Carissa and I traveled to Montreal a couple of weeks ago. We were totally blown away by what a wonderful city it is, so gorgeous and French. Like Paris, except with really friendly people (JUST KIDDING PARIS - jeez, you can be so touchy).
We found an amazing bistro called L'Express (ok, we didn't "find" it exactly - our friend Carenn Jackson, chenin blanc queen, told us to go there). L'Express serves stunningly good and exactingly traditional French fare and has the wine list of my dreams. The city was flooded with people wearing their light summer clothing that spends most of the year stored in a trunk, awaiting the end of a long, frigid winter. Surrounded by the joyful energy of those who couldn't wait to leave the house every day, it was easy to forget that the weather isn't 70 degrees all summer everywhere you go.
That fantasy world evaporated more or less immediately when we stepped off the plane at Bergstrom. Dang. Central Texas summer has arrived, y'all. It is fried-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot out there.
But even though the sun is...more
A couple of Thursdays ago, I awoke early to a thudding sound just outside my window - which was odd, because I generally sleep on the second floor. I cracked one eye enough to see dim grey light - the kind that comes just before sunrise. Some part of me remembered it was my 56th birthday, but for a moment, further details were foggy.
Then I remembered. I was in Santa Fe - attending a writers' workshop led by my longtime writing mentor Natalie Goldberg and my dear friend, recent James Beard award winner for food writing, Bill Addison. That thudding sound? Well - that was snow sliding wet and heavy off the roof onto the veranda where it plopped in a pile and slowly melted in the 35 degree morning air. No wonder I couldn't quite place my surroundings.
The theme for the workshop was food writing. It was conducted in the manner of all of Natalie's workshops, which are grounded in her long practice of Zen Buddhism, and utilize meditation as a way to quiet the mind, allowing space for a deepened experience of writing practice.
Our group of...more
Some summers, in the dead heat of July, my dad and I would load up the station wagon and drive seven long hours to East Texas. As the trip would drag on, I'd pull the fold-out map from its place behind the visor and check off towns as they went by - Huntsville, Jasper - markers to measure our progress. Despite the 70mph speed limit, the ride seemed endless. Bored, I would clamor over the seat and into the back to forage the styrofoam ice chest for snacks, before climbing back over to sit (unbelted) in the passenger seat, where I'd try not to fidget.
Late in the day we would arrive on the shores of Toledo Bend, the enormous reservoir that delineates the southern half of the Texas/Louisiana border. We would pitch our canvas army surplus tent, fold out cots, and unroll cotton sleeping bags. Dad would sit out under the towering pines with my godfather (better known to me as "Uncle Juggy") who had driven up from Beaumont. On folding lawn chairs, with their legs stretched out in front of them, they would drink cans of Schlitz or Falstaff and reminisce...more
Wednesday mornings, you can usually find me huddled with Whitney at Table 20 (the 2-top closest to the parking lot door) going over our promotional efforts, including what I might write for the week's email. This week, Whitney had a pretty good suggestion - chronicling the journey of a single croissant all the way through the production process. In truth, I have been pleased with their quality lately, so the idea stuck.
This set me thinking about the old days, when I first learned to make croissants from scratch back in late 1981 or early 1982. I have vague memories of sidling up to the butcher block counter and slicing up whole sticks of butter; of mom showing me how to lay the sliced butter flat on a piece of hand mixed dough, then how to fold it in on top of itself, roll it back out and repeat the motion three to four times.
We used these very small French rolling pins (solid pieces of wood that tapered a bit at the ends) and worked with very small batches of dough that only made about a dozen croissants each. Once the dough was...more
Like I mentioned in my last email, our restaurant usually has a relatively quiet SXSW experience as we're situated away from the festival's primary tourist corridors. The bakery, on the other hand, catches a full-on dose of SXSW insanity, sending out pastries, breads, muffins, buns, you name it, not only to our regular wholesale accounts, but to caterers and out of town operations to feed the industry and convention hoards that flood downtown this time each year.
