Chef Bryce Gilmore blazes his own trail – with a trailer
ASPEN – Some years ago, staff members at Food & Wine magazine pointed out the momentum of the American foodie movement by noting that the magazine’s best new chef selections were no longer coming just from the usual fine-dining capitals – New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami. Creative young culinary talents were establishing themselves in Boulder and Baltimore, Portland, Maine, and Portland, Ore. (Both Portlands, in fact, have been hotbeds for best new chef honorees.)In 1998, the magazine, while noting the selection of chefs from areas that had not been tapped before, including Utah and Cleveland, stated, “We take that as proof that the demand for great food is spreading to every corner of the country.”This year, the trend toward finding noteworthy food anywhere takes yet another leap, beyond the geographic angle. Among the honorees is Bryce Gilmore, whose inclusion on the list stems largely from Odd Duck, his eatery located on South Lamar Boulevard in Austin, Texas. And saying that Odd Duck is on South Lamar is meant to be taken in the very literal sense: The full name is the Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, and it is indeed a trailer – an orange 1980 Fleetwood Mallard, propped up on cinder blocks, in a small trailer park where the neighbors include Gourdough’s Donut Trailer. Out front, in what appears to be a sandy lot, are an assortment of almost-matching metal chairs, cheap tables and stools. It’s a long way from, say, Thomas Keller and his French Laundry, Daniel Boulud and his Daniel – both members of the inaugural best new chefs class, in 1988.Listen to Gilmore, a 28-year-old Austin, Texas, native, talk, though, and there’s not much separating him from Keller and Boulud (apart from plates and utensils that need to be washed – the Odd Duck’s are disposable – and probably a few tens of thousand dollars a month in rent). Like his more traditional-minded fellow restaurateurs, Gilmore is focused on locating the best ingredients and turning them into the finest meals.”I care about food and we do the best we can with the ingredients we have,” Gilmore said from Austin, adding that a wood grill is used to cook all of the Odd Duck’s six or seven daily small-plate selections – from the staple favorite, pork belly sliders, to grilled quail and grits with a soft egg. “I feel I’m a good cook, and so long as you have the ingredients, the food will be good. We’re not serving it on fancy plates, but it’s good ingredients and we treat it with respect.”Gilmore got his early cooking experience at his father’s elbow, helping out dad in the kitchen of Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill in Austin. From there, Gilmore took the high route, studying at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and cooking at San Francisco’s French-influenced Boulevard and Texas’ Caf 909. In 2008, he moved to Aspen to become the kitchen supervisor at the Little Nell’s elegant Montagna, a position he held for two years.Against that background, opening a trailer can seem like a tragic career fall. Not so for Gilmore, who was motivated by a desire for independence. “I wanted to do my own thing, and the only way to do that financially was to do a trailer,” he said. “Austin has a lot of them; the city makes it easy.”Gilmore was also intent on returning to his hometown, where he hadn’t cooked in several years. What he found was inspiring. There’s not only the trailer scene – “There are thousands of trailers here in Austin,” Gilmore said, noting that South Lamar is a hive of trailer-food activity – but also a food savvy that didn’t exist just a few years ago.”There’s a lot of people who support it. And the farmers market, there are a lot of people there. The people are interested in where the food comes from, how it gets on their plate. The farmers are interested in figuring out what will grow well,” Gilmore said, adding that his time at the Little Nell, working with former Montagna chef Ryan Hardy, heightened his appreciation for connecting with local farmers. “When I was cooking here five years ago, there wasn’t much to choose from. Now we have a good selection, and I think in five years it will be much bigger. I’m excited to see what the future will be in Austin.”Gilmore is helping to build that future. In December, he opened Barley Swine. Though the new spot is in an actual building (also on South Lamar) that can’t be propped up and rolled away, it seems to follow in the footsteps of Odd Duck. Named for Gilmore’s fondness for beer and pork, Barley Swine is small, with a brief, intensely eclectic small-plate menu (grilled pork belly with refried beans and octopus salad; foie gras, chicken duck confit and waffle), and communal tables only.”But the food is serious. It’s fine dining,” Gilmore said. “I wanted to create a place I would enjoy eating at.”email@example.com
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