, where he revamped the menu and eventually met Vincent Maguino. Together they collaborated on what is now VOX Table. With a second restaurant in the works, Joe doesn’t have any plans to slow down.

His work ethic shines through his food and you can tell that he cares from the moment that you step foot into the restaurant. Joe is always on the front line, ready for service, while speaking to his cooks of how they can embrace the trade. “To be a chef, you have to be a mentor”, he says with all seriousness. Several of the members of his opening team are still working under him to this day, a true testament to his leadership.

While at VOX Table, Joe always mentioned that I was welcome in the kitchen to relive my glory days, post-culinary school. I took him up on the offer recently, helping him prepare a special for a Friday night. He let me help him with his dish of sea bream, paired with morels and ramps, and topped with a parsley vinaigrette.

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

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