As such, it seems like an ideal moment to pull back the curtain and introduce one of the folks who is largely unseen at TFB but whose critical work keeps our wheels on, so to speak: Dennis Day, referred to around the shop as Fleet Commander of Texas French Bread.
Dennis has been known to wear driving gloves, crocodile leather boots, and vintage Star Wars tees. His superhero-like stealth allows him to dart around the bakery between the hours of midnight and nine am, organizing and packing bread products. In the very early hours of the morning, with recognizable style and sharp wits...more
Every year about this time I send out the same email. SXSW WOO HOO! (Giant eye roll.)
Look people, hang tough. We can get through this.
For those of you staying in town and braving the barbarian hordes over the next couple of weeks - yes, we are open. We have plenty of parking. You don't have to go downtown. You don't have to deal with the even-more-inane-than-usual traffic.
Really. You can just come hang out with us. We'll prepare a lovely meal for you. Think of this email as a personal invitation, along with a hug and a soothing mental margarita (we don't sell margaritas, but mental merlot didn't really have quite the ring). The point is - we've got you covered.
Speaking of adult beverages, I'm overdue in making a couple of suggestions about what to drink next time you're at TFB. Ok, admittedly that mostly involves me writing down the three or four things that wine director Betty Cole has gotten me really excited about lately. With that in mind, here are some wines that I think are showing exceptionally well and that you...more
I need to talk about our new Chef. Yep. You heard that here first - new Chef. You know him, you love him - his name is Josh Williams.
A few months ago, in the wake of Chef Kenny's departure for greener pastures, Josh Williams stalwartly volunteered to step up, not specifically as Chef at the time, but rather as kitchen manager - a title generally reserved for some sweaty dude in a dirty apron. This thankless job typically involves ordering produce, posting work schedules, cleaning the walk-in cooler, and getting bitched at for anything and everything that goes wrong - you know, keeping tabs on the dirty details while the creative types with the tweezers poking out of their starched chef's coats take all the credit.
Previously, Josh served as the jack-of-all-trades mainstay on our management team. He was instrumental in building our coffee program, and he's been money when it comes to making sure we avoid shortcuts, and stay focused on bringing in the best of everything - ingredients, equipment, people, you name it.
Last week was an emotional overload for me and many folks I know. But in truth, the entire year has felt rather stunningly charged and I've found it very difficult to write at all. The riff that I usually employ for this column involves weaving current events in with the comings and goings at Texas French Bread in a way that I hope comes across as lighthearted or even a bit silly, but that eventually winds its way around to a message illustrating our core values of inclusiveness and community. This year, it seems that everything has taken on a kind of political third rail quality that doesn't have much to offer in the lighthearted silliness department.
I've always believed that politics are about the art of the possible. As adults in a free country, we have little choice other than to face up to difficult challenges, choosing among wildly imperfect options with no guarantees of success. Anyone talking about simple and obvious right answers to such hard questions has either never held a position of leadership and responsibility, or they're...more
I'm writing today to provide some additional details regarding our upcoming prix fixe dinner with Jester King Brewery, which is this Monday, October 24, at 6:30 pm.
But as I sit here today pondering the connections between bread and beer - brewing and bakery fermentation - it occurs to me that I really say far too little in these emails about our bakery and the folks on our overnight crew who produce a staggering variety of high quality bread and pastries. They do amazing work at crazy hours of the night, 365 nights a year.
Please forgive the non sequitur. Anyway - where was I again? Oh yeah, next Monday night we're overjoyed to be doing a special dinner featuring...more
Late July. I borrow the beat up brown Suburban from Laurence, load up The Tessa and her friend Dottie the Labradoodle (instagram's dottielange), and Ilana and I head northeast. Ilana and Dottie are bound for Northampton, MA, where they grew up. Tess and I are making for the coast of Maine where Laurence and Judy have summered in recent years.
