New chefs named at Central Standard, Hotel Ella and Second Bar + Kitchen

There is quite a bit of shuffling going on at Austin restaurants. Longtime Austin chef Casey Wilcox has been named the new executive chef at Central Standard, the American bar and grill inside the South Congress Hotel. Wilcox formerly served stints at Second Bar + Kitchen and Justine’s and helped open Kuneho earlier this year.

“I’m really excited about the future with Central Standard,” Wilcox said. “It’s a great space for me to explore our American culinary heritage, which is something that has excited me for a while.”

The South Congress Hotel’s sister hotel, Hotel Ella on MLK Boulevard, also changed direction in recent months, with the naming of executive chef Nick Nelson. The chef, whose resume includes the Roaring Fork in Austin, recently developed his first menu for the all-day American bistro Goodall’s Kitchen. The menu includes items such as crab Benedict, redfish ceviche and crab fritters.

Chef David Bull’s Second Bar + Kitchen has seen major change in recent weeks. The downtown location at Second Street and Congress Avenue named Peter Botcher executive chef, following the chef’s time as co-owner and executive chef at James Beard-nominated Butcher & the Boar in Minneapolis. The Domain Northside location promoted five-year Second veteran Michelle Arcilla Hall to executive pastry chef; named Stephan Pyles and Dallas Museum of Art alumnus Brian Felicella as chef de cuisine and tabbed longtime Bull protégé Monica Senclair to serve as executive sous chef.



Austin community remembers chef Miguel Ravago of Fonda San Miguel

Chef Miguel Ravago at Fonda San Miguel, which he opened with Tom Gilliland in 1975. (Credit: Tracey Maurer)

Fonda San Miguel co-founder and chef Miguel Ravago died over the weekend at age 72. The Phoenix native was a beloved figure in the Austin community, and, after hearing the news, many took to social media to share their fond memories of the chef. The posts below amplify the words shared by Jeffrey’s co-founder Ron Weiss, longtime Austin food writer Kitty Crider and El Naranjo chef-owner Iliana de la Vega in the story that ran over the weekend. A celebration of Ravago’s life will be held at Fonda San Miguel on July 2 at 5:30 p.m., following Fonda’s Hacienda Sunday Buffet service.




Fonda San Miguel chef and co-founder Miguel Ravago has died

    Miguel Ravago, chef of Fonda San Miguel, with a welcoming smile at the well-known front doors of the restaurant. American-Statesman 2003

One of the early leaders of the Austin culinary scene and a founder of seminal interior Mexican restaurant Fonda San Miguel, chef Miguel Ravago has died, according to friends of the chef. He was 72.

The Phoenix, Arizona, native learned to cook at a young age, assisting his grandmother, Guadalupe Velasquez, a native of Sonora, Mexico, in her kitchen.

In 1968, Ravago moved to Austin. Four years later he and Tom Gilliland, a native Midwesterner who shared the chef’s love of Mexican cuisine and culture, opened their first restaurant in Houston, the San Angel Inn. They would open Fonda San Miguel, the restaurant that came to define their careers, in Rosedale in 1975. Fonda San Miguel prided itself on high quality ingredients, such as dried chiles, black beans and spices, sourced directly from Mexico.

The restaurant, widely regarded as the most important Mexican restaurant in Texas, was supported by notable regulars that included members of United States Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush’s families. Fonda San Miguel helped shift the way Austinites understood its neighbor to the south, and before the ubiquity of celebrity chefs on television, Ravago served as a shining light in the Austin restaurant world, traveling throughout the country as an ambassador for Austin at food events on both coasts.

Fonda San Miguel, which has long served as a popular home to locals and visitors to Austin looking for an authentic taste of Mexico, built its reputation on regional Mexican dishes, hands-on service and a massive Sunday brunch spread, which Ravago served at the James Beard House in New York City in 1993, the first of his two visits.

“What a loss for Austin. He was a pioneer in introducing interior Mexican cuisine to the city of Austin,” longtime Austin food writer Kitty Crider said via email. “He and Tom Gilliland founded Fonda San Miguel decades ago, daring to leave chips and salsa off the table, at least initially, and to show Central Texans there was so much more to Mexican food than tacos and enchiladas.”

Ravago, who studied with Mexican food experts Diana Kennedy and Patricia Quintana and traveled extensively in Mexico, co-wrote the cookbook “Cocina de la Familia” with Marilyn Tausend. The book, which won the Julia Child Cookbook Award for the best volume in the American category in 1997, features recipes that reflect the food Mexican-American families cook in their homes, with many recipes coming from Ravago’s family. Ravago and Gilliland also wrote “Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art” with longtime Austin Chronicle food writer Virginia Wood. The book was updated and re-released by the University of Texas Press last year.

Chef Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo called Ravago a pioneer in Austin and credited him with introducing “authentic Mexican cuisine” to Austin and changing the perception of the cuisine by “presenting elegant food in a beautiful setting.”

“I met Miguel during one of my visits to Austin many years ago, before I even dreamed to live here. Friends invited me to dinner at Fonda San Miguel where the food was incredible and Miguel was kind enough to come out and meet me,” De la Vega said. “Over the years our paths crossed many times, and I had the pleasure of hosting him as well. His passing is a great loss to Austin’s community and even more so to the Mexican culinary scene. Miguel will be remembered fondly and for all that he did in the culinary world.”

Ravago, who for many years was a regular presence in his white chef’s coat at the restaurant, was as well known for his personality as he was for his mastery of Mexican cuisine.

“He was just such a sweet guy. He exuded friendliness. He always had a big smile on his face and such a positive attitude,” said Ron Weiss, co-founder of Jeffrey’s, which also opened in 1975. “He and Tom brought something to Austin that was way beyond Tex-Mex. And they were incredibly generous in the community.”

The popular chef, who showcased his cooking on the 1994 PBS show “The Chile Pepper Kitchen,” left Fonda San Miguel in 1996 and worked for a time as chef and partner at Bertram’s Restaurant and Bar near the Texas Capitol, but he later returned to the restaurant that helped make him famous.

Ravago, who loved to dance as a young man and even appeared on episodes of “Arizona Bandstand,” met his husband of 25 years, Phillipe Mercier, on a trip to France in the 1990s. The couple moved to Madrid, Spain, about a decade ago, acting as doting uncles to Mercier’s nieces, Paloma and Carlota, but Ravago maintained his role at the restaurant he opened in 1975. They relocated to Brighton, England, in 2012 and spent much time traveling around Europe in between trips to Austin and hosting visiting guests.

Ravago was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year. He was preceded in death by his mother, Amelia, two uncles and two aunts. He is survived by his spouse, Phillipe Mercier; his and Phillipe’s beloved chow chows, Dita and Digby; his sister Betty; numerous cousins; his sister-in-law, Stephanie Medina; brother-in-law, Enrique Medina; two nieces, Paloma and Carlota; longtime friend and business partner Tom Gilliland; and the staff and families of Fonda San Miguel.

A celebration of Ravago’s life will be held at Fonda San Miguel on July 2 at 5:30 p.m., following Fonda’s Hacienda Sunday Buffet service.


Fonda San Miguel releases new edition of popular cookbook

Fonda San Miguel, ThunderCloud Subs and County Line make it to 40

Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s ‘Fixer Upper’ announce new restaurant in Waco

Joanna and Chip Gaines (left) of “Fixer Upper.”
plan to open the Magnolia Table in Waco. (Credit: Sarah Wilson/Getty Images)

Having conquered the world of made-for-TV home remodeling and setting the bar for being the adorable, hard-working parents, Chip and Joanna Gaines have announced they will open a restaurant in their home base of Waco. The couple purchased the iconic Elite Cafe last year, and as they do with old homes, are updating the almost-1oo-year-old institution. They plan to reopen the cafe near the end of the year under the name The Magnolia Table, with a focus on breakfast, brunch and lunch.

