Not only did this year’s James Beard Awards celebrate the most diverse group of winners and nominees to date, but three of them were chefs with Austin restaurants! Chef Iliana de la Vega (El Naranjo), who we featured several weeks ago, took home Best Chef: Texas. Chef Edgar Rico (Nixta Taqueria) was named Emerging Chef. Finally, Mashama Bailey, a welcome newcomer to the Austin food scene, was granted the award for Outstanding Chef.
Just this spring, Mashama and her managing partner Johno Morisano opened an Austin location of her concepts the Grey Market and Diner Bar in the new Thompson Hotel Austin. The setting differs from her original Savannah restaurant, located in a 1938 art deco Greyhound bus station in Savannah.
This location successfully recreates the feel of a retro Southern diner with the Grey Market. The sleek, adjacent Diner Bar serves as a more upscale setting to showcase Mashama’s inventive cuisine, which marries influences from Africa and the American South with European techniques she honed in French culinary school.
We caught up with the busy chef, who now splits her time between Savannah and Austin, to pick her brain about her Austin restaurants and latest James Beard Award (she won Best Chef: Southeast in 2019!)
Mashama Bailey Brings Port City Southern to Austin
TLP: How did you decide to open the Grey Market and Diner Bar in Austin?
MB: Austin is such a dynamic city. It is colorful and quirky, has a great music scene and good energy. Austin reminds us of Savannah and we were drawn in quite immediately. When the partners of the Thompson were considering food and beverage, they came to us and we thought it would be a great relationship with good people and collaborators.
TLP: Since your menus rely on sourcing local ingredients, what are some key differences you’ve noticed in the availability of ingredients here versus in Savannah?
MB: We call our style of food “Port City Southern,” and it is. In Austin, we get to layer on top of what we built in Savannah. Our menus at the Grey and the Grey Market in Georgia are focused on the foodways of the African-American experience.
Our new home offers us the opportunity to explore even more experiences and traditions while using ingredients and products from local Texan purveyors. Austin has great access to purveyors and farmers. There are cattle farms just a quick drive from the restaurant and because of farms like Boggy Creek, we are able to get fresh produce in the city. It makes food-loving folks like us really excited to work in Austin.
TLP: Congratulations on your recent James Beard Award! What was your reaction upon learning you’d been named Outstanding Chef?
MB: Winning the 2022 James Beard Outstanding Chef award is an amazing accolade to have. I’m humbled by it and wouldn’t be here without the support of my team.
I’m a Black, American woman from New York who has Georgia roots. The significance of being a chef representing the South is not lost on me. There have been so many Black women that have come through the ports of Savannah prior to me that have helped establish American cookery. For me to stand on the backs of all those women and people, and to have an award like this that represents American cookery, is just beyond my ancestors’ wildest dreams.
What We’re Loving in Austin Right Now
Patrizi’s, the long-standing Manor Road food truck, recently expanded to include a physical location in the Austin Lake Hills neighborhood. This location serves the delicious homemade pasta which brought the food truck renown, as well as Southern Italian breakfast pastries called panzerotti. You can also grab sandwiches on housemade focaccia and other bites to accompany the Italian-inspired cocktail menu.
Westlake just recently gained a beautiful wine shop with the opening of Neighborhood Vintner on Bee Cave Road. Advanced sommelier and general manager Paul Ozbirn has curated over 1,000 diverse wines by the bottle for retail purchases. Check out the selection of wines by the glass to enjoy on-premise with caviar service and cheese and charcuterie by Antonelli’s Cheese.
Desert Door Texas Sotol just announced the release of Pollinator. This is the third spirit in its Conservation Series inspired by projects executed through its nonprofit foundation, Wild Spirit Wild Places. An educational film detailing the importance of bees to the community will premiere on July 6 at the Pollinator launch event at the Desert Door distillery with Pollinator drink specials and more. Purchase tickets here.