Five Austin female chefs talk trends, favorites and what to expect at this year’s Austin Food + Wine Festival.

By Niki Jones, Photos courtesy of the Austin Food + Wine Festival

The Austin Food + Wine Festival is fast approaching, and it’s one of our favorite events of the year. April 27 through 29, festivalgoers will have access to some of the most up-and-coming talent in the culinary world. Many of these great chefs are female, and we’re happy to see these numbers growing each year. Austin Woman asked five innovative Austin female chefs to share with us their thoughts about cooking, trends and what’s to come.

Maribel Rivero, executive chef, Yuyo

Nyesha Arrington, chef and co-owner, Native

Mary Catherine Curren, ELM Group

Cassidee Dabney, executive chef, The Barn at Blackberry Farm and 2018 James Beard Foundation Award nominee, Best Chef: Southeast 

Sonya Cote, owner and executive chef, Hillside Farmacy and Eden East


Austin Woman: What is your favorite dish to eat after a long shift in the kitchen?

Maribel Rivero: These days, the most fulfilling meal when I get home from working in the kitchen is a good Caesar salad topped with chicken or fish and a glass of malbec. 

Nyesha Arrington: Ramen!

Mary Catherine Curren: My favorite dish to eat after a long shift always tends to be savory. I’m tasting sweet things all day at work, so when I’m done, I usually crave something as far from sweet as possible, and for some reason, I always want bread. I usually end up making a sandwich because it’s fast and easy. 

Cassidee Dabney: Cheese and crackers.

Sonya Cote: Honestly, eating is the last thing that I want to do after a long shift! I will say that I really enjoy making and eating very simple foods at home on my off time…like chicken soup, fried rice and all the noodles.


AW: What is your all-time favorite dish to make?

NA: Anything soup- or stew-related, but if I had to choose, I would say kimchee-collard-green stew.

SC: I don’t really have a favorite dish. It’s more about my favorite style of cooking, which is outdoors, on a grill, over coals and fire. I do, however, love making spicy fermented vegetables all the time every day. It’s something I never run out of at home. When I’m cooking for someone or something special, I love to make anything duck or quail on smoke or fire. And oysters.

CD: Chicken tikka masala

MR: My all-time favorite thing to make is Bolivian salteña. It’s the best empanada in the world and worth all the effort. I’m half Bolivian, so by making these pastries, I feel I keep the connection with my roots alive. 

MCC: My favorite dish to make is pie. They are so versatile and you can use fun seasonal ingredients. The part that I enjoy the most is making the crust. If you focus on making a really great flaky crust and fill it with quality seasonal ingredients, then you can’t go wrong. 


AW: What is one food trend you would like to see?

MR: One food trend I would like to see is cancha. They’re Peruvian corn nuts that we serve in my restaurant, Yuyo, and they’re so addictive. They’re salty and crunchy and perfect with a cocktail, beer or chilled wine. 

NA: One food trend I would like to see is more vegetable-focused restaurants.

CD: Affordable, healthy, vegetable-driven foods.  


AW: What is one food trend you hope will never come back? 

MR: I have to say, I hope square plates don’t come back into favor. I was not a fan.  

NA: Unicorn food wouldn’t upset me if I never saw it again. 

SC: I’ve never understood why talented chefs turn to fast food. I respect the idea of healthy food that is fast and affordable. I just don’t get it when it’s not healthy, just actual pure junk food like sliced American cheese on a grass-fed burger, or chicken-fried chicken on everything.  

CD: Soulless foods.


AW: Austin has emerged as a real foodie town. Which Texas city do you think will be next to become known for its cuisine?

CD: Houston. Chris Shepherd took me on a crazy food tour of Houston and it was insanely eye-opening.

MR: San Antonio is making strides and could easily become the next Texas food destination. It’s an easy drive down I-35, so many Austinites have already discovered the joys of weekend getaways for puffy tacos.

SC: Hands down, San Antonio. I love eating all over that city. There are so many places to explore, old and new. I actually had no idea that S.A. is the seventh-largest city in the U.S., plus the architecture is pure art deco and to die for.

NA: San Antonio.


AW: What is one dish everyone should know how to make?

NA: Scrambled eggs.

MR: Everyone should know how to make killer eggs. Whether your favorite form is an omelet, frittata or poached, you should know how to knock out a great egg dish.

MCC: The dish that I think everyone should know how to make is biscuits. They are so simple and satisfying. If you learn how to make them properly, they can be a delicious treat on your weekend morning. Plus, most people already have all of the ingredients in their pantry. 

CD: Pasta with Bolognese.

SC: In my heart, I believe that everyone should know how to roast a delicious, crispy-skinned, tender chicken. Vegetarian or not, chickens are magic. They deliver your breakfast and their bones make a very delicious stock.


AW: What is your favorite sweet-and-savory combination?

MR: Nikkei cuisine, a melding of Japanese and South American flavors, includes a lot of sweet sauces and spicy aji peppers. I love that combination of sweet and spicy, especially with grilled fish.

SC: I’m addicted to sweet and savory. Who’s not? Specifically, right now, I can’t stop with coconut-oil-popped popcorn with nutritional yeast, aminos and Sumo oranges. It’s not very local but those Sumo oranges are so sweet and amazing, and only in season for like two weeks.

CD: Fried egg and hickory gastrique.

MCC: My favorite sweet-and-savory combination is a really creamy, salty blue cheese with fruit or marmalade. The funky salty blue cheese is such a lovely balance with a fresh fig or berries. It’s nice on its own with a baguette or mixed into a salad or even a part of a composed dish. 

NA: Salted caramel.


AW: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?

MR: I’m really passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, so I could see myself being a health-and-wellness life coach.

SC: Well, I tried to be a visual artist once, but here I am. Maybe someday I can continue that dream of painting on canvas.

NA: Anything sports-related.

MCC: If I weren’t cooking, I would hopefully be doing something creative with an art degree. When I was deciding what to do for school, I thought briefly of going to art school instead of culinary school. I always enjoyed sketching and oil painting. It’s a hobby that I hope to get back into one day.

CD: I’ve always wanted to be Indiana Jones when I grow up


AW: In your opinion, who is the greatest living chef?

CD: José Andrés. Not only does he push the envelope with creativity, he’s an incredible humanitarian.

MR: I’m a big admirer of Gastón Acurio. He’s been a major force in the Peruvian culinary movement, owns restaurants all over the world and has authored many cookbooks about Peruvian food.

NA: Heston Blumenthal, Grant Achatz and René Redzepi

SC: I can’t say, really, because there are so many amazing chefs who walk this earth. 


AW: What culinary personality, living or deceased, would you want to share a meal with? What would you cook?

MR: I would have loved to cook with Julia Child. We’d have made empanadas while drinking pisco sours.

NA: Julia Child. Cote de boeuf rossini, truffle potatoes, sauce au poivre.

CD: Julia Child. I think we would drink lots of wine and order pizza.

SC: Even though this is a slightly cliche answer, my very first thought was it would probably be a blast to chill and talk with Julia Child. Hopefully, I’d hear her laugh and I would cook her a crispy-skinned roast chicken. Then I would cry.



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