chef

“Chef” is a delicious start to SXSW Film

The funny, heartwarming, food-obsessed “Chef” is a perfect choice to open SXSW. Jon Favreau, who has spent a better part of the last decade focused on bigger films like “Iron Man” and “Cowboys and Aliens”, writes, directs, and stars in the small indie comedy about the love of food and creation.

Favreau plays Carl Casper, a renowned Chef with a turbulent personal life who has grown dissatisfied with his position as head chef in a posh L.A. restaurant. Casper is divorced, his son is estranged, and the only solace he can find in life is through his love of preparing food. However, after five years of falling back on the same delicious but safe menu and dealing with constant interference from his overbearing boss (Dustin Hoffman), a volatile encounter with a smug food critic (Oliver Platt) leads Casper to quit his job and open up a food truck in his home town of Miami.

The film balances Casper’s rediscovery of his culinary passion with his attempt to reconnect with his son (newcomer Emjay Anthony). When the Miami venture becomes a cross country trip to promote the new business, Casper tries to impart his love of cooking to his son. The father-son dynamic is the emotional heart of the movie, and largely works because of the strong chemistry between Favreau and the young actor.

Favreau has compiled an impressive cast for his passion project. Sofia Vergara plays Casper’s ex-wife, who still sparks a romantic interest. John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale provide additional comic relief as Casper’s outspoken assistant chefs, and Scarlet Johansson has a small role as the hostess at Casper’s restaurant. Favreau himself proves that his talents go beyond directing blockbusters or having small parts in movies like “I Love You Man.” Favreau doesn’t shy away from showing Casper’s shortcomings as a friend, husband, and father, and the chef’s talents in the kitchen are never presented as a substitute for his personal faults. Casper is brash, has a short temper, and often antisocial. Cooking is his escape, and the movie effectively portrays a man who has followed his dream to such an extreme that he has lost sight of any worthwhile things in his life.

The real star of the film is the food. “Chef” is full of gorgeous culinary shots, including a sequence at Austin’s own Franklin’s BBQ. With “Chef”, Favreau captures the messy, often hectic and unsure process of creating a beautiful meal that clearly mirrors the uncertainty of life and relationships. “Chef” is slated for a release in May of this year. Just don’t see it on an empty stomach.

The Record

Josh Watkins is the Executive Chef at The Carillon Restaurant found at the AT&T Center on University Avenue. Watkins focuses on New American Cuisine and prides himself on trying every new ingredient he comes across.

Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez | Daily Texan Staff

Nearly 20 years later he still vividly remembers changing the plating of a dessert at Macaroni Grill. It was right then, now 34-year-old executive chef Josh Watkins, decided that without creativity he did not want to be a chef.

“The general manager came by and said ‘You can’t do that, corporate specifics are this, here’s the picture,’” Watkins said. “I said, ‘You know what, I’m done. Here’s my two weeks notice.’”

That moment shaped his entire career path.

“I didn’t go to Stanford. I should have gone to Stanford, but instead I went to culinary school,” Watkins said.

Watkins graduated from Westlake High School early and opted to work for various chain restaurants to ensure that cooking was for him.

At the age of 19, Watkins enrolled in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He was quickly told the facts: he would work every holiday, long hours and for little pay. 

Watkins in his kitchen at the AT&T Center. He believes that the pursuit of perfection in cooking is essential to running a successful restaurant. (Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez | Daily Texan Staff)

“It was before it was cool to be a chef,” Watkins said. “Big corporations sunk their teeth into these culinary schools and sold all of these kids these fake dreams. You go to culinary school and they promise that you’ll graduate as an executive chef and you’ll make X amount of dollars and so on and so forth and that’s just not the case.”

Upon graduating, Watkins worked under Chef William Koval at the French Room in the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas before returning to Austin to work at the Driskill Grill. By age 23 he had already been named the Chef de Cusine and made an appearance on “Iron Chef America.” At 29, he was named executive chef of the Driskill. 

But it was his passion for “New American Cuisine” that led him to open The Carillon Restaurant at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, where he is today. 

“We do new American cuisine in the restaurant which is kind of a cliché, broad stroking answer,” Watkins said. “It basically enables us to cook whatever we want because new American cuisine by definition is derived from America’s melting pot of various ethnicities.”

Born in Aspen, Watkins was raised by his single mother and grandmother, spending most of his childhood moving from state to state. With the constant movement came one stabilizing factor: a culinary-centric family environment and an early exposure to the kitchen.