Two weeks in, the bright colors, daily venue changes, and fresh experiences of the trip begin to seem almost normal - not the break from routine realities of daily life that they actually are. And a host of fresh, sensory memories try to arrange themselves into something of a pattern...
Long hours on the road. Tessa snores away, wedged between my bicycle, the two cases of wine Betty chose for my trip, the galvanized garbage pail filled...more
photograph above from Domaine de la Tournelle website
If you came by to see us last week you may have noticed that someone's missing - that's right y'all, Murph Willcott actually took a vacation.
The day before he left, as I packed up a box (okay, two boxes) of wine for him to bring along, Murph reminded me that his last proper vacation was over three years ago, when he went to France for a writer's retreat. He was sort of wide-eyed, disbelieving, as if the notion that he could actually leave town again for a while was a surreal proposition. I reminded him, it's only a few weeks. He's on the road now, headed up to meet his family on the East coast with Tessa in tow, stopping off at adorable farm-to-table restaurants with interesting wine lists and dog friendly patios (... sounds familiar) along the way.
To ease our current woe in missing the big guy, we're eagerly anticipating the return of our beloved manager/handyman/barista/grill cook Josh, who's been wining and dining in Jura and cycling through the forests of Alsace...more
photograph above by Chelsea Laine Francis
As I mentioned in my previous email, I recently had the great pleasure of once again speaking with Mark Rashap on his wine focused radio show, Another Bottle Down, which airs on KOOP radio (91.7 FM) at 1pm on Tuesday afternoons. If you missed it and you're interested in listening to our conversation, you can access a podcast of the show here.
Mark and I had what for me was a fascinating exchange regarding the overlap between wine making, bread baking and cooking. We began by focusing on sourcing pristine ingredients as the prerequisite for pretty much everything that follows. We then moved into a discussion regarding the degree of...more
The heat of summer is upon us. It's July again. And you know what that means -Bastille Day is coming.
OH DEAR GOD, that has a sort of Stark-like "Winter is coming" ring to it, I fear. I know I've written about last summer's Bastille Day festivities a couple of times already, but seriously - that particular evening's service seemed, at the time, almost as traumatic for your faithful scribe (me) as I imagine the original Bastille Day might have been for those who suffered through it.
Around this time last year, Whitney had recently signed on as our in-house media director and dutifully set up a Facebook event page a few days prior announcing that we would feature $7 rosé, $7 mussels, and $7 frites on the big night.
Seemed like a safe enough plan,...more
Graduation weekend is behind us, but I've been meaning to give a shout out to one of our most interesting new wholesale partners.
This spring we had an opportunity to make hot dog buns as a pilot program for Austin ISD schools. We started a couple of months ago, delivering what I think are some pretty tasty (and nutritious) whole wheat buns to AISD's high schools. They serve them with a nitrite/anitbiotic free turkey dog.
Sounds better than anything we had back in my days at Austin High. In fairness, I was only there a semester and I don't really remember that much about it. I may not have ever set foot in the cafeteria (I was kind of a food snob, who'd have thought).
I definitely remember my years as a border at St. Stephens though - the awfulness of the food served there in the 1970s is the stuff of legend - definitely no nitrite free turkey dogs on freshly, locally baked whole wheat buns.
I mention this because it's been great work. Making real, healthy food for the kids in our public school system strikes all of us over...more
I'm interrupting your regular broadcast of TFB news as told by our owner, Murph Willcott. You see, today is Murph's birthday, so it seemed only fitting to turn the tables on his narration and contemplate on our own daily interactions with him as fearless leader of the restaurant - and Tessa as princess of the realm. Sorry, Murph, it has to be done. Please don't fire me.