Joana gives an update on their vision for the space on her blog:

We’ve spent a good amount of time finalizing the design of the new restaurant- from carefully choosing finishes, textures, and paint colors, to designing the tables, chairs, and light fixtures. I love getting to bring all of the design details together. The building was actually recognized as a historic landmark about 20 years ago, which essentially ensures that aspects of the original character stay intact. Figuring out how to restore the building and seamlessly incorporate new and creative design elements into the mix while staying true to the original features has been one of my favorite parts of the design process.

For more on the Gaines’ plans, check out Joanna’s blog.


Houston chef Chris Shepherd of One Fifth gets hands on original Caesar salad recipe

(Contributed by Julie Soefer)

Those who know Underbelly chef and James Beard award winner Chris Shepherd know of his affinity for Caesar salads, specifically table-side Caesar salads. He and his partners, who include the Houston Texans Whitney Mercilus, this year  opened One Fifth Steak, a classic steakhouse located in the old Mark’s fine dining restaurant on Westheimer Road in Houston. It is the first of five concepts (One Fifth, get it?) that the ambitious Shepherd will roll out over the next fives years in the space. And, since you can’t have a great steakhouse without a great Caesar, Shepherd went to the trouble of tracking down family members of Alex Cardini, who created the Caesar salad in Tijuana in the 1920s. They were kind enough to share Cardini’s secrets with Shepherd, who is now sharing that knowledge with the world.  On the One Fifth Instagram page today, the restaurant shared the basic steps to creating the OG Caesar salad. Now, get to the market, or head to One Fifth, where you can order it as the Airman Salad.



Video recap: Chris Shepherd’s fundraising block party Southern Smoke welcomes Aaron Franklin and other James Beard winners

The Feed to Go: Houston 2015: A Food Odyssey

RIP legendary server Marvin Day of Camellia Grill in New Orleans

Marvin Day worked at Camellia Grill in uptown New Orleans for more than 30 years. (Credit: James Moody)
Marvin Day worked at Camellia Grill in uptown New Orleans for more than 30 years. (Credit: James Moody)

“You going for the burger, the freeze or the show?” our cab driver asked us we jumped in his ride at Lee Circle and requested passage to Camellia Grill in Uptown New Orleans.

The answer, of course: all three.

Part of that show was the aggressively happy and charming Marvin Day. The 3o-plus-year veteran of the historic diner never met a stranger. He died Wednesday morning at the age of 50, reported.

Day was one of the greatest service industry workers I’ve ever met. Part hype-man, part waiter, he cajoled you into ordering a freeze (a frozen specialty, orange or chocolate) at Camellia, chided his co-workers and always gave you some dap, whether it was in approval of the way you put away your burger or for no good reason at all. Day called the dap, almost always accompanied my his trademark exclamation of “word,” a “positive energy exchange.”

What does this have to do with Austin? Nothing. But my most recent trip to New Orleans was the first time I got to share in Day’s positive energy, and I am very sorry it will be my last. Day emanated the kind of spirit that made New Orleans, and the rest of the world, a better place. I know he’ll be missed by his co-workers, which included his junior high classmate Leon Martin, and every customer who ever entered the restaurant on Carrolton Avenue.

Jeffrey’s server Johnny Guffey retires, is commemorated with portrait at restaurant

A portrait of longtime Jeffrey's employee Johnny Guffey now hangs in the dining room in which he worked for more than 35 years.
A portrait of longtime Jeffrey’s employee Johnny Guffey now hangs in the dining room in which he worked for more than 35 years.

There may be no more well known Austin service professional than Johnny Guffey. He’s waited on presidents and dignitaries, rock stars and once-a-year special-occasion diners, treating all with the same personalized service.

His smiling visage and big personality are so recognizable that over the four decades of his career in Austin, his named landed in the Statesman’s pages almost a dozen times. Former Statesman food writer Kitty Crider even profiled him in 2005.

The avuncular server retired after service on New Year’s Eve, ending almost 40 years of service at the Austin institution. To commemorate his long career, Jeffrey’s commissioned Austin artist Elizabeth Chapin to paint a wonderful portrait of Guffey. The painting, presented to Guffey on his final shift, now hangs in the room he patrolled for so many years, fittingly known as Johnny’s Room.