Austin is a city that has many, many foodies. Many of those foodies have turned their love of food into blogs which feature local Austin restaurants and food events in addition to delicious recipes. Fête & Feast is one of my favorites. I thought it would be fun to find out a little more about the woman, who is also a local mama, behind the site. Allow me introduce you to Natanya Anderson of Fête & Feast.
LM: When did you first realize that you had a love of food?
My family is from the South so food and cooking have always been part and parcel of who we are. Many of my strongest memories are food-related, from making chocolate chip cookies with my grandmother to family meals at the holidays. Given all of that, a love of food has always been an integral part of who I am.
LM: You are originally from West Texas. How did you decide to make Austin your home? Where else have you lived?
NA: I moved to Austin after high school to attend the University of Texas. Like many others, I fell in love with Austin and decided to stay after I was done with my degree. I’ve only ever lived in El Paso and Austin but because they are such different cultures, despite the fact that they are in the same state, I feel I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of people, ideas, and most importantly, food.
LM: Between being a full-time working mom and a well-known Austin food blogger, how do you squeeze it all in?
NA: Sometimes I don’t manage to squeeze it all in, and sometimes I don’t do it all as well as I would like. I’m hyper-organized and I use a variety of tools on my PC and phone to help me keep track of to-dos and activities. I’m also fanatical about planning weekly menus and for major holidays so I know what needs to be done and spread the effort out. I’ve had to learn how to say no to some things, a lesson I have to re-learn frequently, and there are times when I have to be okay with having ideas I can’t execute on immediately. I’m very lucky that my family supports me in all that I do. They are very understanding when I blog during family movie night or pick-up takeout when I’ve hit a wall for the day.
LM: When did you launch Fête & Feast? What was your inspiration for starting a food blog?
NA: I’ve been working in content creation for most of my career including authoring a collection of books and online workshops, so writing has been a part of my life for a couple of decades. As I moved in to management at my agency I stopped writing and I found that I really needed a creative outlet. I’d spent several years deeply exploring my love of food by taking cooking classes, getting to know the Austin food scene, and experimenting in the kitchen. The blog was a natural extension of my love of food and my need to write.
LM: I love the Food Blogger’s Guide to Austin. Tell us how that came about?
NA: Austin is immensely blessed to have such an active group of food bloggers so committed to sharing their passion for eating and drinking, and I’m even more blessed to call many of them my friends. I realized last year that as a group we have a unique view on food in Austin that isn’t reflected in any other print or electronic platform and there was a real opportunity for us to come together to share our experiences. When I proposed the idea, everyone I asked was ready and willing to participate which said to me that I was on to something. We’ve all been amazed and delighted by the success of the guide.
LM: How often do you and the other local food bloggers meet?
NA: Rarely does a week go by that we don’t see each other. Many of us are invited to restaurant tastings, events, and other food-related activities around town. We’re also very tightly connected on Twitter and Facebook so we’ll often have impromptu get togethers because we want to try a new restaurant or new dish. We meet more formally for potlucks about once a quarter.
LM: Do you travel often for the sake of trying other city’s food specialties? If so, where was your most pleasurable eating experience?
NA: While I’ve never taken a trip specifically to try the food in a particular city, I never visit a city for longer than 12 hours without investigating its food scene and planning to make the most of the meals I’ll be eating while I’m there. My most pleasurable single eating experience was at WD 50 in New York this past summer. The 11 course tasting menu was challenging without being unapproachable and the staff were wonderful as I and my dining companion from Austin Farm to Table asked about every detail of each dish we were served. At the end of the night we were invited into the kitchen to meet the chef, which was incredible. I learned that night that no matter how busy a restaurant is, most restaurant staff are not only willing but excited to talk about their food and enjoy sharing their love of their craft with those who are truly interested. My most pleasurable extended eating experiences have always been in Seattle. It’s one of the few places in the country I’d like to live other than Austin and each time I visit I fall just a little bit more in love with it. The city’s passion for local, sustainable food and creative chef-driven restaurants permeates the entire food scene, making it a truly wonderful place to enjoy food and cooking.
LM: What’s the most intimidating dish you’ve ever made? How did it turn out?
NA: Several Christmases ago I made dinner for about 16 people and decided to make a roasted beef tenderloin for the first time (probably not something I’d do again). I remember cradling the $150 tenderloin in my arms as I walked out of the market, terrified that I would ruin such a fantastic and expensive cut of meat. All things considered the meal worked out well, although I’ve made much better tenderloins since then.
LM: Do you and your family eat out often or do you do most of the cooking yourself?
NA: It’s about a 50/50 split. During the week we are so busy that we’ll often grab a bite out or reheat leftovers, but I try to do most of the cooking on the weekends when I’m a little more energetic and can experiment with interesting dishes. I’ve also found that the time of year dictates how much I’m able to cook. During the summer school-related activities are at a minimum and our schedules are more relaxed, so I cook more during the week. Around the holidays I cook a lot for big meals and parties but not as much for weeknight meals.
LM: Do you have any tips for families who want to go out to enjoy the abundance of fine restaurants in Austin with kids in tow? Do you find that most of the restaurants in Austin are family-friendly?