I moved to Austin about six years ago and got my first job in town at TFB, waiting tables for the then-BYOB dinner service. Everyone was figuring the whole dinner thing out - Hall Sheriff was still a server buying golf clubs on eBay mid-service; Josh Williams made sandwiches during the day when he wasn't traveling; Ben Decherd helped me reach all the high shelves and kept the jokes comin'; Jess was a shy, behind-the-scenes backwaiter; Dan Freeman was just starting as a line cook; and Betty, well she was being exactly as charming as she is today. Eventually I moved onto other things, but after a few years I returned to Texas French Bread, much like Hall, Josh, Ben and Betty did...more
As anybody who knows me will attest, I love memes. The dumber (and/or generally more offensive) they are, the harder I laugh. Recently I saw a great one about "raw" food. It showed a half-eaten roll of cookie dough with a caption that said, "who knew the raw food diet could be so delicious?" I loved this.
Anyway - this got me thinking about raw food. You know, I can't say I'm particularly a fan of the idea. I mean, there's a reason cooking and human civilization evolved hand in hand, right? I'm no nutritionist, but I do question whether you can actually eat kale if it's not sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil with a big handful of coarse chopped garlic - just saying.
Now, one of the first things I learned how to "cook" was technically a raw food... wait - actually, now that I think about it, the very first thing I learned to cook was macaroni and cheese - Kraft macaroni & cheese in the blue box to be precise. It had that silver foil pouch full of a really sharp, grainy, cheese powder (seriously, cheese powder? I could totally...more
Occasionally I have the great pleasure of sending out one these weekly emails on a subject that is truly dear to my heart. I'm a single middle-aged man who is less likely every year to unexpectedly get hitched and start having kids. I don't know why that is, but arguably it's because I'm kind of married already to the restaurant (I mean it's got to be that, because I'm really super easy to get along with, right?). Anyway, it's always a special moment to me when one of my surrogate kids takes a meaningful step forward in their lives and embarks on a new stage in their journey.
This week, Betty Cole, who many of you know by her easy charm and lovely visage about the TFB dining room most evenings, has earned a promotion and is joining our management team. I couldn't be happier or more excited for both of us. Betty's new role will make her the primary leader for our service team in the evenings and in addition she will assume the all-important care of our seemingly ever-expanding wine list under her new title - Beverage Director. Woo Hoo - GO...more
Well - I guess spring is here early this year. In light of these beautiful days I've been spending my lunch hours lap-swimming at Deep Eddy Pool (also because that's what you do when you're a boss - did I mention I love my job?). Anyway - spring weather is patio weather, and I wanted to take a second to remind y'all that we've got a pretty nifty patio.
We introduced the stunning remodel of our garden/patio (v2.0?) last spring, and it was quickly named one of the Best Patios in Austin by Eater and praised as a great spot for...more
Last week I sent out a note about our holiday party at Conan's - how much I was enjoying everyone at the company these days and how fortunate if feels to be me as a result. This week seemed a fine time to note that it's not all about me and Texas French Bread. It seems some of our wonderful crew actually lead exciting lives and do stuff in their spare time that is impactful and has a life of it's own.
This week one of our crew, Matt Puckett, won a Grammy award - you know, the little statue with the horn that's like an Oscar, but for music... just let that sink in for a moment.
Matt came to work at Texas French Bread last year. He attended LBJ High School in south Austin with our very own Betty Cole. He moved to New York City for college to attend Fordham University, where he studied sociology and theology.
When I learned Matt was up for a Grammy, I assumed it was for his work as a driving force behind the critically acclaimed Austin band, Mother Falcon. I saw Mother Falcon play a "secret show" over at Spider house last summer and...more
I've spent some time visiting with Chef Ben about the Valentine's Weekend prix fixe this Saturday and Sunday night at $65 a person. I wanted to send out a little more info on it and I need to note one last minute change.
The first course oysters will be drenched in buttermilk, cornmeal battered and fried (and yes, they will be GF friendly - that's gluten free - although we assume your girlfriend will be good with these too). The gulf oysters we got in are enormous and Chef made an executive decision to go fried, rather than on the half shell - dude is from the East Coast, what can I say? This dish is going to rock - Texas oysters are the business.
