By Shannon Oelrich
Photography by Marc Brown
Emmett and Lisa Fox, owners of Austin restaurants ASTI Trattoria and FINO Restaurant Patio & Bar, share a passion for travel and food. They go to Europe every year, and to New York and California when new restaurants beckon. “We love to see what other chefs are doing,” says Lisa, who chronicles their travel and food adventures in her blog, foodisforsharing.com.
When at home, the Foxes opt for more modest fare. “Our go-to is roast chicken with mashed potatoes and greens. It’s simple and comforting,” says Lisa. She and Emmett juice fruits and vegetables in the morning for breakfast, then usually have lunch while working at one of their restaurants. There aren’t many nights of the week they’re home together for dinner. “We keep cheese and salami, fruits and vegetables in the fridge to grab when we’re not going to cook,” she says. “Or, for a quick meal, I keep guanciale [unsmoked Italian bacon] in the freezer to throw together with canned tomatoes and pasta.”
The home cooking really starts when the Foxes have friends over. “Paella is fun to cook,” says Emmett. “I have a twenty-two-inch paella pan that I put over a wood fire out back.” They make tapas ahead of time to enjoy while the paella is cooking. Their favorite thing, though, is when a bunch of friends come into their kitchen and cook together. “The cooking can get rather competitive,” says Lisa, “but it’s fun.”
At Thanksgiving and Christmas, cooking kicks into high gear. “Lisa’s dad comes from Florida every year for Thanksgiving, so we make a big family meal,” says Emmett. For Christmas Eve, they invite several friends over and “pull out all the stops,” he says with a gleam in his eye. “Champagne, caviar, squab, truffles . . . whatever we want.”
On Saturday mornings, the Foxes might be found at Boggy Creek Farm, perusing the fresh offerings. Lisa is especially grateful for farmer Carol Ann’s gardening advice. “She taught me to plant a patch of fennel for myself, and a smaller one for the caterpillars,” she says. “That way, I can move all the caterpillars to their fennel and keep mine intact.
“Fresh fennel is wonderful,” Lisa continues. “I used some of the bulbs shaved into salads, then let it flower. Emmett made a side of salmon on the grill with leeks and fennel, wrapped in foil. We served it at room temperature with fennel flowers sprinkled over it—their flavor is so intense and delicious. Then, I let the fennel go to seed and gathered those to use in cooking.”
Two of Emmett’s favorite foods are hearty greens and lamb, especially when the lamb is paired with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Greens are often on the menu at home, not only because Emmett loves them, but because Lisa loves to grow them. “In my fall garden, I’m growing kale, Swiss chard, escarole, and might add spinach,” she says.
Fall also brings the Foxes’ annual trip to Europe. This year, they headed to the Basque region of Spain to rent a villa with several friends. Always looking forward to eating new dishes and seeing new sights, the greater pleasure is returning home to
tend their garden and their restaurants.
The Fox's Lamb Tagine with Sweet Potato, Prunes, Ginger and Honey
“We love this classic dish from North Africa because it’s a blend of intense flavors from that area, and a one-dish stew that lends itself to meat, fish or vegetables. Tagine also refers to the dish itself, which is a shallow earthenware dish with a unique conical lid designed to lock in the flavor and moisture.”
2 T. olive oil
2 T. whole blanched almonds
2 red onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
Pinch of saffron
1 cinnamon stick
2 t. coriander seeds, crushed
1 lb. boned lamb (shoulder or leg), cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch. cubes
12 pitted prunes, soaked in water for 30 minutes
3 strips orange zest
2 T. honey
Fresh cilantro for garnish
In the bottom of a tagine dish, a Dutch oven or another heavy-bottomed dish with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the almonds and sauté until slightly browned.
Add the onions and garlic and cook until they begin to color. Add the ginger, saffron, cinnamon stick and coriander seeds. Cook 2 minutes, then add the lamb. Season with salt and pepper and cook 2 to 3 minutes.
Add enough water to cover the meat and bring to just under a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover the dish and cook 45 minutes to 1 hour (can also be cooked in a 300° oven). When the meat is tender, add the sweet potatoes, prunes and orange zest.
Make sure there is enough liquid in the bottom to ensure a syrupy sauce, adding water if necessary; do not let the bottom go dry. Cover and cook an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the sweet potato is cooked through.
Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the honey. Take off of the heat and cover until ready to serve. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve with buttered couscous.