12 Superheroes of the Austin Dining Scene

July 18, 2016

The future of Austin's steadily evolving culinary scene lies in the hands of its chefs, pastry chefs, bartenders, bakers, farmers, brewers and food innovators. Luckily, there's no shortage of talent in the capital of Texas. Below, find 12 local superheroes who've traded in their capes for aprons.

  • The hero: Tavel ​"Grainmaster" Bristol-Joseph
  • His lair: Emmer & Rye​
  • His superpower: Turning raw grains into incredible pastries and desserts
  • Origin story: After coming up in kitchens in New York and Tucson, Joseph moved to Austin to open Emmer & Rye with chef-owner Kevin Fink (who was recently named one of the country's best new chefs by Food & Wine). In the kitchen of E&R, Joseph leads a talented team in milling grains to create flour for a variety of housemade breads, pastries and desserts. One recent favorite is his take on bread pudding: brioche custard with salted toasted grain ice cream, koji cookie crumb and a blueberry preserve.
  • The hero: Alexandra "Pieous Queen" Manley
  • Her lair: Bufalina & Bufalina Due
  • Her superpower: Firing off farm-fresh Neopolitan-caliber pies in the heart of Texas
  • Origin story: After winning Austin's hearts (and stomachs) as the executive pastry chef for McGuire Moorman Hospitality (Jeffrey's, Josephine House, Elizabeth Street Cafe, Clark's Oyster Bar, Perla's, Lamberts), Steven Dilley hired Manley on as the executive chef at Bufalina and its newer sister location, Bufalina Due. When she's not prepping at either pizza-focused location or helping with service, she can be found visiting farms like Boggy Creek, Springdale or HausBar several times a week to source ingredients.
  • The hero: Jason "Flame Jedi" Stude
  • His lair: Boiler Nine Bar + Grill
  • His superpower: Proving that there's more to Austin than Texas-style barbecue
  • Origin story: After unknowingly beginning his culinary career at the age of 15 in his parent's restaurant, Stude worked his way up in various kitchens in Louisiana and Texas. He worked under the tutelage of chef David Bull in Dallas starting in 2008, and then opened Second Bar & Kitchen and Congress with him in 2010, working his way up to chef de cuisine. Just this month, he took on his first role as executive chef with the opening of Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, where he uses wood fire to coal roast, smoke and grill a variety of meats using global techniques.
  • The heroes: Ashley and Christina "The Cream Team" Cheng
  • Their lair: SPUN Ice Cream
  • Their superpower: Spinning delicious (and virtually zero-waste) ice cream using liquid nitrogen
  • Origin story: When growing up together in a restaurant family (Chinatown proprietor Ronald Cheng is their dad), Ashley and Christina Cheng never guessed they'd share a kitchen together. But this past winter, the two opened Austin's first liquid nitrogen ice cream shop just east of Downtown. While Christina's working her magic in the kitchen, Slow Food board member Ashley handles front of house duties, including sourcing local dairy and produce from local farms. They even find ways to reuse scraps from neighboring businesses, such as orange peels from Paperboy and bacon and beef fat from Salt & Time.
  • The hero: Jason "Sir Rots-a-lot" White
  • His lair: Still Austin
  • His superpower: Creating edible science projects through fermentation sorcery
  • Origin story: After working in kitchens under top chefs in San Antonio (like Andrew Weissman) and Austin (like Tyson Cole), Jason White began focusing on a specialization in all things fermented, from preserved vegetables and botanicals to vinegar to koji and beyond. He set up self-sufficient fermentation programs at Emmer & Rye in Austin and The Catbird Seat in Nashville before consulting on the menu at newly opened L'oca D'oro. These days, White can be found doing research and development for Still Austin, the city's first grain-to-glass urban distillery, and he will be heading to the MAD Symposium in Copenhagen this summer to share his knowledge.
  • The hero: Rae "Rosé Shantay" Wilson
  • Her lair: Somewhere between the Hill Country and the icy bucket on your picnic table
  • Her superpower: Bringing Texas-grown and produced rosé to the people of Austin
  • Origin story: When sommelier Rae Wilson returned from working in wine cellars in Portugal in 2010, she began teaching classes and offering wine program support for a variety of restaurants and bars. This morphed into Wine for the People, a wine consulting company offering an array of services. Thanks to relationships she's forged with Texas winemakers and producers, plus wine reps and bar managers, Wilson is able to bridge the gap between the front-end (wine sales) and the back-end (production). Promoting Texas-grown grapes is at the top of her list, and she walks the walk by producing a dry French-style rosé called Dandy Rosé. While the 2014 vintage produced 25 cases, the 2015 grew to 110 cases, with 75 percent going to Austin bars and restaurants and 20 percent going straight to Austin consumers.
  • The hero: Ji Peng "Wise Omnilinguist" Chen
  • His lair: Wu Chow
  • His superpower: Mastering four languages and using them daily in the kitchen
  • Origin story: As the youngest in a family of seven kids, Ji Peng Chen began cooking at home in China before moving to the United States and cooking in New York for 20 years. When this master of Sichuan cuisine moved to Austin to open Wu Chow, he adapted his traditional cooking to include gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options, plus began sourcing proteins and produce from local ranches and farms. He has also mastered four different languages — Mandarin, Cantonese, English and Spanish — and impressively uses all four to communicate with his kitchen staff at Wu Chow.
  • The hero: Stephanie "Mistress Biscuit" McClenny
  • ​Her lair: A soon-to-be-open biscuit shop and community kitchen in South Austin
  • Her superpower: Creating delicious, farm-fresh jams and empowering other local culinary entrepreneurs
  • Origin story: After years of running her Confituras preserve company out of a tiny, shared kitchen space, Stephanie McClenny decided to build a community kitchen where like-minded chefs and artisans committed to high quality, locally sourced ingredients could collaborate and inspire one another. This fall, that kitchen will open on South Lamar, along with a retail shop selling her biscuits and addictive jams, which come in flavors like blueberry basil, nectarine white pepper, and bourbon brown sugar peach.
  • The hero: Zechariah "Eggbomidable Brunchman" Perez
  • His lair: Odd Duck & Paperboy
  • His superpower: Taking bacon and eggs to whole new levels
  • Origin story: Zechariah Perez got into the industry by doing dishes at a local BBQ joint, then moved up in the kitchen to become a short order cook, discovering his true passion for cooking breakfast foods. Once he realized his new calling, he dropped out of school and went on to pick up brunch shifts around town, include at Trace at the W Hotel. When Perez is not overseeing the weekend brunch menu at Odd Duck, where he creates dishes using ingredients from local Texas farmers, he's manning the grill at Paperboy, a popular eastside food trailer that serves breakfast six days a week.
  • The heroes: George "Phoenix" Milton and Erin "Goldfinch" Link
  • Their lair: Tables around town
  • Their superpower: Heating up the city of Austin with spice and flavor
  • Origin story: Austin is a whole lot more flavorful thanks to self-taught musician and chef George Milton and visual designer Erin Link, the duo behind Yellowbird hot sauce. The two created their original habanero blend in 2012 after discovering, while cooking together, that no other hot sauces quite lived up to their expectations for quality, freshness and spice. Now with two other sauces on the market (serrano and jalapeño), Yellowbird sauces can be found at some of the top restaurants around town — including your own kitchen table.