If giant fried bivalves feel a little intimidating (are you sure you're from Texas?) you can always opt for choice no. 2 - Chef Ben's killer bruschettas, which he's sending out with creamy, house-made goat ricotta and Round Rock Honey.
The second course features a choice of beautifully composed Tejas vegetables. Some...more
Last Sunday we had our annual company holiday party. That's how we roll in bakery world (see what I did there?). We hold our holiday parties at the end of January, because that's when we can.
Seriously though, what about the company party thing - kinda weird, don't y'all think? For some reason the whole idea of the "company party" makes me think about the seventies. It feels like there's going to be middle aged men in plaid slacks and bad ties hanging around the punch bowl talking sales numbers. You know - overflowing ashtrays and late inebriated arguments over the stuff that's been building for years, while an unpleasant little rumor whispers its way over the white shag carpet and down the divan regarding a certain drunken liaison that may or may not have occurred either in the coat closet, or possibly back at the office between two parties who are married - but definitely not to each other... sheesh. Maybe I took that a little far...
Well, our holiday party at was nothing like that. We all met at Conan's Pizza, just...more
Can we talk about Valentine's Day for a minute?
I'm not going to sugarcoat this (see what I did there?). I'm afraid I'm a bit challenged when it comes to the whole Valentine thing. I mean, seriously - it's a national freaking holiday devoted to the thing that some of us have proven to be not so great at - am I right? I mean, did we have to do that?
Look, it's not that I don't honor the subject. Certainly I find the idea of L-O-V-E worthy of contemplation, longing, maybe a few pleasant daydreams along the way. I've generally found the whole notion of romantic love to be so ridiculously huge, awe-inspiring, complex, vexing, and altogether breathtaking that, well... I'm just going to go ahead and admit right here that it has, on occasion, caused me do a few really dumb things. Fortunately all that craziness is behind me now. In addition to being older and smarter, many of you know that for the past several years I've been in serious monogamous relationship - with my dog, Tessa.
Anyway, my shortcomings in this area...more
My Fellow Texas French Bread lovers,
I stand before you today to tell you that the state of our bakery game is STRONG.
Thank you, Thank you... (waits for applause to die down, peers out into vast cavernous room, adjusts apron)...
Today I can report to you that 2015 was a bellwether year for our little bakery community. Sales were up. Annoying problems were down. And the quality and consistency of our food and service continues to improve! (standing ovation, wild applause...)
Ok - I don't know where that silliness is coming from, but I did want to say what a great year we had, and I guess with the State of the Union and all, that's what popped out. In all seriousness, last year was an amazing year for us at TFB. We met or exceeded virtually every goal we set for ourselves. We are incredibly grateful to all of you who show up week in and week out to support us, making yourselves an essential part of the community we seek to build. You have given us an incredibly precious gift - a chance to do good and meaningful work that we care about. And we...more
I wanted to send out a final email with a few more details and a teaser or two about our New Year's Eve service. We're filling up quickly, but we've still got a table for you, so jump on our website here and book a table while we can still get you in.
Ok - first of all, we're going to be pouring some complimentary bubbly - probably the Franc Peillot Montagnieu, which is some wildly good methode traditionelle. Chef has also hinted to me that our planned amuse bouche for guests involves Idaho river sturgeon caviar - I've tried it and it's pretty awesome.
The first course is a choice between:
a) Boggy Creek Farm greens with our house ricotta (made from MillKing milk) or
b) a smoked trout mousse with crème fraiche, mustard, lemon zest and, yes, the pain de campagne that I will be personally baking off mid-day Thursday....more
One of my favorites of the holiday treats we bake at this time of year is our cranberry walnut bread. I asked Mom about how we had started making it and she couldn't remember what year it had been or whose recipe we'd used. Which is not all that surprising I suppose, as she looked through her scrapbook and found the flyer below from back when we only had two shops.
Now if memory serves, we opened our third Texas French Bread in a narrow shotgun hallway of a space in a building on the west side of Congress Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets around 1984-5. This means we were already making cranberry bread during the holidays in the very earliest days of the business (and at the bargain price of $9.75 - ah, the good old days).