The family ate out as much as possible and his mother would throw regular household ingredients at him, sparking his creativity at a young age. He teethed on artichoke leaves and was allowed control of the butter knife as early as the age of three. Despite Watkins’ love of creation, he acknowledged he had yet to attain that passion for food. 

“I wasn’t really interested in making the things I was already seeing,” Watkins said. “I wanted to make things I hadn’t seen yet, that I hadn’t been surrounded by, and that I hadn’t had.”

He wasn’t allowed to have sodas, prefabricated foods or even to have boxed macaroni and cheese at home. 

“I remember these things called Steak-umms growing up, having them at a friend’s house, and going home and being like why can’t we have these,” Watkins said. “It was righteously explained to me that it’s this thin crappy processed piece of meat and you don’t want to eat that stuff.”

The women in his life made a point to not allow genetically modified food in the home or anything with manipulated hormones. Watkins said he has always been able to tell a difference when food is grown naturally, and for that reason, emphasizes local, sustainable ingredients.

“It just makes everything not as good as it could be,” Watkins said. “You’re doing an injustice to the ingredients themselves, you’re not presenting it to your customer, to your guest, to yourself, to your family as best as that food and ingredient can be.”

Over the past 10 years Watkins said he has witnessed a significant progression in Austin’s food culture, finally considering it to be a premier culinary destination of the world. 

His Chef de Cuisine, Chris Andrews, 34, has worked with him since their days at the Driskill. Andrews said Watkins is much calmer than he used to be and always knows how to push people, keeping them on task. 

“He’s very energetic and driven,” Andrews said. “When he walks around the kitchen people know he wants everything to be the best it can be.”

Watkins believes that precision, a sense of urgency, organization, a passion for the craft and the attempt of perfection will determine a chef’s level of success. 

“I’ve never had a job that wasn’t in the food business,” Watkins said. “It’s all I’ve ever done so hopefully people don’t stop eating because then I’d really be in trouble.”

(From left to right) The Pechuga de Pollo, Bandeja Paisa (bottom), Tamal Valluno (top), and Ceviche at Casa Colombia, a Latin American restaurant in East Austin.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: The interviews in this article have been translated from Spanish.

The themed lamp posts and the small benched waiting area, conjuring the Alamedas and the central plazas of many Hispanic cities, announce to the prospective diner that he won’t be in Texas much longer. Not completely, anyway.

Inside, the walls are adorned with maps of Colombia and small “fachadas,” miniature facades of colonial house fronts that instantly remind of childhoods left behind.

Such is the enchantment of Casa Colombia, a restaurant of eponymous genre hidden on East Seventh Street and helmed by manager Jazmin Nuñez and chef Emilia Hurtado.

Before their partnership the place was originally called “Mi Colombia,” managed solely by the current chef, Hurtado, and nearing bankruptcy. Nuñez recalled the times:

“[Emilia] had Mi Colombia, and she was about to close [permanently]. Then my husband — an American — said we couldn’t lose the only restaurant dedicated to Latin American food.”

As friends of Hurtado’s, Nuñez and her husband stepped in, managing the house while Hurtado focused on the kitchen. Nuñez’s intention was to partner up for a year only.

“Now we have five years with Casa Colombia, and it’s been going very well,” Nunez said.

Casa Colombia evokes deep-seated emotions in the visitor, Latino or not, with its carefully crafted elements of nostalgia. Centerpiece to this is the food; a potpourri of South American options that are as close to comfort food as comfort food gets. Hurtado’s touch keeps the platters as typical Latin American home style as she can.

Pechuga de Pollo, a chicken filet, grilled and bathed in a smooth lemon butter sauce, served with green beans, fried yucca (a potato-like vegetable) and a white rice pilaf tastes like a recipe that a grandmother could have made but forgot to. Much of the same can be said of the Churrasco, a steak served with an olive oil chimichurri sauce, a South American staple. Or for those willing and wishing to go big, there’s the Bandeja Paisa, a meat lover’s delight with beef skirt, chicharron and egg over white rice, fried plantains, avocado and a thin bread called “arepa.” For the fish-driven, the Ceviche Peruano with fried plantain is fresh, limey, avocado-y and delicious.

For Chef Hurtado, a shy and humble emigre from Colombia, owning her own restaurant was always a dream. But it was not easy.

“I learned [to cook] by observing. I worked as a housekeeper, where I learned a little,” Hurtado said.

