The James Beard Foundation brings its culinary tour, Taste America, to the Texas capital.

By Nicholas Barancyk, Ariana Quant photo by Claire Hogan, Callie Speer and food photo by Robert Lerma

Any foodie worth her salt knows the weight the James Beard Foundation name carries. It has been setting the bar for top-quality restaurants since launching the inaugural James Beard Foundation Awards in 1991. This year, the foundation is bringing its annual Taste America culinary tour to Austin.

The announcement has local chefs buzzing about the event, which Holy Roller Chef Callie Speer says acts as a barometer for the level at which this city is operating.

“Austin’s been on the buzz list for a bit now,” she says, “but to be selected as one of just 10 cities for this event by JBF underscores just how far this city has come.”

Callie Speer

This is thanks, in part, to Austinites’ propensity to dine out. A 2016 industry study found Austin restaurants among the largest revenue earners on average, just behind culinary meccas like New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C.

Speer will work alongside other top Austin cooking professionals, including Pastry Chef Ariana Quant of Uchiko, in the much anticipated dinner that’s part of the weekend-long shindig. Quant says such collaborations are what make the Austin culinary scene so great.

“I think it’s a healthy competition here in Austin between chefs and restaurants,” she says. “There are so many new restaurants opening every year. It keeps everyone on their toes to keep standing out above the rest. Collaboration is inevitable here. Chefs in Austin are all intertwined.”

Both chefs say it’s this mutual respect for passion and talent that begets the close-knit service industry here.

“To have others to lean on, to learn from, makes the painstaking process of conceptualizing, launching and keeping a restaurant up and running a little easier,” Speer says.

And that support network pays off. Restaurateurs are more likely to take risks with bold concepts or new cuisines, inspiring the rest of the hospitality ecosystem. Sure, it might mean another challenger in the ring, but there’s no better teacher than a good competitor.

Likely appealing to the James Beard Foundation is the idea that, in many ways, an area’s identity is cooked into its cuisine, and that’s definitely the case in Austin.

“There’s always a unique footprint in each city’s scene reflective of the regional ingredients, climate, history and general vibe,” Speer says.

Austin’s footprint is diverse and vibrant, something Speer is confident will manifest itself during the JBF Taste America dinner, food tastings and zero-waste demonstrations.

Ariana Quant

For Speer and Quant, events like this enable the outside world to taste how food is approached in the heart of Texas.

“Austin has been known for years as a good food town. Hosting James Beard events will continue to draw people to our town and hopefully diversify the food scene even more in the next couple of years,” Quant says. “I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this event. This is a huge steppingstone for chefs and helps put chefs on the map nationwide.”

Whether you’ve booked a ticket for the Nov. 16 dinner or are just stopping by Sur la Table at Domain Northside to check out the book signings and free demonstrations, Speer assures that Taste America: Austin will be a delicious experience.


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