And it was in one of those early years that we realized these loaves were ideal for mailing long distances to loved ones in other cities. So once a year, we have a packing party where we box up big piles of them, tie them in ribbons, jot out a hand written note, and rush them to the post office,...more
It's that time of the year again - the time for giving gifts. Now. Before you totally collapse into a seething ball of stress, whimpering on the floor and calling out "traffic jam!" - let me comfort your poor delicate sensibilities. We've got a whole host of perfect -and easy- gifts for those incredibly tough-to-shop-for friends or relatives.
In all seriousness though - this is actually a really fun time of year in the bakery. I can't remember when exactly we started making our tins of fancy holiday/Xmas cookies (see how I did that?), but every year at this time, we get together and work our tails off as a team to get them out.
First, baker Tino makes most of the doughs on the overnight shift. Tiny ginger snaps and mocha walnuts are scooped. Spritz cookies get poked with the blunt end of a Sharpie and filled with raspberry jam. Checkerboards must be rolled out and layered together in their classic alternating pattern. The point is, tray upon tray upon tray of these dainty little cookies are painstakingly pieced together and then...more
The holidays are upon us. In shop, we have a number of seasonal specialties for purchase, including pumpkin and pecan pies, rustic apple galettes, and cranberry tea bread. This year marks the return of an old favorite, the chocolate cherry sourdough bread made with rich, dark cocoa powder and loaded with chunks of bittersweet Valrhona chocolate and dried sour cherries - it's truly special.
If you're looking to place an order to pick up at Texas French Bread, please note that in an effort to stay organized this holiday season, we are no longer taking special orders over the phone. We've created a handy order sheet that you can find...more
We have finalized our menu and wine pairings for this Sunday evening's four course dinner with Carol Ann and Larry of Boggy Creek Farm (see below).
This dinner will celebrate the Fall season, our longstanding relationship with these two incredible members of Austin's urban farm community, and the work of our new chef, Ben Schwartz, who has been creating exciting farm-fresh dishes in our bistro kitchen. The company, food and wine are all not to be missed. We only have a few remaining seats, so please reserve on our website for Sunday, November 1 at 6:30 pm to secure your place.
Hope to see you there.
As I mentioned in my previous email, we're holding a special harvest dinner this Sunday evening to celebrate Boggy Creek Farm. Although it seems like yesterday, brother Ben and I began serving our farm-based dinners at TFB late in the summer of 2008. And the truth is, if we'd tried even a few years earlier, it would have been far more difficult to serve meals with predominantly local and sustainably grown foods.
It is no exaggeration to say that from that very first weekend - when I emailed everyone we knew and begged them to come out and indulge our crazy notion that we could cook restaurant quality dinner - right through to the present, Boggy Creek has been absolutely essential to Texas French Bread.
I feel like I've personally learned enough about how real food is grown from Carol Ann and Larry to fill a book, and it's no...more
There's a crispness and shift in the air as our late summer has begun to give way to something more closely resembling autumn. To mark that change, on Sunday, November 1 at 6:30 pm, we will host a dinner celebrating the contributions of the urban agrarians that really help create the spiritual heart of our restaurant, Boggy Creek Farm. Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle, owners/farmers, will be in attendance and will tell us how they became so passionate about farming. The menu will be based on their current crops (with wine pairings available).
This past spring, we launched the Texas French Bread garden patio with a casual Garden Party in the new space, beautifully designed by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects. We were humbled and overjoyed by the community turnout. The evening was such a success, we decided we had to host another one as soon as Austin weather would allow it. That time is finally here. Our Fall Garden Party is coming up this Sunday, October 4 from 6 - 9 pm. Bring your friends, bring your family, bring your pups. All are welcome.
Like the last Garden Party, there will be limited small bites being passed around to all guests. Only this time around, in response to your feedback from the last party, we will also have a bar menu for purchase that Chef Ben will be preparing. No one leaves hungry at Texas French Bread if we can help it.