After arriving in Austin in 1994 and working in local schools, she started selling tamales and empanadas from home, as well as making meals for her group of friends. Hurtado’s dream was always to open her own restaurant. Hurtado is quick to correct with humility.

“My dream was always — not a restaurant like this ... but [just] selling rotisserie chickens and roasted potatoes. That was my dream,” Hurtado said.

She cites her lack of formal training as the source for the formidable and homey taste of her food.

“I am not a ‘chef.’ I didn’t go to any culinary school to get any training. What I make are home recipes. They’re not every [Colombian] recipe, but what I can, I make. I’ve tried to preserve that. To keep the food like that ... typical,” Hurtado said.

Hurtado’s effforts have paid off, earning her accolades from organizations like spanish news publication El Mundo.

Then, not-a-chef Hurtado smiled a slow, building smile with a bright, honest shine in her eyes.

“My source of great pride is that people come here from all over. Central Americans, North Americans, Asians ... all nationalities,” Hurtado said. “That’s what satisfies me the most. To see that someone of humble origins like myself is making something that everyone who comes here loves. That brings me great pride and I thank God for it.”

Printed on Monday, September 24, 2012 as: Chef keeps food close to home

ViUDA Bistro’s executive chef Kurt Ramborger prepares his Italian Cheesecake dessert. ViUDA Bistro, located in downtown Buda, serves “new American” cuisine and the majority of the cooks and staff are deaf.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

Dan Nelson sat contentedly reading a book on a quiet Friday evening as he waited for his order at ViUDA Bistro in Buda — the chef’s special “The Corruption,” a pan-seared pork loin over celery root potatoes with sweet pepper garnish and au jus. Executive chef Kurt Ramborger brought his food out personally, as Nelson is a favorite regular of the restaurant.

Nelson attempted to thank Ramborger, but some of the conversation got lost in translation. Ramborger, along with the other cooks and the manager of ViUDA Bistro, is deaf.

Nelson, who now works in food distribution, has worked in the restaurant industry since he was a teenager. He first worked in a kitchen with a deaf chef when he was 18 years-old, but also experienced restaurants that refused to hire deaf chefs because they thought it would slow the kitchen down; a head chef could be yelling directions to his staff but then have to stop and sign the same thing.

Nelson said that often, people don’t want to try and take that extra step.

“[At ViUDA Bistro], it’s very inspiring what they do for the deaf community,” Nelson said. “They have great food and give jobs to people who don’t normally get these opportunities.”

Nelson says he learned a few kitchen words in American Sign Language, but that is the extent of his knowledge of the language. However, this does not stop him from attempting a conversation with ViUDA Bistro’s manager, Paul Rutowski, about the book he was reading over dinner.

“We are like any other business,” Rutowski said. “We don’t have [communication] challenges. We have pagers, video relay and interpreters.”

Some of the staff, like ViUDA Bistro’s head waiter, are hearing and fluent in ASL and often help customers talk with Rutowski, who constantly roams the restaurant making everyone comfortable and ensuring things run smoothly.

According to Rutowski, Buda and Austin both have large deaf communities, and he says deaf people come from both cities to eat at ViUDA Bistro. He hosts some events, like The Super Bowl, that bring in a lot of deaf customers.

However, he estimated that more than half his customers are not deaf. Rutowski insists that it is the food, like “The Corruption,” that keeps people coming back. They try to buy as many local ingredients as possible, and have even named a dish on the menu after “Farmer Billy,” who supplies them with food from his farm.

The menu is extensive, with entrees ranging from the decadent “Corruption” to a German wurst dish, to a yak and yam entree. There are also a variety of burgers and pizzas for those not so adventurous with their food, although the multiple cheese and topping choices offered could give even the burgers and pizzas a unique flavor.

Very few items on the menu cost more than $15, and many of the lighter options like salads, starters, pizza and burgers cost under $10.

Ramborger said he enjoys experimenting with flavors and different foods. In February, Ramborger was voted “America’s Hottest Chef” by Eater National. He also made it through many tryout rounds for the TV show “Hell’s Kitchen” before being cut in the last round of interviews.

“I’ve never had a special that wasn’t great,” Nelson said. “Kurt is good at finding unusual flavor combinations that are very palate challenging.”

“The Irish Chef” Ramborger has been cooking for 20 years. He first became a chef in Seattle, then started his own catering company, Mos Deux (meaning “two deaf”), in Los Angeles and started working at ViUDA Bistro eight months ago when the restaurant opened.

