This coming Sunday, we celebrate the launch of MUNCHIES inaugural Cookbook (Late Night Meals with The World's Best Chefs) at Space 24 Twenty with a special event + discussion featuring MUNCHIES Editor-in-Chief, Helen Hollyman.
While Hollyman's roots are actually right here in Austin (the author now resides in NYC), we were excited to have the opportunity to pick her brain a bit on the local food scene, the role food plays in today's culture and of course, her queso of choice.
Read more below and make sure to grab your ticket at Urban Outfitters - Space 24 Twenty before they sell out! Details here.
Photos by Dana Pleasant
Ok, let’s rewind. How and where did your food journey begin?
When I graduated from college, I worked in the art world for a few years, but I ended up starting an internship at Food & Wine Magazine, and the rest is sort of history. I’ve always called myself the Big Lebowski of food up until I was hired at VICE, because I’ve worn a lot of different hats that didn’t fit the typical mold: I’ve been a freelance writer, a waiter, a cook, a truffle dealer, radio host etc. When I look back on the incredible people I’ve worked with along the way (from Christina Tosi at Momofuku Milk Bar to Mark Bittman—while he was at the New York Times—to Amanda Hesser at Food52), I feel really lucky to have been surrounded by such talented people when I was starting out.
You now live in NYC, but are originally from Austin. What’s your take on the food culture here now? Where do you think it’s headed?
I think the Austin food scene is becoming one of the most exciting on a national level: Over the past ten years, I’ve noticed that many young chefs who have worked at places like Uchi have gone on to open their own restaurants, and the fine dining scene is flourishing with spots like Olamaie and Barley Swine. Austin used to be known (and continues to be known) for it’s comfort/Tex-Mex cuisine, but what really excites me about the Austin scene right now is the upscale casual options like Ramen Tatsu-ya, Kemuri Tatsus-ya, and of course, Franklin BBQ.
Beyond the obvious reasons, why do you think food plays such an important role in today’s culture?
I really believe that in our technological era, food is the last human experience that’s not downloadable. As we all continue to have a complex relationship with the internet and our smartphones, it can act as a double-edged sword that digitally connects us to anything in the universe, and yet isolates us from basic human interactions. I think that the experience of dining with others is becoming more important than ever. Or at least until we all turn into robots.
Let’s look at the MUNCHIES Cookbook a bit – tell us a bit more about it! Any favorite recipes that you’ve had a chance to try?
All of these recipes are incredibly personality driven, and showcase technique while also showing the foods that chefs actually crave when they’re not behind the restaurant stove.
I’ve tried every recipe, and they are all very delicious. They range from the more simple preparations, like Jamie Bissonnette of Toro’s scrambled eggs and potato chips, which tastes almost identical to Tortilla Española, to the more advanced, such as Bar Isabel’s butter basted crab legs with garlic, ginger, and chili.
We’re looking forward to your conversation this coming Sunday at Space 24 Twenty. Any insight in to what you’ll be discussing?
I’m really looking forward to chatting with some of the best chefs in Austin featuring Tyson Cole of Uchi, Tien Ho of Whole Foods (formerly Momofuku), Shion Aikawa of Ramen Tatsu-Ya and Callie Speer of Holy Roller. We’re going to be discussing the Austin restaurant scene, what it means to be a chef today, and how Austin food culture has changed in the past decade.
Lastly, we hear you’re a queso fan. In the never-ending, heated debate on who does it best, who is your local pick in Austin?
I was raised on the Bob Armstrong dip at Matt’s El Rancho, and I will continue to stand by it forever and always.