As for drinks, expect a Real Ale Brewing Co. keg filled with their Hans Pils for $4 a pour and some incredible wines for $8 a glass - including a rosé we just can't get enough of, a refreshing Gruner...more
Most of the time I'm writing to see if I can get you on board for events that are upcoming. But occasionally we get involved in something that's worth a little post-event reporting. Such is the case this week with regard to TRIBEZA Magazine's Dinner x Design soiree at Fair Market last night. The event paired five designers with five chefs, the designers putting together tables and accompanying "environments" for roughly 25 guests each, and the chefs bringing it, with food to match, including your very own Texas French Bread (or as I like to think of us in this context, "Boulangerie Cinderella").
You see, these kinds of events are generally for the hotshots, and media darlings, where it takes weeks to get a reservation - not under the radar, super yummy, "I can't believe we didn't know they served dinner", type neighborhood venues like our beloved TFB. So when Lauren Smith Ford of TRIBEZA emailed me to say that Fern Santini had requested that we pair with her for this dinner, we were very excited.
For those of you who don't...more
On Wednesday and Saturday mornings I get up early and head over to Boggy Creek Farm in East Austin. This can sometimes be a challenge if the previous night at the restaurant is a busy one - as happened this past Tuesday evening when a rather sizeable gathering of food and wine industry folk came to the restaurant to honor the lovely and wonderful Carenn Jackson. She is about to decamp for the bay area, where she will shortly become the west coast rep for highly respected Copain Winery. So Wednesday morning this week was a hard one. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't go back to a day job for love or money. But just saying - the struggle can be real.
Despite the night before, I manage to roll out of bed a little before 7. The Tessa (my beloved borzoi) - who loves nothing quite so much as sleeping in - somehow rouses as well and and follows me to the kitchen, probably because the one thing she actually does like better than sleep is breakfast. I brew coffee under the unforgiving florescent light over my kitchen sink (as it was still...more
I think one indication that you're spending your days working at something you love, is what you do with your time off. This past Labor Day Monday, a bunch of us TFB folk did what we do best - we made dinner and drank a bunch of really cool wine. But that night, instead of dining at Texas French Bread, we were graciously hosted by a dear friend of the restaurant, Stephen Becker.
One great thing about owning a restaurant is the opportunity to run into Austinites I haven't seen in years. Stephen Becker and I overlapped at Saint Stephen's in the 1970s, but hadn't kept in touch. These days, his lovely wife Emilie, and their kids Isaac and Antonia (when they are in town) are big supporters of TFB. When Stephen asked if he could return the hospitality by having TFB staff and friends over at his gorgeous Hyde Park home (swimming pool included), well, I just couldn't turn it down. So with the invitation accepted, I made the executive decision to close up early. I might have broke a few classic restaurant rules, but I do love a...more
Origin stories can be very powerful. Hollywood loves them. And every chef has his or her story of how they discovered their love of food and found their calling. Recently, brother Ben pointed me towards one of his favorites of the genre, the introduction to the late, great Judy Rodgers' Zuni Café Cookbook - which I must confess, I had not read.
In her introduction, Judy tells the story of her time in France in the 1970's, and how she fell in love not just with French cooking, but with a particularly French understanding of what good food is and how it can manifest into a truly good life.
Her story focuses on her experience at the three Michelin star restaurant Les Frères Troisgros in Burgundy. Staying with the Troisgros family on a high school exchange trip, she was permitted to hang around the kitchen, observe and transcribe recipes.
Judy was particularly taken with "le Patron," Jean-Baptiste, one half of the husband/wife team that originally opened the restaurant in 1935. While their sons Jean and...more
It was a busy Friday night in the Texas French Bread dining room last weekend. Between tables, our longtime server Betty Cole glanced at the wine list. "Well - what's it going to be?" I asked for the third or forth time. She put her elbows on the stainless top of the dessert fridge, loose bun dropping to one side of her face and then the other as she unconsciously cocks her head back and forth, considering her options.
