Wally Workman

By Robin Chotzinoff
Photography by Marc Brown

 Sure, you could call it a soiree, but local art gallery owner Wally Workman would consider that a pretty fancy word for her regular Thursday night dinner party. The tradition started, after all, with a TV show “so trashy I won’t even tell you what it is,” she says. The point is, a group of Workman’s friends came over one Thursday three years ago for mindless TV and ended up more interested in each other.

They quit watching the show and the emphasis shifted to food and fraternizing…or sororitizing, because there’s usually a nice balance of men and women. Tonight’s margarita also has a pleasant symmetry to it.

“One, one, one,” Workman explains. “One part tequila, one part Paula’s Texas Orange, one part fresh lime juice.” Served ice-cold, no rocks, it goes down, as we Texans say, mighty easy on a hot night. But when her old friend Tom Vinson shows up, he heads straight for the bottle of Treaty Oak rum in Workman’s sideboard, then for the authentic Mexican Coke in her fridge—knowing she keeps these things on hand for him. It’s a civilized arrangement.

Vinson and Workman have known each other for 30 years—ever since the day he walked into her gallery and began “giving me a bunch of crap,” she recalls. “He kept saying ‘you call this art?’ It turned out he was actually quite the artist himself.”

Next to arrive are Tom’s sister, Deborah, recently transplanted from Washington, D.C.; Mary, a pediatrician; and a second Tom, who says he’s about to move to eastern Europe “possibly to escape prosecution,” so we should all take one last look at him, and yes, he’d like a cocktail.

Workman entertains with ease, not just at her Allandale home, but at her longtime West 6th Street gallery located  in a 120-year-old house whose kitchen was removed long ago to make more room for displaying art. Her monthly openings are legendary, not just for the breadth of work she manages to find—and sell!—but because of her all-out hospitality. A recent Saturday night opening featured Priscilla Robinson’s handmade paper creations,  poached salmon and crisp vinho verde wine. Workman seemed to be everywhere at once—serving drinks, snacks and stories of the art, the artists and the people in the room. She likes to mix things together and see what happens.

Tonight, for instance, she’s assembled squares of watermelon, feta and basil into a summer hors d’oeuvre. The presentation was sophisticated; the attitude was oh, this old thing? Dinner was a sit-down candlelit affair with vintage linen napkins, spirited political riffing, pulled pork, H-E-B tortillas (hot off the in-store machine), queso fresco, smoky black beans, Greek yogurt, homemade pico de gallo and a side of Workman’s tangy coleslaw. Everyone had seconds of everything.

“I love to cook and have people over,” Workman says. “I just get in the mood. Cooking for one? Not as much fun. Nowhere near.”


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THIS OLD THING HORS D'OEUVRE

1 small watermelon, seeds removed, cut into 1-in. squares
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, cut into 1-in. pieces
1 block feta cheese, cut into 1-in. squares
Kalamata olives
Toothpicks, for serving

Skewer 1 square of watermelon, 1 piece of basil, 1 square of feta and 1 kalamata olive each on toothpicks.


WALLY'S COLESLAW

2½ heaping spoonfuls Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise
Juice of ½ large lemon
About the same amount of red wine vinegar
1 small head cabbage, finely grated
3 carrots, grated
Seasoning salt
Paprika

In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise, lemon juice and vinegar. Add the cabbage and carrots. Season to taste with the seasoning salt and paprika.


PICO DE GALLO

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, red and yellow, quartered
2–3 jalapeños, seeded (Use a melon baller. It works great!)
Chopped cilantro, to taste
Fresh lime juice, to taste
Salt, to taste

Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl.