5/06/2013 12:31:00 PM

A Chat With Barley Swine Chef and James Beard Award Nominee Bryce Gilmore

When friendly chef Bryce Gilmore opened his Odd Duck Farm to Trailer several years ago, he simultaneously raised the stakes for locally sourced dining in Austin and transformed trailer food from just tacos and burgers to cuisine. Gilmore’s brick-and-mortar, Barley Swine, has received accolades from Food & Wine, Texas Monthly, Details and more, and the tiny gastropub is bustling every night of the week.

At the James Beard Awards on Monday, Gilmore is up for the Best Chef: Southwest award. We caught up with him before he flew out to New York about the award, his upcoming Odd Duck brick-and-mortar project and a possible vegetarian restaurant, though we had to ask him to turn down the No Doubt album blasting from the Barley Swine speakers to hear what he had to say.


What originally inspired you to make the type of food you did at Odd Duck and now Barley Swine? 

I like to cook food and provide an atmosphere that I enjoy and hope that other people do as well. Small plates: when I go out to eat, I like to eat a lot of different things. I don’t like to be restricted to just one large plate. What if I don’t like it? I just paid $40 for an entrĂ©e that I don’t like, where I could have paid the same amount of money and had three different plates and I’d bet that I’d really enjoy two of them. 

When you do small plates and you try to encourage people to order multiple things, it’s just a better experience. They’re getting to try a lot more flavors and see a lot more things. I wanted to provide that, and I also knew that I could create a menu based on what we had and make it taste good. We can grow things year-round here, and so that’s possible.

We draw influences from wherever. I don’t prescript ourselves to just being Southern or European or Spanish or Asian. We take a little bit from all over the world. I think you can see Southern influences especially. But the main thing is that our ingredients are raised here and are indigenous to the area. In my opinion it’s kind of regional cuisine with influences from around the world.

We try to stay true to the seasons that we have here, as opposed to the seasons in the rest of the country. If we have broccoli on the menu, it’s because I’m buying from someone who is growing it around here. I don’t just go buy broccoli from California.

I have a silly question. Odd Duck was 100 percent local. Is that true for Barley Swine? 

It’s pretty darn true. It’s hard to say anything’s 100 percent, because we might buy some butter from somewhere else or something like that. For example, I get whole garlic cloves from California, and I might by celery from somewhere else for our stocks. But things that we want to feature in a dish are local.

We don’t have the mindset of “it’s local when possible.” It’s always possible.

So congratulations on the James Beard nomination! Where were you when you found out you were a finalist? 

I was cleaning right there [points to a spot in the Barley Swine kitchen, laughs]. I got a text from our publicist who said I’d made it to the final round. And I was like, “Cool, I guess I’m going to New York.” [Laughs]

All of these awards and all this press is kind of surreal to me. It’s hard for me to step out of myself and see it for what it is. I’m just doing my thing, and other people are recognizing it, which is great. It became a goal of mine last year to get this award, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon. We’re very fortunate to be able to do what we like to do and have other people enjoy it.

If we don’t get it this year, there’s always next year. It would be cool to get it this year, because that would be three years in a row that Austin chefs have won it, but we’ll see what happens. Let’s shift gears and talk about Odd Duck.

I heard the opening has been a bit delayed. What’s the latest news? 

It’s delayed, like any restaurant. We said late spring at some point, because we just had to say something. We’re good with a September opening right now. Something crazy would have to happen to push it further back.

What’s on the menu? 

It’s anything goes over there. Here at Barley Swine we put a lot of thought into our plates and how they’re going to be presented. We want them to look nice and have cool flavors and textures. Over there, we’ll have a little more freedom for creativity on the menu. We don’t have to think as much about how it’s going to look. It’s more about the flavors and the ingredients.

More whole animal usage. Something I did at the trailer when it first opened, I was getting half pigs every week from Richardson Farms. So I could do a cut of pig and run it for a day, and we’d have 10 orders of it. It would be like a grilled pork rib, but it would have the pork belly slab attached to it. You don’t see that anywhere because you only get 20 of those out of a pig. I think you’ll see some cuts of animal that will run for a day or two over there.

We’re going to have a bread program. We have a wood-firing oven and a wood grill and a smoker, so you’ll see a lot of wood over there. We want people to eat and fill up for under $30.

We’ll also do cocktails that have the same idea as the food – seasonal ingredients, local when it makes sense for the spirits. We’re very excited about it.

What do you do on your days off? 

I try to read books and learn about food. Think about new menu items. A lot of the guys do the same thing. We want to keep moving forward and progressing, evolving. If we change our menu, we don’t repeat items. We’re always doing something new.

What books have you read recently? 

I actually got the Richard Blais book, the Top Chef guy. He has a very creative mind, and there’s a lot of fun stuff going on. A lot of those things I can see doing really well at Odd Duck. I’m not saying I’m going to steal his ideas, but they’re really cool.

The Faviken book is really cool and interesting. I wish that we had more foraging going on around here. You think about Noma and what they’re doing, all the ingredients they have in their backyard.

It’s really interesting to see what other chefs are doing around the country. You can pick up techniques and ideas that you never even thought of. We don’t want to copy people, but we’ll take ideas and try to make them our own.

Are there any other projects in the works? 

There’s nothing else in the works. I want to get Odd Duck going. I’ve got a good team around me, and we will open other concepts in Austin. What it is and when it is, I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I do have a dream or a goal at some point in my life to open a vegetarian restaurant.

Other than that, there are so many things you can do with food and so many ideas we have for spaces. We’ll see what happens.

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