Ramborger and Rutowski know each other from when they both attended Gallaudet University about 20 years ago. Ramborger wanted to open a restaurant himself, but he liked the people and the atmosphere at the restaurant and decided to take the role as the executive chef.

“Paul [Rutowski] handles the business and is the ‘mind,’ and I handle the food and am more like the ‘heart’ of the business,” Ramborger said.

Printed on Monday, April 30, 2012 as: Deaf chef, staff offer flavorful entrees

Panel Recap — Top Chef: How Transmedia is Changing TV

Bravo defines “Transmedia” as storytelling across different media platforms. Lisa Hsia, Bravo’s digital media department, said the channel employed transmedia “out of desperation” to keep their content, both on the computer screen and television screen, fresh.

Dave Serwatka, Bravo’s Vice President of Current and Cross Platform Productions, chose one of Bravo’s flagship shows, Top Chef, because he believed it was an ideal choice for Bravo’s transmedia initiative. Top Chef employed the mediums of internet webisodes (with their online show Last Chance Kitchen), responses through Twitter with assigned hashtags that were broadcasted on air, and traditional television.

Bravo’s webisode for Top Chef, called Last Chance Kitchen, allowed eliminated chefs from the show to compete for a chance to come back and compete. The chefs compete for fan approval via online voting.

Top Chef’s head judge Tom Colicchio also ensured that the shows judges have no off-camera interactions with the competing chefs. He said he loves finding out about the behind-closed-doors “Mean Girls” drama along with the fans through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook as well as comment responses of the Top Chef website.

“If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead,” said Lisa Hsia of Bravo’s digital media department about the content on Bravo’s website. “Top Chef’s internet content from Last Chance Kitchen to social media interactions and gaming took a show that’s broadcasted one day a week to a seven-day experience.”

Solo Session Recap — Catch Me If You Can 10 Years Later: Frank Abagnale

Author of Catch Me If You Can Frank Abagnale brought many members of the crowd to tears with his moving panel at SXSW Interactive in the Austin Convention Center on Saturday afternoon. The room was packed with at least 250 people so eager to see him they gladly plopped down on the floor to hear the tales they’d seen in the movie Catch Me If You Can (based on Abagnale's book) from the man himself.

During the panel, Abagnale scooped his audience with some insider information that wasn’t in the movie or Broadway adaptation, expressed his deepest regrets and his life’s biggest treasures. Today more than 14,000 government agencies, financial institutions, and corporations use Abagnale’s fraud prevention programs.

After a county court judge ambushed him with a decision to choose which parent he would live with after their divorce, Abagnale didn’t just run away from the court room, he ran away from home. At 16, he realized he couldn’t support himself with jobs like delivery services and paper boys that were typical for boys his age in New York City.

“In the 1960s, running away was a very popular thing to do,” said Abagnale. “In order to survive, to support myself, I knew I had to be older to get jobs that could pay me better.”

And so Abagnale’s infamously clever trickery and fraud began. From ages 16 to 21, Abagnale posed as a pilot, a lawyer, a doctor and a college professor. According to Abagnale, Pan Am airlines’ research department estimated that he flew over one million miles for free to over 26 countries, but never once did he step on board a Pan American aircraft...for fear of getting caught, of course.

At 18, Abagnale quit his career as a pilot because the FBI issued a John Doe warrant against him. Abagnale moved to Atlanta and took on the role of a pediatrician living in a swanky apartment building full of singles, none of whom had kids. In Atlanta, he became Dr. Frank Williams.

Eventually Abagnale was arrested in France where he served time in prison, and then was sent to serve time in Sweden, and then eventually came back to the US to serve more prison time. Abagnale was released from prison early on the condition that he work for the FBI. This year, he is celebrating his thirty-sixth year with the FBI.

“I know that I will always work for the FBI, to continue to give back because no matter how many years I work, it will never equal what I took from this country,” Abagnale admitted solemnly.

When an audience member asked Abagnale if he could go back in time and do it everything all over again, would he change anything, Abagnale said “yes” without the slightest hesitation.

“I live with the burden of what I did everyday,” He said. “People are so fascinated by my life but what they don’t realize is that it was a very lonely life, I was always alone on birthdays, Christmases, and when I was sick, there was no one to take care of me.”

“My friends were all 10 years older than me and thought I was someone completely different than who I was. They were not even peers,” Abagnale said.

