10 Austin Power Players You Need to Know Right Now

By Megan Giller  |  October 28, 2013

Every city has its influential restaurants and bars, mostly in thanks to the people behind them. There are the usual suspects like Tyson Cole from Uchi and Uchiko and Larry McGuire from Perla’s, Elizabeth Street Café and Jeffrey’s, among others. But here’s a list of Austin’s most-current power players who are doing amazing things at this very moment and who have much more in the works.

  • Jodi Elliott

    The Foreign & Domestic pastry chef has become famous for her biweekly bake sales, where hopefuls line up around the block for her goods. Elliott recently announced that you’ll soon be able to get her sweets any day of the week: she’s leaving F&D to open a pastry shop and dessert bar on the East Side called Bribery. She’ll be making morning pastries as well as sweet and savory baked treats during the daytime and custom cocktails and plated desserts at night. For now her bake sales will continue through the end of the year. Next year, the East Side. And the year after that, the world.

  • Credit: Rebecca Fondren

    Paul Qui

    The Top Chef winner has also won the hearts of Austinites, as he proved with his food trailer mini-chain East Side King as well as his first brick-and-mortar restaurant, Qui. The chef started not so long ago at Uchi and Uchiko and quickly became known for his playful cuisine and hard work. Qui is now one of the hottest restaurants in town - and in the country - with dishes like rabbit seven ways and the cheddar-cheese ice cream sandwich. Qui and fiancé Deana Saukam (who also manages his PR) have traveled the world recently, eating and exploring. So what do they like to do in their time off? Snuggle with their cats and their new puppy, and taste-test recipes, of course.

  • Todd Duplechan

    The friendly chef moved back to Texas from New York with his wife and pastry chef Jessica Maher several years ago, and he has wowed Austin with his passion for “hot-weather” cuisine on the small menu at his South First restaurant, Lenoir. His cooking draws parallels with Southern, Southeast Asian, Indian and French foods, which makes for interesting meals. The city has stood up and taken notice, and reservations are hard to come by at his tiny locale.

  • Bridget Dunlap

    The fiery, outspoken entrepreneur opened Lustre Pearl on once-residential Rainey Street just a few short years ago. Now it seems that Rainey is the only place to see and be seen, with more bars and restaurants than you can count and many more on the way. Dunlap recently made the jump to restaurants with Mettle, an American bistro on the East Side, and she has plans to open up a Thai trailer called Thaitanium on Rainey as well as an Italian restaurant on the East Side. But that’s not enough for this driven businesswoman (who was a hard partyer for much of her life, by the way): she also plans to branch out into boutique hotels soon.

  • C.K. Chin

    Front-of-house extraordinaire Chin takes good care of Swift’s Attic, one of the most innovative and off-the-wall restaurants in Austin. (Proof: you’ll find edamame with Pop Rocks on the menu.) Chin likes to “goof around” and create menu items that feel “swifty,” like pigtail-carnitas puffy tacos or imaginary ingredients like frickles (fried pickles) and scwoven lime juice (your guess is as good as ours). The general manager and partner comes from Kenichi and Paggi House, and he’s gathered some of Austin's best and brightest in the kitchen: Mat Clouser, Zack Northcutt and Callie Speer. By the end of next year you should see a new project, which Chin calls “our sophomore album,” from the team, though he’s shy about the details. “There’s certain bands out there that have their amazing first album, and their second album is crap because they just needed to do something,” he said. “But ours has to be The Godfather Part II, Kanye West, something that can stand up and say this is from the people that brought you Swift’s Attic.” We can’t wait for the sequel.

  • Jason Stevens

    The bearded Bar Congress mainstay is about as close as it gets to a celebrity bartender. Stevens hearkens from East Sixth Street’s East Side Show Room and the tiny North Loop bar Tigress, but he’s outdone himself over the past two years at chef David Bull’s downtown locale. His creative cocktails use ingredients ranging from passionfruit drinking vinegars to mescal and Earl Grey bourbon, and they're easy on the eyes too. Also be sure to try his innovative zero-proof (read: virgin) mocktails.

  • Credit: Michael Muller

    Ben Runkle

    Once upon a time, Ben Runkle was a vegan. Fast-forward a few years, and he’s the co-owner and creative force behind Salt and Time Butcher Shop and Salumeria. What changed? “I didn’t change my mind about my convictions,” he told us, referring to his disgust with factory farming, “but I changed the conclusions I drew from them.” Along with partner Brian Butler, Runkle uses all-natural meats to transform every part of the animal into award-winning charcuterie. And now that Salt and Time has added a lunch and dinner menu to the mix, it’s your one-stop-shop for deliciousness.

  • Jesse Griffiths

    You might recognize the very bearded, somewhat quiet chef from his Dai Due farmers’ market stands, where you’ve probably eaten awesome (and awesomely local) sausage sandwiches. Or you might know him from the Dai Due supper club series, where every ingredient is 100% local. Or maybe you recognize him from his James Beard Award-winning book, Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish, or his hunting school. But what you probably don’t know is that many, many of Austin’s best chefs come from his kitchen or have partnerships with him: Todd Duplechan, Sonya Cote, Jessica Maher, Liz Baloutine of Seedlings Gardening, Barrie Cullinan of recently closed Amity Bakery and more. Plus Griffiths is opening a brick-and-mortar location of Dai Due on the East Side sometime soon. Watch this one or he might just take over Austin.

  • Credit: Vanessa Escobedo Barba

    Drew Curren

    The entrepreneur and chef started small with 24 Diner, a throwback on Lamar that sources local ingredients to create homestyle dishes and some spectacular milkshakes. Then he expanded to open Easy Tiger, a beer garden and bakery on Sixth Street that has quickly become many Austin restaurants' go-to place for fresh-baked bread, rolls and buns (you’ll find them at places like Black Star Co-op and even trailers like Pretty Thai for a White Guy). Now Curren and his wife, Mary Catherine Curren, have opened Arro, a modern French bistro on West Sixth Street that is impressing Austin with its hip, retro interior and solid cuisine. Just one question: what’s next for this mover and shaker?

  • Philip Speer

    Chefs Tyson Cole and Paul Qui might have made Uchi and Uchiko famous, but the unsung hero is Speer, the pastry chef and director of operations. Speer works around the clock with both front of house and back of house, tasting dishes, creating new dishes, chatting with staff, putting on events, checking on Uchi Houston, opening Uchi Houston and more. But you probably know him best by his sweets, like the fried milk dessert at Uchiko or the peanut butter semifreddo at Uchi. Speer leans toward the savory and the experimental, like mixing chocolate and kale or whipping up an all-olive dessert. In Cole’s words, “Philip should win every award. He’s amazing.”