NA: The majority of restaurants in Austin are very kid friendly. I think it’s a reflection of our city’s laid-back approach to just about everything. I’ve been taking my daughter to nice restaurants since she was a baby and as a result she knows how to behave at even the best restaurant. I have four pieces of advice for parents who want to take their children out to eat and have it be a pleasurable experience for everyone:
- Review the restaurant’s menu ahead of time and have a plan for what your child will eat. Many restaurants understand if you have to bring your own food, particularly for toddlers and younger children who aren’t quite ready to eat restaurant food.
- Schedule around your child’s typical dinner and bedtime. No one will have fun if you’re trying to help a hungry and tired child manage through the wait at a restaurant.
- Plan for entertainment. Even the best-behaved child will get fidgety at a sit-down restaurant so bring something interesting for them to do that will occupy them for at least an hour.
- Work your way up to fine dining. Once our daughter was a toddler we took her to casual sit-down restaurants that are a little faster and cater to families. She learned to keep her seat and manage through the process there. When she was 5 we took her to her first high-end restaurant and because of practice at the other restaurants she was ready for the experience. Everyone had a great night and the staff was very surprised at how comfortable she was.
LM: What’s your favorite Austin restaurant?
NA: That’s an almost impossible question to answer because Austin has so many great restaurants. Our whole family’s favorite spot in town right now is FINO, while my favorite fine dining experiences are at The Carillon. Eddie V’s. Parkside is perfect for dinner with friends after work. My go-to neighborhood spot is a sushi restaurant in Steiner Ranch called Cho Sushi.Of course, all of this will change with the collection of new restaurants that are opening in the coming weeks. I predict that dining in Austin is about to take a gigantic leap forward and 2011 will be a fantastic year for Austin food lovers.
LM: Do you have any tips for surviving the holidays in the kitchen?
NA: Plan, plan, plan. While my spreadsheet approach to holiday management is overboard for most, taking even an hour or so to sit down and think through major parties and menus will save stress later and let you really enjoy the holidays.
Also, I’m a big believer in outsourcing some of my holiday cooking. Austin has such a great artisan food community that I can easily put out a cheese plate from Antonelli’s Cheese along with charcuterie from Salt and Time or the Kocurke’s and my appetizer is done. Both Central Market and Whole Foods offer great pickup catering that can help fill out a buffet without breaking the bank. I try to focus my cooking energy on dishes I’m really interested in cooking and source the rest from a resource I trust.
LM: I’m on quest to make lots of homemade food gifts for friends this holiday season. Outside of the traditional tins of cookies, do you have any recommendations?
NA: Savory biscotti are a great gift people can much on through the holidays. They pair beautifully with soft cheeses and preserves, plus they ship well and keep for weeks. I also like to share my family’s Nuts and Bolts (aka Chex Mix) because it’s great for munching and it’s full of whole grains and healthy nuts. Homemade soup and dip mixes are also fun and the kids can get involved in putting those together.
LM: Do you serve a traditional meal every year for the holidays or does it vary from year to year?
NA: We always celebrate West Texas and our ties to the Mexican-American community on Christmas Eve with tamales my parents bring from El Paso, enchiladas, and all the traditional sides. Christmas Day dinner is different every year and it’s a chance for me to create a festive and interesting menu. This year we’re having stuffed Bison tenderloin that I think will be both beautiful and tasty.
LM: What are some of your favorite traditions in your family during the holidays?
NA: Mexican food on Christmas Eve is my favorite tradition, followed closely by girls’ night out at the Nutcracker that’s preceded by dinner at a different Austin restaurant each year. When the Trail of Lights was open we’d have dinner at Shady Grove and then walk over to the trail. Now that it’s closed I’m on the hunt to create a new tradition. Finally, while I don’t bake a lot during the rest of the year, I go into a veritable cookie-making frenzy in preparation for a big holiday open house we host each year. My grandmother was an amazing cook and baker who was known for her cookies. When I’m in full cookie-making mode it’s like she’s there in the kitchen with me and I’m carrying her legacy forward.
Thanks, Natanya, for a wonderful interview!
Written by Catherine Prystup
We asked if she would share a recipe with us and the one she chose was one that she recently posted on Fête & Feast for German pancakes- a secret weapon for her during the holidays. I like the idea of preparing the pancake batter on Christmas Eve for a simple yet delicious breakfast on Christmas morning.
Recipe: German Pancake with Fresh Fruit Topping
Adapted from a recipe by Vance Ely of the Central Market Cooking School
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
1 Tbsp. butter
½ c. milk (any fat content)
½ c. flour
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
Zest of an orange
1 ½ c. mixed berries
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the butter into a 9 inch cast iron skillet and place the skillet in the oven so the butter can melt while the oven preheats. Whisk the milk and eggs together in a medium size bowl. Add the next five ingredients (flour through orange zest) to the bowl and whisk to combine. Remove the pan from the oven and tilt it around to evenly distribute the butter. Pour the batter into the skillet and return the skillet to the oven. Cook the pancake for 12 -15 minutes or until very puffy and nicely browned. Remove the skillet from the oven and add the berries to the pancake. Serve directly from the skillet for a fun presentation.
Recipe for Success