2018 Local Heroes

The recipients of this year’s Edible Austin Local Heroes Awards represent the remarkable synergy that makes our food and beverage community so vibrant. It’s largely because of their collaborative efforts that these culinary trailblazers have made such an impact. They are truly a team to celebrate.

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Chef/Restaurant: Bryce Gilmore, Odd Duck

Long before Austin restaurants widely embraced the idea of using local ingredients, Bryce Gilmore was attempting to source the components of his entire Odd Duck menu from farms and ranches around the city. This was almost a decade ago, when Odd Duck was a food trailer, and many area farmers hadn’t started selling wholesale. So Gilmore developed strong relationships with producers, and it was his attention to quality and flavor—and fearless creativity in the kitchen—that earned him acclaim and led to the opening of Barley Swine in 2010 and the brick-and-mortar Odd Duck in 2013.

Despite the proliferation of new eateries across town, Odd Duck has remained a relevant favorite. Much of this has to do with Gilmore’s innovative yet solid and approachable menu, with items such as a chicken-fried fish head, or smoked duck and duck egg anchored by massive browned tots, all served on unpretentious antique plates you might find on your grandmother’s table. It’s almost impossible to track Austin’s farm-to-fork personalities and successes back to one moment or one person, but it’s undeniable that Gilmore and Odd Duck played a crucial role, while bringing local producers along for the ride.

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Food Shop: Antonelli’s Cheese Shop

It’s not surprising that Austin has just one stand-alone cheese shop considering the impressive work done each year by Antonelli’s. John and Kendall Antonelli opened the shop in Hyde Park in 2010 (some of us probably knew about good cheese before we knew about craft beer). Austinites can gain this delicious knowledge by visiting Antonelli’s retail counter, where the friendliest cheesemongers provide ample samples and explain styles, flavors, origins, processes and pairings. And if that weren’t fun enough, the Antonelli’s team also offers in-depth classes at the Cheese House across the street.

Antonelli’s sourced cheeses are sold at numerous restaurants throughout the city and at a second location in Fareground food hall. In addition to cheese and accompaniment boards, Antonelli’s serves dishes such as macaroni made with eight specialty cheeses and a green salad with double-cream blue cheese, bacon and pear. As they keep moving forward, the Antonellis have stayed true to their own company mission, #DoGoodEatGood—offering employees health benefits and living wages, and partnering with local and international cheese artisans who use sustainable and humane practices.

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Food Artisan: Confituras

To be a food artisan, one must take ingredients, like paint on a brush, and thoughtfully create a product that is a beautiful and delicious sum of its parts. This is precisely what Stephanie McClenny does when making Confituras jams and preserves—otherwise known as magical little jars of fruit and sugar that can instantly elevate a piece of toast, wedge of cheese or glass of whiskey. “The act of preserving is a bit more of a challenge than that of everyday cooking,” says McClenny, who founded the business in 2010. “Every element has to make sense in terms of beauty, flavor and safety.”

Confituras offers seasonal flavors such as ginger-peach in summer, and uses local ingredients when possible, such as strawberries from the Hill Country. In January 2018, McClenny opened Confituras Little Kitchen, offering her fruit preserves, adventurous gourmet salts, jam-and-yogurt parfaits and what is possibly the best vessel for her canned concoctions: perfectly golden-brown biscuits, freshly baked in squares with heritage grains from Barton Springs Mill. The towering, flaky layers must be seen to be believed.

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Farm/Farmer: Rain Lily Farm, Kim Beal and Stephanie Scherzer

While you won’t find Rain Lily Farm at the weekend market or at local restaurants, this is for good reason. Almost all of Rain Lily’s vegetable bounty goes to its sister business, Farmhouse Delivery, which brings the fresh and flavorful produce to front doors across Texas. Steph Scherzer, a former manager at the Natural Gardener, started Rain Lily in 2003 with her partner, Kim Beal, and opened Farmhouse Delivery three years later. Aligned with Scherzer’s goal to connect people to their food, Farmhouse has grown to deliver about 1,700 weekly orders featuring produce, meats, eggs, prepared foods and even meal kits sourced from a variety of local farms.

Despite having a more “virtual” market, Rain Lily’s peaceful home in East Austin has become a pivotal gathering place—hosting music, arts and culinary events among the four acres of shaded grass, and rows of tomatoes, greens, flowers and fig and olive trees. (It also has chickens and multiple bee hives.) “When Kim and I bought this property,” says Scherzer, “we just wanted to open it up. We wanted to have community; a sacred space where people come together.”

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Beverage Artisan: Waterloo Sparkling Water

The 2017 launch of Waterloo Sparkling Water was significant, not just because this Austin-based startup is giving La Croix a run for its money, but also because the sweet fruitiness bubbling out of the colorful cans almost defies logic. How can flavors so bold have no sugar, calories or sodium? Waterloo says this is because it creates its flavoring formulas in-house and uses vapor-distilled water, cold-force carbonation, aromas captured from the steam above boiling fruit, and oils obtained from high-pressure squeezing. What results is stronger-tasting water, available in original, lemon, lime, grapefruit, black cherry, watermelon and coconut.

Waterloo is named after Austin’s 1839 moniker and embraces its roots with a team of local beverage industry leaders, including Daniel Barnes of Treaty Oak Brewing & Distilling, Brandon Cason formerly of Deep Eddy Vodka, and Sean Cusack of Mighty Swell sparkling cocktails. The beverage can be found at Austin bars, restaurants, grocery stores and Whole Foods Markets around the U.S. With no plans to slow down, Waterloo hopes to soon roll out Non-GMO Project certification for its ingredients.

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Nonprofit: Austin Food and Wine Alliance

Since 2012, the Austin Food and Wine Alliance (AFWA) has provided 31 grants totaling nearly $200,000 to creative culinary efforts throughout Central Texas. In fact, in 2017, AFWA donated a whopping $50,000 to eight recipients, including Georgetown’s Snodgrass Farms, which produces meat from free-range animals and runs a veterans-outreach program. This grant total was the most in the organization’s history and quite the evolution from its initial three grants in 2012 that totalled $20,000. “Our goal was simply to fuel the great ideas and community commitment of our chefs, artisan producers and farmers, and to inspire innovative culinary projects that provide a direct benefit back to the community,” says AFWA Executive Director Mariam Parker. And AFWA has its eye on the next generation of culinary minds by hosting a career conference for hundreds of high school students each year. All of AFWA’s fundraising events are focused on culinary innovation, including Wine & Swine, Live Fire! and the Official Drink of Austin Cocktail Competition. And, just announced this spring, Willie Nelson’s Luck, Texas Grant will provide $5,000 to one deserving chef.

By Lindsay Stafford Mader