Betty began a "TFB sabbatical" this week, taking some time off for well deserved relaxation and adventure. On her last night in the restaurant before her break, it felt only right to sit down together over a spectacular bottle of wine of her choosing from our list - my treat in celebration of her impending time off.
And so it was late last Friday, after most of our customers had departed, that I found myself gathered around the bar table with a handful of my favorite people - Jessica, Christa, Whitney, and of course Betty. In front of us was quite the feast: briny olives, our house mozzarella made with curd...more
One of the biggest frustrations of the restaurant business is how hard it can be to get away. When you're busy, you need to be at the restaurant making sure everything is going as smoothly as possible. When you're slow, you need to be at the restaurant making sure everyone stays focused and positive - so, you know, you'll still have a restaurant when things are busy again.
"Next summer" is always the time that I'm going to get away - I'll fly straight to Provence and immerse myself in French language and French wine. But this year, instead of making it to France like I promised myself last year, I celebrated Bastille Day in the Texas French Bread kitchen. And here I am about to face another Texas August. So it goes.
That being said, I really do love Austin in the summer, and my favorite thing about being here now is the swimming. Now that the weather has finally breached triple digits, it's the best way I know to cool off and feel connected to my town. And my staff, for that matter - our favorite swim spots are a consistent...more
It's high summer around here. We hit our first really hot days this last week. You know how the song goes, "summertime, and the living is easy" - am I right? TFB has been humming along in a lovely, low-key, warm weather rhythm (for those of you who like a quieter vibe in the dining room, might I suggest that this would be the perfect time to join us for a casual weeknight dinner?) Anyway - there's been a little more time lately to complete daily task lists and solve whatever problems come up, and a little less urgency to finish everything ten minutes ago.
And so it was that on Bastille Day last week, when Josh asked if I would jump in and help do dinner prep, it seemed like a great idea. I can always use a little "hands on time" - you know, show the kids how I still "got it" and all. It was a fun afternoon. We made a little extra of everything and crossed our fingers that we'd get a good crowd that night. At about 4 pm, Hall came downstairs from the office and mentioned that reservations were starting to pop, which seemed like a...more
Tomorrow, Tuesday, July 14 we celebrate Bastille Day at Texas French Bread with a few specials to satisfy your inner francophile. Throughout dinner service, we'll be offering glasses of French rosé, bowls of mussels and sides of frites for $7 each item. We hope you'll bring your close friends to eat and drink together on our patio as the French so love to do.
Now, as many of you may be vaguely aware, Bastille Day represents French independence from the monarchy and memorializes the storming of the Bastille - a prison famously used for political detainees that once even held writer and satirist Voltaire. Less well known was that the prison was on the verge of closure for budgetary reasons, and there were apparently only seven actual prisoners held inside the Bastille at the time of its storming (four counterfeiters, two "sexual deviants", and I have no idea what the other guy did). But there was a point to be made, and that point was all about dismantling an iconic government symbol and taking a stand against Louis XVI's...more
Six years ago, I was a devout and committed beer drinker who enjoyed an occasional glass of wine when I found one in front of me. I was rather fond of quoting Tony Bourdain who, in his book Kitchen Confidential, wrote that he drank beer and vodka, but didn't pay much attention to wine as he "couldn't afford another addiction". My love of all things beer duly validated, I felt relieved of any duty to throw good time and money at wine - a subject I knew little enough about, and honestly, found rather intimidating.
But as we got serious about our dinner service, I began to drink a bit more wine (I had to admit, it did go rather well with our bistro menu) and pay more attention. And slowly, my curiosity began to outweigh my trepidation.
Specifically I began to notice that the right bottle of wine added something indefinably lovely to a meal. And nowhere was this more apparent than say, at a quiet weeknight dinner of humble fare and good conversation, enjoyed with a close companion or two with whom I shared a strong feeling of...more