10 Secret Weapons Behind Austin's Top Restaurants

By Megan Giller  |  March 16, 2015
Credit: Jenny Sathngam

Tyson Cole, Paul Qui, Shawn Cirkiel: you probably know the names of the big-time chefs in Austin. But what about the behind-the-scenes people that help their restaurants run smoothly? The line cooks, porters and pastry assistants who work crazy hours too (sometimes crazier!). Here are 10 of the most vital secret weapons this town has to offer.

  • Credit: Jenny Sathngam

    Name: Florian Minier
    Title: Bar manager at Half Step
    Stats: Minier rotates through all positions, working as a host, bartender and office manager as well Ping-Pong table repairman, crisis-management person, handyman, busser, barback, dishwasher, plumber, scheduler and more. Plus he manages 10 people.
    Secret to Success: Minier says that no job is too small and will pitch in on anything and everything. Owner Chris Bostick says he’s “the glue that keeps Half Step together.”
    Future Plans: Minier is happy where he is right now but says that his ultimate goal is to open his own place — maybe in 10 years.

  • Credit: Jenny Sathngam

    Name: Nic Vascocu
    Title: Supervisor at Uchiko
    Stats: Vascocu also leads the cocktail program and works as a beverage trainer and server assistant. He works manager hours and runs the monthly Food & Wine Project, a four-hour monthly dinner with 20 guests.
    Secret to Success: He’s worked in the service industry since he was 15. When he moved to Austin, he swore it off — unless he found a job at Uchi or Uchiko.

    Future Plans: Vascocu hopes to be involved with Uchi's expansion to Dallas, and one day he wants to own his own place.

  • Credit: Jenny Sathngam

    Name: Fermin Liques
    Title: Morning steward/porter at Qui
    Stats: Deana Saukum, Qui’s PR person and Paul Qui’s right-hand woman, says that Liques can “turn out 50 crêpes faster than anyone else at Qui.”
    Secret to Success: He will always stay late and work extra, and he never calls in sick. Plus he always has a sunny attitude.
    Future Plans: He’s happy being a jack-of-all-trades at Qui.

  • Name: John Lash
    Title: Owner, Farm to Table
    Stats: Last year he sold about 30,000 pounds of spinach to Austin-area restaurants.
    Secret to Success: Lash found a hole in the supply chain and developed a business providing restaurants with produce directly from local farms. He now works with over 130 restaurants.
    Future Plans: Farm to Table just expanded to Dallas two weeks ago, so Lash will be busy building that program. He also plans to expand to Houston in the future.

  • Credit: Jenny Sathngam

    Name: Loren Solomon
    Title: Pastry assistant at Walton’s Fancy and Staple
    Stats: Solomon makes up to 90 cakes and 1,000 macarons per week, plus other cookies, bars, cupcakes and more.
    Secret to Success: She applied to intern in the kitchen at Bess Bistro (Walton’s sister restaurant), but they saw so much pastry potential in her that they moved her to Walton’s.
    Future Plans: Solomon wants to spend this year focusing on her decorating skills. But long term, she plans to move into the wholesale market and end her "lifelong search for the perfect apple fritter."

  • Name: Aaron Anselmi
    Title: Line cook and oyster shucker at Parkside
    Stats: Anselmi shucks more than 500 oysters per night at the Downtown restaurant.
    Secret to Success: After graduating from the Texas Culinary Academy, he worked at mom-and-pop restaurants before moving into a bigger kitchen.
    Future Plans: Anselmi says he plans to stay on with Parkside Projects for some time, honing his skills so that he can one day run his own kitchen.

  • Credit: Jenny Sathngam

    Name: Julia Poplawsky
    Title: Head butcher at Dai Due (both the supper club and butcher shop)
    Stats: With her team, she goes through a whole cow, two pigs, two whole venison, 70 chickens and 20 rabbits each week.
    Secret to Success: While working at 4505 Meats in San Francisco, Poplawsky read about Jesse Griffiths and asked to stage with him. From there, she decided to move back to her native Texas to help Griffiths on his big brick-and-mortar adventure.
    Future Plans: Poplawsky wants to do more outreach and education in the butchery and food world.

  • Credit: Jenny Sathngam

    Name: Liana Sinclair
    Title: Pastry Cook and Bread Baker at laV
    Stats: In addition to ice creams and other dessert components, Sinclair makes almost 500 small boules of table bread, 25 large boules of bread, 50 loaves of brioche, 50 hand-rolled croissants and 950 donuts weekly. Oh, and don’t forget the brunch croquembouche display, made of 100 pieces.
    Secret to Success: She spent almost two years as the head of the bread and viennoiserie program at Elizabeth Street Café before coming to laV.
    Future Plans: Sinclair says she’s happy where she is at laV and enjoys the hard work and sense of accomplishment that living in the moment gives her.

  • Credit: Jenny Sathngam

    Name: Bob Blair
    Title: Linen provider at Admiral Linen, which works with restaurants like Jacoby’s, Justine’s and Launderette
    Stats: Blair provides napkins, tablecloths, aprons and more to almost 30 restaurants in town. In total, Admiral serves almost 500 restaurants in the Austin area.
    Secret to Success: Blair says that customer interaction is his favorite part of the job.
    Future Plans: He’s happy at Admiral, where he’s worked for six years.

  • Name: Kady Sykes
    Title: Lead manager at Hopdoddy
    Stats: Sykes is so valuable to Hopdoddy that the company relocated her to Dallas for a while to train an entirely new staff of servers.
    Secret to Success: Her positive energy made it easy for her to quickly work her way up to a managerial position.
    Future Plans: Sykes is training to take on an even bigger management role.