Abagnale now lives with his wife in Charleston, SC. He has three sons. A single glance over the faces of the panel’s audience revealed how moving Abagnale’s description of what his family means to him was evidence that he’d unexpectedly pulled at the heartstrings of the crowd.

“My single greatest treasure in life is my family,” Abagnale said. “The love I have for my wife makes me want to be the best man I can be, and I want to make all of my sons as proud as they have made me.”

Abagnale said he still gets emails from people from age eight to 80 who call him a genius and refer to him as brilliant.” To these praises, Abagnale had a very surprising response.

“If I had really been a genius or brilliant, I wouldn’t have broken the law,” Abagnale said.

Facts about Catch Me If You Can:
• In the movie, Abagnale reunited with his father. In real life, Abagnale never once saw his father after he fled the courtroom where he was supposed to choose a parent to live with when he was 16.

• In the movie, Abagnale’s mother remarried. In real life, she did not.

• In the movie, Abagnale took 2 weeks to study for the bar exam in Louisiana (which he passed both on and off screen). However, in real life, he took a two-month long prep course to study.

• Abagnale was not allowed by the FBI to be a part of any part of the creation of both the film and Broadway adaptation of his life, nor did he make any money off of either.

• Abagnale is the only person to ever have a Broadway adaptation of his life during his lifetime.

Mike Boyle, center, and Cassandra Hoffman, right, eat brunch at Chez Zee with Hoffman’s daughter, Madyson, Sunday afternoon. Many restaurants in Austin specialize in late Sunday brunches to make the transition from weekend relaxation to weekday hassle an enjoyable experience.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

On Sundays, brunch isn’t just a meal, it’s a way of life. The meal is a true hybrid that blurs the lines between breakfast and lunch with menu staples such as fried chicken and waffles, steak and eggs, and signature cocktails such as mimosas and Bloody Marys. Whoever said you couldn’t have the best of both worlds has obviously never had a drink before noon or a pancake for lunch.

Although the exact origins of brunch are still a mystery, many food historians point to writer Guy Beringer, who allegedly first printed the meal portmanteau in Hunter’s Weekly in England in 1865. In Beringer’s article, “Brunch: A Plea,” he suggested England replace its traditional post-church Sunday dinner with “a new meal, served around noon, that starts with tea or coffee, marmalade and other breakfast fixtures before moving along to the heavier fare.”

“By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers,” Beringer wrote. “Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

While we may never know if Beringer got the brunch he always dreamed of in England in 1865, surely a quick glance at a modern-day brunch in Austin would make him proud.

If the only thing you knew of brunch was its soundtrack, which buzzes with laughter, the clinking of champagne glasses and music, you probably wouldn’t visualize bright sunshine, much less a family-filled restaurant. Yet, brunch has taken on a lively social context.

Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill’s chef and owner Larry Perdido serves up an all-you-can-eat southern style brunch every Sunday morning and is proud of the group-friendly atmosphere his restaurant draws every weekend.

“Brunch is the last weekend dining experience that one can share socially before having to wind up to go back to school or work,” Perdido said.

Food writer for the Austin American-Statesman and breakfast lover Addie Broyles adds that weekends are inherently social and perfectly crafted for party-like dining experiences. “Brunch is a way to carry on the fun of the night before into the next day,” she said.

Paul Freedman, a professor of history at Yale University, attributes the last century’s decline in church attendance, combined with an increased rate of urbanization, to the popularity of brunch.

“For people who work in offices, Saturday tends to be a day of errands and Sunday for relaxation,” Freedman said.

Chef Matt Janiec, who has worked at the Z’Tejas restaurant for 12 years, has noticed a trend among brunch customers who linger and order the extra cocktail they might not have allowed themselves on a weeknight. “It’s a slower paced meal because for lunch and dinner everyone is in a rush to go somewhere,” he said. “For brunch, it’s a time to sit with friends and family and just be.”

Different restaurants in Austin have catered to the growing brunch scene in town while adhering to their restaurant’s particular food genre. Janiec and his team at Z’Tejas infuse typical brunch staples with their signature southwestern spin by taking a brunch basic like French toast and resting it on an unexpected bed of prickly pear syrup. Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill transports customers to a simpler time, with turn-of-the-century style buttermilk biscuits with chipotle cream gravy and a classically southern mint julep cocktail.

Spokesperson for Chez Zee, Sharon Watkins, said eggs are a key ingredient on a brunch menu. “We poach eggs, fry them, make omelets and Mexican preparations as well as plain scrambled,” she said of the 500 to 800 plates Chez Zee typically serves during brunch.

Another key ingredient to any great brunch lineup is the drink menu stacked with an array of champagne cocktails as well as a Bloody Mary. From Moonshine’s Scarlet Mimosa that replaces typical orange juice with pomegranate juice to Z’Tejas’ simple yet satiating screwdriver, brunch encourages day drinking that society normally deems inappropriate on a weekday.

Broyles believes the variety of brunch menus among restaurants fits perfectly into Austin’s eclectic food scene, which brims with more and more self-proclaimed foodies everyday.

“We’re pretty fluid in our eating habits,” she said. “We can go from chips and salsa to migas to quiche to mimosas and brioche pretty easily. We’ll take it spicy, boozy, indulgent or wacky, as long as it’s good.” 

Printed on Friday, February 17, 2012 as: Good Eats: Sunday Brunch Scene

Commentary, Review

Reality television is often thought of as the ugly stepchild of modern television. Unless it’s a competitive series of slightly esoteric taste (such as the foodies’ “Top Chef” or the fashionistas’ “Project Runway”), it’s hard for a reality show to gain much respect. It’s easy to see why. While “Jersey Shore” may be an entertaining trifle, it does little to dispel reality TV’s reputation as the lowest of the lowbrow in popular entertainment.

It’s bizarre then to look back at the genre’s roots. HBO’s new miniseries, “Cinema Verite,” inspires a nostalgic look back into reality TV’s storied history. “Cinema Verite” is based on the making of 1973’s “An American Family,” a 12-part documentary on PBS that followed the daily lives of Santa Barbara family the Louds. At the time, it was a stirring new enterprise in television, eliciting discussions and great controversy for its depiction of the Louds’ eventual divorce and the inclusion of TV’s first openly gay man, Lance Loud.

“An American Family” is also largely considered to be the antecedent to modern reality television. After watching excerpts from the series online (the complete series has never been available on video), there are curious cues to current reality TV trends that give even the assorted dramas of the “Real Housewives” franchise some unexpected gravitas.

Like most reality shows, the subjects of the series come from an affluence likely foreign to most of the people who actually watched it. Even 40 years ago, reality TV was all about watching beautiful rich people cry their pretty tears into martini glasses.

What also holds true is the empathic potential for reality TV to relate life’s banalities across socioeconomic divisions: In one scene, Loud daughter Delilah, her hair tightly wound in curlers, fidgets as she labors through a dull phone conversation with her father. In another scene, the Loud children, out of what appears to be sheer boredom, attack each other in the backyard with a garden hose. They may be wealthier than most of their viewers, but they face the same quotidian hurdles as the rest of us.

Where “An American Family” differs from current reality TV is also often a main point of contention for opponents of the genre. Unlike current reality TV programs, the drama in “An American Family” is not ginned-up, at least not in the same way shows are now. Sure, cameras following you around can affect your behavior and crafty editing techniques can help parse theater from the slightest of scenarios. What’s different about “An American Family” is that there’s an almost entire lack of direction to the production, including no confessionals.

Most unlike current reality TV, you never immediately get the sense that any of the scenes in “An American Family” are staged. Although upon the series’ airing, the Louds were vocal about their discomfort in how Gilbert chose to edit down the 300 hours of footage, watching it 40 years later the unraveling of the Louds’ marriage comes through powerfully unfettered.

There’s a particularly sobering moment in episode nine that one would never see on current reality TV: Bill returns home from business out of town to Pat, his wife, who tells him to move out. What follows is 10 devastating minutes: The camera follows as Bill calls to book a hotel reservation and pack his clothes; Pat sits silently on their bed.

You can see both of them straining to maintain their composure in front of the camera and for those few brief minutes, the show is almost unbearably, chillingly real. A marriage that spanned 20 years and bore four children ended in a single night, and all of America was the audience to them coming undone.

Could this kind of genuine real-life drama ever make it on the air in 2011? It seems unlikely. Modern reality TV is more like an alternative method of storytelling, a way to restructure a fictional narrative by calling it “reality.” It’s a shame, because “An American Family” proved 40 years ago that reality, the kind without quotations, is rife with compelling drama all its own.

For groupies of Austin chef Tyson Cole and fans of Japanese fusion cuisine, the opening of Uchiko, owned by Cole and overseen by executive chef Paul Qui, has been eagerly anticipated — and was well worth the wait.

