By Marshall Wright
"I’m conducting orchestras,” says Parkside Owner and Chef Shawn Cirkiel.
It’s Friday night at Parkside, and the happy hour rush is in full swing. In the kitchen, Cirkiel—stationed at the expedite window, the restaurant-kitchen equivalent to the conductor’s stand, directs the waitstaff and fires food orders to the cooks on the line.
The three-and-a-half-year-old American tavern is located in the heart of Austin’s Sixth Street entertainment district in the old Dan McCluskey's building. Its exposed brick walls, reproduction lighting and warm ambience blend seamlessly with the restaurant’s hip, urban flavor and offer a welcome respite from the frenetic pulse that lurks outside.
Cirkiel has been impressing Austinites for more than a decade with his creative approach to cooking fresh and local food. It’s literally in his blood, having grown up on the family farm where roots in the food business date back to his great-grandparents. It was this passion for fresh and local that eventually led Cirkiel to become a founding member of the SFC Farmers’ Market–Downtown, where he still sources for Parkside. It’s what drives the focus of the restaurant’s menu as well.
There’s no yelling—no real chaos—like in some kitchens. The cooks are focused, but jovial, trading jabs with one another. The kitchen is efficient despite its oppressive heat. The clock in the kitchen reads 100.4 degrees—hotter if you’re hovering over the sauté pans on the line. If the cooks are “in the weeds” it’s hard to tell; and the servers are in step with them.
“I need a runner,” calls Cirkiel. “Runner, Chef!” a server responds from a group waiting directly behind him.
As a conductor’s job is to unify the players, set the tempo, clearly execute the performance then critically listen and shape its sound, so too is Cirkiel’s role in the kitchen.
“People ask if I cooked a dish, and I joke that I yelled to make it better,” Cirkiel says with a laugh. “But everybody cooks here….so I’m conducting orchestras.”