UO Kitchen Visits: Tom Rosen of Rosen's Bagels

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There's good reason for the mass migration to Austin that has taken place these last handful of years. Unfortunately, authentic, NY-style bagels has not been one of them... until now. 

Kansas native Tom Rosen took the long road to Austin to begin what has now become one of the buzziest food pop-ups in town. Rosen's Bagels emerged only months ago, but has slowly established itself as the bagel to try, with an offering of classics like Sesame, Everything and Salt paired with inventive schmears like Maple Almond, Basil Lemon and Caramelized Shallot & Bacon 

In Tom's own words, "barbecue and Tex-Mex are no longer the only two tastes in town." 

After hosting our first Father's Day Brunch with Rosen's at Space 24 Twenty last week, we picked Tom's brain on how he got started on this crazy journey, future plans and his thoughts on the food scene in Austin.

Read more below and keep an eye out for the next pop-up here

Photos by Nicolai McCrary 

1. Tell us about yourself… are you originally from Austin? If not, how did you end up here and what keeps you here?

I've vacillated between different career routes, but one mainstay I've had is a love for food and cooking. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, I did the program Teach for America where I taught 6th grade in Phoenix, Arizona. After teaching, I was accepted to and planned on going to law school. BUT, after seeing the debt I'd accrue and experiencing a rebirth for a desire to cook professionally, I decided to attend culinary school instead.

I attended Arizona Culinary Institute and did stints in the Scottsdale/Phoenix fine dining scene. After noticing some interesting eating patterns amongst customers--speaking in generalities, that men would predominately order red meat, dairy based foods, and darker liquor and women would more frequently order white meat and fish, vegetable based dishes, and sweeter drinks--I applied to the University of Texas' Sociology Program to study the gendered nature of food.

Immediately after moving to Austin, I feel in love with the city generally and the food scene specifically. However, I couldn't find a good bagel. After receiving a master's from UT, my desire to get back in the cooking game was reignited. I dabbled with a few bagel recipes with a friend, and then became obsessed with replicating the bagels I'd eaten on trips to New York. After about a year of tinkering, I developed a recipe that met the standards of a traditional, proper bagel and started doing brunches for friends, which then led to pop-ups, which led to caterings and deliveries, which led to where we are now. 

2. How early did your bagel obsession begin?

Growing up Jewish in Topeka, Kansas, my exposure to bagels was fairly limited to chain options and grocery store brands--a little bit like someone's first pizza experience being Dominos. However, my late grandfather loved a bagel and lox and would rave about the one's he'd have when he visited New York. He also ate them whenever he could. That exposure planted the idea that the bagels I grew up with might be of a lower standard.

Then, when visiting friends in New York during college, I had my first legitimate New York bagel experience at bagel shop in Long Island. No joke, I ate 4 bagels and schmear in one sitting. It was transcendent--the defined crust, the distinct chew, the maltiness and slightly fermented dough...not to mention the schmears and smoked fish options. It was revelatory and made me wonder why I couldn't find bagels of this quality in other cities I'd lived in.  

3. What’s your take on the food scene in Austin? It seems like the bagel market is ripe for picking!

Austin's food culture is one (of the many) reasons I feel in love with the city: the trucks, the eclectic offerings, the blend of quality and affordable food with adventurous but not ostentatious fine-dining options, it literally has it all, except for a proper and a traditional bagel like those in New York and the Northeast. And we are blending this bagel tradition with an Austin sensibility. Our bagels (think sesame, poppy, everything, salt, and plain) and smoked fish (house cured lox and smoked whitefish salad) stay true to tradition, and in addition to traditional schmears (like plain, scallion, chive and onion, and blueberry) we integrate Texas-inspired and more adventurous flavors into our schmears (some of our more popular offerings have been lime/roasted poblano/scallion, basil/lemon, and caramelized shallot/bacon). We are providing Austin with the bagel such a food-forward city deserves. 

4. Your operating solely as a pop-up at the time being… do you envision yourself running out of a food truck or brick and mortar down the line?  

Our goal is to have a brick and mortar shop. Alas, it takes time. So while we are scouting real estate, we'll continue to do pop-ups throughout Austin, and also offer catering and delivery service to offices and homes. Also, starting in August we are selling full time out of the east side coffee and beer shop Wright Bros. Brew and Brew. We can't be more excited that Austinites will have a local bagel option every single day of the week. Not to mention the bagel sandwiches we'll be serving up for breakfast and lunch...

5.  Favorite bagel & schmear combo… you can only pick one!

Does a parent have to choose a favorite child??? In seriousness, this is nearly impossible and depends on what I'm craving. In order, my favorite combos are: Everything bagel, Basil/Lemon schmear, Lox, Capers, Red Onion, Tomato; Garlic and Onion bagel, Lime/Roasted Poblano/ Scallion schmear; Plain bagel with Smoked Whitefish Salad; Sesame Seed with blueberry schmear.