Many of the menu offerings echo those at its sister restaurant, Uchi, exhibiting the same irreverent flair for unlikely flavor combinations. Small plates dominate the menu, overshadowing the lackluster selection of sushi rolls. However, the extensive list of sushi nigiri and sashimi, each accompanied by a garnish or sauce that enhances the flavor of the fish, maintains the restaurant’s standing as a major contender in Austin’s sushi scene.

The Akami Te, one of Uchiko’s “cool tastings,” pairs fresh big eye tuna with cilantro and coriander atop a slice of juicy watermelon. The crispness of the watermelon contrasts nicely with the tender flesh of the tuna, and the sea salt sprinkled on top saves the dish from being bland while the cilantro rounds out the flavor in each bite.

The Yellowtail Ringo also combines raw fish with fruit, bringing together seared Australian amberjack with fennel and Fuji apple. Crisp apple chips give the dish an added texture and balance out the softness of the fish and the firmness of the apple slices.

As for hot dishes, the “sear it yourself” hot rock made popular at Uchi has a place on Uchiko’s menu, giving patrons the opportunity to sear Wagyu beef with kaffir lime at the table. The crunchy skin of the pork belly gives the Bacon Sen dish its bacon-y flavor, and the juiciness of the meat makes your mouth water for more. The fried apple puree and apple kimchee on the side provide a level of sweetness that the saltiness of the pork almost requires.

The chefs at Uchiko use top-quality fish for their sushi, and it shows. The sushi nigiri, or individual pieces of fish on small pads of rice, comes with added ingredients that make the flavor of each fish pop.

The buttery flesh of the sake toro, or salmon belly, was perfectly complemented by ginger and tamari, similar to soy sauce — typical sushi flavors. The hotate combines a raw diver scallop with a spicy aioli and a slice of avocado, and it pleasingly melts in your mouth. For more adventurous diners, the uni, or sea urchin, is creamy and fresh, with an almost egg-like consistency offset by basil and lemon.

The sushi rolls offered at Uchiko leave something to be desired, not in execution but, rather, in conceptualization. The Toledo roll, featuring big eye tuna, chorizo, Thai chili, avocado, grilled garlic and candied almond slices, was nearly a free-for-all of random ingredients despite using the same blend of sweet and salty flavors that made Uchi famous in Austin. The Umaso roll with amberjack and avocado is pretty standard fare, and the Oni Maguro roll, essentially a glorified spicy tuna roll, isn’t terribly inspired.

But executive pastry chef Philip Speer, celebrated for his work at Uchi, has outdone himself at Uchiko. The sweet corn sorbet with polenta custard and caramel salt is childishly satisfying; the caramel salt conjures up memories of shortbread cookies, and the polenta custard is sweet but not cloying. The tobacco cream dessert is rich, with a chocolate sorbet and huckleberry crisp that add depth to the dish.

The drink menu, in addition to wine, beer and sake, offers a small selection of specialty cocktails, the most notable of which is the Larkin: sparkling wine, grilled thyme and a slice of cured lemon. The thyme makes the wine more aromatic, and even though the drink becomes syrupy toward the bottom of the glass, that shouldn’t keep avid drinkers from ordering a second. Or a third.

The Pan Am, a mixture of sake, agua fresca, Granny Smith apple and rosemary, has a much milder flavor for those content to casually sip their drinks. The wines are tempting, too, as glasses are served with a hefty, but not unseemly, pour.

All in all, Uchiko is a pleasant experience for adventurous diners seeking Japanese fusion cuisine. Be prepared to raise your voice a little, though — a common complaint at Uchi and La Condesa, also designed by architect Michael Hsu, is the noise level of the dining room — and brace yourself for the check. Cocktails range from $10 to $12, small plates average out to about $17 each, sushi rolls are $11 on average and desserts are $9 each.

The best way to dine at Uchiko, though, is to save up and splurge. And if you’re fortunate enough to sit at the sushi bar, ask one of the sushi chefs for a recommendation. They’ll know what’s fresh, and who knows? You might come away with something unexpectedly delicious or, even better, off-menu.

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WHAT: Uchiko
WHERE: 4200 N. Lamar Blvd.
WHEN: Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. ; Friday and Saturday, 5-11p.m.
WHAT TO GET: Akami Te, Bacon Sen and sweet corn sorbet

For groupies of Austin chef Tyson Cole and fans of Japanese fusion cuisine, the opening of Uchiko, owned by Cole and overseen by executive chef Paul Qui, has been eagerly anticipated — and was well worth the wait.

