Jason and I spent hours debating if we should go with the oldest food truck in Austin, or even the most popular for our first interview. To use our connections in the food scene for a sexy intro was against our idea of this blog. We do not want to feed you the same interview you have seen again and again. We want to show where the food scene was, where it is, and the grit of where it is going. We chose a food truck that tells the future, but has a strong beginning. Chef Darci was chosen for Austin Texas Food’s first interview because she embodies what we love about food. A passion for flavor and for where that flavor comes from.
After getting to know her as a person, and as a chef, we know we will be following her heart and truck anywhere it goes. Especially if there’s french toast bouncing around in the back.
You can taste the ingredient in every dish. You can taste where it came from as though you’re right there. Close your eyes and you are in the field with it. Darci constantly gets questions about how her food is so good and what she does to it, but for her it is all about the ingredient getting to show you what it can taste like. For eggs she just adds a little bit of salt, and a little bit of pepper.
Questions and Answers with Chef Darci.
Listen to the interview on Sound Cloud. You’ll love hearing her voice.
Tell us about your background, and the life of becoming a chef.
Darci has been a professional chef for fourteen years. She started cooking at the Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Her voice brings you into her story, with passion words barely hold, “I wanted to run away from Texas and I ran to San Francisco. This is where I fell in love with food and found farmer’s markets. It was 2002 so it wasn’t even a thing yet. You go to China Town and find a crazy mushroom and you figure out what to do with it.” She talked to the farmers and asked them how to cook their ingredients. She remembers asking about a radish, and the farmer said to eat it raw. Might I suggest, if you have never done this, then make sure to have almond butter nearby. It bites your nose. Harsh and surprising. You will need comfort after, but you’ll also feel your mind spark to life with nature. Farmers want to share the flavors they grew, and Chef Darci makes you taste them.
Right after culinary school her first restaurant was at the Grand Teton National park in Wyoming. It was cooking for 500 people a day, and she wondered “Is this what the culinary world is like?” Despite the grind of it she is a forever learner, and used the opportunity. All the big boys were doing things with elk and bison and she wanted to be over there. They taught her, sometimes begrudgingly, until they grew closer and she formed lifelong friends. She looked at what cooking could do for her life, “I realized people eat literally all over the world so I can literally go anywhere and get a job.” At 25 she moved back to Texas. She was head chef at Quack’s Cherrywood and that was her first head chef job. Then she worked at a pizza place then at Alamo Drafthouse, which was a throwback to that 500 covers a day. While at Alamo, quickly moving her way from salad to pizza to multi-skilled woman beast, she was also working here, at the Hamilton 12 wedding venue. She was, of course, impressive, and when the Sous Chef left she wound up taking over. Then she became head chef. The owner, Georgia, of Hamilton 12, used to run Mars on Congress. Then her and her husband, Chef Tim, opened the wedding venue. The venue’s ordering back then was to just go find 600 pounds of beets or potatoes, and it was just kind of coming from wherever. The closest and the cheapest.
The menu change was Chef Darci’s first priority. “I told Georgia I wanted to sit in with the brides for a food consultation, and now that’s really exploded. We ask them what they want to do for their wedding, and we make it happen. My catering is one of the cheapest in Austin. A lot of places charge over $100 a person and $50 is our max, and that’s for filet mignon.” It isn’t due to cheaper ingredients either. Her commitment to fresh and flavor remains with all the food Darci produces.
Why did you choose to do a food truck when you have the wedding venue?
She wanted to cook every day. As a chef she didn’t want to just cook on the weekends. The truck also gave her the creativity to explore the seasons again, and to showcase what she can do.
What Chef Darci can do has enamored us so far. You can taste the love in every bite, and you can taste the love that went into the ingredient.
Where do your source your ingredients?
At one point chef Darci drove around for four hours looking for green onions. Being all the way out West posed an issue. She wanted to source from farms and get to know the ingredients and where they came from, but she needed time to focus on the truck and catering. She is now using Farm to Table because they go out and get to know the farmers. They even go all the way to Marfa for tomatoes when Austin doesn’t have the best. She dedicates her time to the cooking and creativity of the menu, while they handle the sourcing at a standard she can feel happy using.
When the ingredient is out of season it’s going to be the right color, but it’s artificial. When you wait for it you get the real ingredient, at the peak of its flavor.
Why rain water?
H 12 Outdoor Cafe and the wedding venue Hamilton 12 both use rain water that flows from the roof of the building into their on site tanks. Chef Darci says they use this water because it is delicious tasting, and it uses a resource that is right on the property. It has saved them so much money and we agree that it tastes amazing.
Tell us about that arm candy.
When you explain the menu to your staff how well did they see your vision?
They got it right away. Her staff follows her vision. She teaches them the way she was taught. You take an ingredient, like an egg, and have them taste it at every stage. Raw, under cooked, perfect, and overcooked. You try a tomato when it is in season, and when it is out of season. You taste the ingredient at every stage. Then you know.
Where do you plan to go from here?
Chef Darci laughed at this question. A smile spread fully across her face. “I wake up every day and I’m happy. Right now, this is what I want to do.”
For someone to appreciate where they are and what they do with such a passion that you can taste it, is a treat for Austin mouths.
We got a chance to interview a team member on the truck, to figure out what it was like to be under Chef Darci.
Emily, what is it like to work with Chef Darci?
“It’s by far one of my favorite jobs I’ve had. I came from Lucy’s down the street, and it was a lot of fun but I was done working in that style of kitchen. Just lots of people. I wanted something a little more slow where I could get in touch with the food.” Now she gets to talk to the customers, and loves watching people eat what they create instead of being in the back of the house.
Join H 12 Outdoor Cafe for a father’s day lunch this Sunday June 18th, 2017. They will be having incredible classics like chicken and waffles, as well as fresh made watermelon lemonade.
The Chef’s Perspective by Jason Salas with fairy child wording added by Ainsley:
When Ainsley and I thought about who we wanted to visit first, the first thing that came to my mind was passion. Some of us cook to make money. Some of us cook to be famous. Then there are those who cook because we love what we do. Chef Darci makes it look easy. Passion, flare, and love. That’s what you get from Darci. We started out with her watermelon lemonade. It was refreshing, but with a twist. Uncomplicated things like adding a watermelon slice to lemonade is simple, but oh so worth it. We had three breakfast plates. The first had a sunny side egg, pea sprouts, avocado and a garlic aioli. Cooked to perfection. As you read earlier. Just salt and pepper. Our bacon chipotle sandwich was amazing. Bacon jam was on point. Just enough of a bacon flavor to put you in a bacon coma. But still allow you to function. Ok, lets talk about the french toast. I have been a chef for years and years. Take it from a chef. Just order it. If you are hungry order it. If you are not hungry and just driving by. Stop, order it to go, and thank me later. Fluffy. Warm. Frolicking with pure cinnamon.
The chicken sandwich was juicy. A texture you only get from it being cooked to perfection. The roasted peaches were a nice surprise. I loved the use of pea sprouts in the sandwich. We also had a watermelon salad. Vinaigrette was a little too much for us, due to the sweetness from the watermelon being overshadowed. But still refreshing. Overall, H12 is one of those places that is not popular. Its not the “cool” place to eat at. It’s one of those places that we take our friends and family to show them what our food scene is like in Austin. It’s a place that someone like myself. A chef. Would be lucky enough to call home.