executive chef

Photo Credit: Lex Rojas | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: Forum Editor Amil Malik sat down with Division of Housing and Food Service Executive Chef Robert Mayberry in order to discuss healthy eating on campus. 

Amil Malik: Could you give me some context about the dining establishments on campus? Do they all come under the DHFS umbrella? 

Robert Mayberry: Now actually at least five or six other entities on campus operate food service. I work with the DHFS which means we’re under both UT and the state. Many of the other food service outlets on campus are contracted. The contractors have the advantage of having multiple units. They’re good at managing price and managing profits. Food service is a tricky thing to do because you’re working with food, which is perishable, and you’re working with people, who can sometimes be difficult to manage — if we’re being honest. So the contractors take care of all that. They allow a department that may not want to deal the food and the people to cut that out by contracting it. 

But, in terms of DHFS, that encompasses all the campus living facilities and the food services attached to them. We have Jester City Limits, J2, Cyprus Bend, Kinsolving and Littlefield Patio Cafe. Then we have two kinds of services, the all-you-can-eat and the retail operations. 

Malik: Who decides where DHFS operates and where contractors operate?

Mayberry: I can’t really speak to all the other parts of campus because I’m not exactly sure who runs what. But each of the colleges makes their own decisions as far as the food services attached to them. Athletics has its own contractor, and the student union has a different contractor. I’ve been here for 11 years and that’s how it’s been. But mainly we focus on taking care of the students. Every time we make a decision, we ask what’s the benefit for the students.

Malick: Last time we spoke, you mentioned some of the new DHFS sustainability measures. What sustainability measures does the DHFS  have in place right now?

Mayberry: Right now we have some questions we ask ourselves before we purchase. Some of the criteria we follow, budgetary requirements permitting of course: Is it organic? Is it free trade? Is it socially responsible? For concrete items we question: Is it a recycled product? How does it affect our carbon footprint? 

Our purchasing director has done a really good job of following those criteria. And in the past, 23 percent of our compliance products — food and non-food  — are either sustainable, organic, or recycled. So it’s a pretty good number, and we keep shooting for higher.

Malik: How do you decide the menu in the DHFS facilities?

Mayberry: I’d be happy to talk about that. We have 13 chefs besides myself. I’m the campus executive chef, so my role is really support for all the other chefs and the unit managers. We have six different locations total. Each location has a manager and one to three chefs depending on the size. Menus can be similar in different locations. In a nutshell, the managers and the chefs collaborate to come up with the menus. We have a menu cycle rotate every three weeks in each location, which is a way to increase variety, with different items for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So you may have a couple thousand recipes for Jester City Limits that we rotate through. A lot of what we do is we have menus in place, and we’re always reassessing those menus for acceptability. If something’s not moving or if we have a request for a different kind of food, we take that into consideration. The factors we take into consideration are feedback from customers, what’s new and current, what’s locally sourced and sustainable. We think about seasonality — what’s in season. We are always making plans to improve for the following semester.

Malik: How do you manage the nutritional content of the food?

Mayberry: I think people appreciate more and more that delicious food can also be nutritious. Of course there is the exception of the high fat and the high sugar item. But more and more people are very conscious of where their food is coming from and what they’re putting in their body. Our registered dietitian, Lindsay Wilson, has done a great job. We work together when we are planning a menu. We’re in the same room at the same time. It’s an open discussion. There’s a lot of give-and-take and input on each side. We value the input of the registered dietitian, and I think she values the input of the chefs. If she finds something needs attention, we look at it. And when we design menus, we keep a balance in mind. We’re looking for healthy. We minimize the fat and minimize the processed content to keep food as healthy as we can while still having it taste good.  But again it’s a great effort. There’s a lot of input on all sides.

Then, once we land on a menu, that’s just the first step. After we decide a specific menu item, we look at the recipe. Then Leslie goes through the fat content. If there’s too much butter for instance, and we can cut back without sacrificing taste, we do that. Then we try to balance so that we have a vegetarian option, seafood, beef and pork. What else. Oh, yes, Lindsay’s done a great job of putting nutritional content online. We have nutritional content on all the food we serve along with allergen information. 

Malik: Thanks again for talking with me today. One final question: As the executive chef, what advice would you have for students looking to eat healthy within the campus establishments?

Mayberry: I’d say you should eat in the DHFS facilities. Honestly, we have a lot of choices. We reach out to students for feedback on how we’ve done. We have a huge amount of variety. I would recommend a student look online. All our menus are posted online. You’ve got great choices and have the nutritional information as well. We have vegetarian. We have whole grain. And we try to minimize the processed food. Check it out online, research and see what we have to offer.

Mayberry is the executive chef at the UT Division of Housing and Food Services.

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.”

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

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

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