That’s a Wrap: Indie Chefs Week

Chefs from the veritable hotbeds of culinary creativity across the country descended upon Austin this past week to partake in the first annual Indie Chefs Week, hosted and organized by Ned and Jodi Elliott of Austin’s own Foreign & Domestic.
The dinner that social media built: @gg30000 @tamertime @foreigndomestic (Courtesy of Gregory Gourdet) At each of the dinners (Wednesday – Friday) leading up to Saturday night’s 21-course grand finale, guests enjoyed the creations from a select group of the more than 20 participating chefs from Austin, Houston, Portland and Providence among others. The atmosphere of Saturday night’s culinary marathon was infused with collaborative energy to say the least. With so many cooks in the kitchen, it was an organizational feat to create and deliver 21 delicious courses. However, the camaraderie was felt throughout the restaurant as diners watched what was like a well-rehearsed dance among longtime friends. And the chefs? Their excitement was palpable as they experimented with foods that don’t usually emerge from their day-to-day repertoires.
Teamwork at its best | Wiseheart surveying the scene (images courtesy of @jgossen)

Every evening’s sell-out crowd was proof that Austinites are excited to experience unusual food combinations, concepts and pairings — especially when organized and produced by such a valued member of the local culinary community as Foreign & Domestic. From Elk Heart to Oyster Drills, the featured foods provided guests with an eclectic dining experience.
Wiseheart’s Dry-Cured Pork Shoulder, Radicchio & Kombucha dish.

In addition to Ned & Jodi, fellow AFWF featured chef Andrew Wiseheart was also on hand representing Contigo on both Wednesday and Saturday nights. With his Dry-Cured Pork Shoulder dish on Wednesday night and his Smoked Duck dish on Saturday night, Andrew more than delivered on his promise of “satisfaction” from his creations.
“I was looking forward to meeting some new people in the industry and cooking with some of the local friends I’ve made. I’ve been blessed with a great business partner and staff and the opportunity to be part of an exciting up-and-coming community of great chefs and people.”

—Andrew Wiseheart, Contigo

We also caught up with Jodi for a glimpse into the heart of the event…

This is a great way to bring together chefs from across the country to celebrate culinary craftsmanship. How did it all come together?

The idea started with Ned. He’s always been pretty obsessed and passionate about food and cooking, so he reads constantly and knows about so many cooks and restaurants around the country. Now, Twitter and Facebook have just taken everything to a new level. We’re able to see pictures and read about what kitchens are doing all over. I feel like it has created an even closer cooking community.

Jodi & Ned enjoying the evening.
Ned & I have always been adamant that we want to give back. We’ve been really lucky to do what we love daily and know how rare that is! This industry can be rough and extremely unforgiving so we want to be able to share what we have. Our restaurant, our contacts, our name etc. to help the “little guys” coming up! There’s amazing food going on in even the smallest places but no one knows about it — or even cares. Most of these guys don’t get the opportunity to show their true potential in their daily jobs because there isn’t a market or even appreciation for it where they live. Austin is a cool place that people want to visit, so why not start here? We can set the standard and create a face-to-face dialogue with the chefs and the public to give them a platform and a place to have their food and voices heard! We all get to be inspired by what everyone’s doing — it’s a win-win for all involved. To make these connections is a really cool experience! 

How did you select the participating group of chefs?

Ned chose the chefs. They’re people he’s admired and respected from afar. People he’s been watching and heard of. There were so many that it came down to who was free and willing to sacrifice some time and money to cook in Austin! 

You both have such diverse experience in some of the nation’s best kitchens, but what would you say sets Austin apart?

Austin is a young city and definitely a young food city. It’s unique because it’s a great city to visit and it has an audience for food. There are tons of people here from New York, LA, Chicago. People here know good food and seek it out. Both young and old are willing to pay for an awesome food experience. There’s an appreciation and excitement for it! 

What has been the most rewarding aspect of having your own restaurant?

The most rewarding thing for me is that we get to work for ourselves. Ned & I literally get to do whatever the hell we want! It was rough in the beginning because we were the newbies from out of town, opening a restaurant. People were skeptical so it took some convincing on our part. I’ve always believed that if you do what you love, the money will come. And we’re definitely proof of that! It’s not a lot of money, but our goal has always been just to support ourselves by cooking. It definitely has been difficult to do that, so to have our own place is a dream come true! Now we have the following and a good reputation, and with that comes increasing freedom! People trust us now and let us do what we want. It’s an amazing feeling and having total creative freedom is really rare in this business so we are lucky!

What do you hope people — both the chefs and guests — walked away thinking/feeling after this first annual Indie Chefs Week?

I hope the chefs and the guests were all inspired. Inspired to create more of a food community! Be supportive and appreciative of how hard everyone works. Inspired to seek out and look beyond the big names in this industry! Give credit where credit is due…The next group of young guys and girls busting their asses to make a living doing what they love. 

What was one of the most memorable dishes from the 4-day extravaganza?

They were all memorable and interesting and a lot were very cutting edge. I don’t want to make this into a competition, since that’s not what it’s about. No one chef or dish stands out, and that’s the point.
“The diversity of the chefs and food philosophies is what made this so cool. We are all here to learn from and appreciate each other!”