Many of the menu offerings echo those at its sister restaurant, Uchi, exhibiting the same irreverent flair for unlikely flavor combinations. Small plates dominate the menu, overshadowing the lackluster selection of sushi rolls. However, the extensive list of sushi nigiri and sashimi, each accompanied by a garnish or sauce that enhances the flavor of the fish, maintains the restaurant’s standing as a major contender in Austin’s sushi scene.

The Akami Te, one of Uchiko’s “cool tastings,” pairs fresh big eye tuna with cilantro and coriander atop a slice of juicy watermelon. The crispness of the watermelon contrasts nicely with the tender flesh of the tuna, and the sea salt sprinkled on top saves the dish from being bland while the cilantro rounds out the flavor in each bite.

The Yellowtail Ringo also combines raw fish with fruit, bringing together seared Australian amberjack with fennel and Fuji apple. Crisp apple chips give the dish an added texture and balance out the softness of the fish and the firmness of the apple slices.

As for hot dishes, the “sear it yourself” hot rock made popular at Uchi has a place on Uchiko’s menu, giving patrons the opportunity to sear Wagyu beef with kaffir lime at the table. The crunchy skin of the pork belly gives the Bacon Sen dish its bacon-y flavor, and the juiciness of the meat makes your mouth water for more. The fried apple puree and apple kimchee on the side provide a level of sweetness that the saltiness of the pork almost requires.

The chefs at Uchiko use top-quality fish for their sushi, and it shows. The sushi nigiri, or individual pieces of fish on small pads of rice, comes with added ingredients that make the flavor of each fish pop.

The buttery flesh of the sake toro, or salmon belly, was perfectly complemented by ginger and tamari, similar to soy sauce — typical sushi flavors. The hotate combines a raw diver scallop with a spicy aioli and a slice of avocado, and it pleasingly melts in your mouth. For more adventurous diners, the uni, or sea urchin, is creamy and fresh, with an almost egg-like consistency offset by basil and lemon.

The sushi rolls offered at Uchiko leave something to be desired, not in execution but, rather, in conceptualization. The Toledo roll, featuring big eye tuna, chorizo, Thai chili, avocado, grilled garlic and candied almond slices, was nearly a free-for-all of random ingredients despite using the same blend of sweet and salty flavors that made Uchi famous in Austin. The Umaso roll with amberjack and avocado is pretty standard fare, and the Oni Maguro roll, essentially a glorified spicy tuna roll, isn’t terribly inspired.

But executive pastry chef Philip Speer, celebrated for his work at Uchi, has outdone himself at Uchiko. The sweet corn sorbet with polenta custard and caramel salt is childishly satisfying; the caramel salt conjures up memories of shortbread cookies, and the polenta custard is sweet but not cloying. The tobacco cream dessert is rich, with a chocolate sorbet and huckleberry crisp that add depth to the dish.

The drink menu, in addition to wine, beer and sake, offers a small selection of specialty cocktails, the most notable of which is the Larkin: sparkling wine, grilled thyme and a slice of cured lemon. The thyme makes the wine more aromatic, and even though the drink becomes syrupy toward the bottom of the glass, that shouldn’t keep avid drinkers from ordering a second. Or a third.

The Pan Am, a mixture of sake, agua fresca, Granny Smith apple and rosemary, has a much milder flavor for those content to casually sip their drinks. The wines are tempting, too, as glasses are served with a hefty, but not unseemly, pour.

All in all, Uchiko is a pleasant experience for adventurous diners seeking Japanese fusion cuisine. Be prepared to raise your voice a little, though — a common complaint at Uchi and La Condesa, also designed by architect Michael Hsu, is the noise level of the dining room — and brace yourself for the check. Cocktails range from $10 to $12, small plates average out to about $17 each, sushi rolls are $11 on average and desserts are $9 each.

The best way to dine at Uchiko, though, is to save up and splurge. And if you’re fortunate enough to sit at the sushi bar, ask one of the sushi chefs for a recommendation. They’ll know what’s fresh, and who knows? You might come away with something unexpectedly delicious or, even better, off-menu.

---

WHAT: Uchiko
WHERE: 4200 N. Lamar Blvd.
WHEN: Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. ; Friday and Saturday, 5-11p.m.
WHAT TO GET: Akami Te, Bacon Sen and sweet corn sorbet