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James Beard Award-Winning Chef Mashama Bailey’s in Residence Series Brought Gifted Female Chefs Into Her Austin Kitchen

The second installment of this foodie collaboration brought some serious girl power to Austin's Diner Bar

Because innovation and creativity are huge forces in the Austin restaurant scene, Austin’s Diner Bar gives Executive Chef Mashama Bailey the opportunity to play around with ingredients and techniques. Her latest passion project, in Residence, is a series of chef collaborations culminating in lively, flavor-packed multi-course dinners open to the public.

The James Beard Award-winning Chef Mashama brings the bold coastal Southern flavors she perfected at her Savannah restaurant, The Grey, to Austin diners at her eatery in The Thompson Austin Hotel. 

Chef Mashama Bailey (right) created incredible dishes with Chefs Crystal Wahpepah (left) and Sarah McIntosh.

Diner Bar’s in Residence series was all about female chefs doing their thing

Chef Mashama’s two-night collaboration event on May 22 and May 24 served as a pair of companion dinners related to Hot Luck Festival, an annual celebration of BBQ founded by Franklin Barbecue maestro Aaron Franklin and owner James Moody of The Mohawk. Hot Luck emphasizes chef diversity, including a strong representation of female-identifying BBQ pros, and Chef Mashama chose to highlight talented female chefs during this collab series, which she whimsically titled “Girl Power.”

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The first dinner was a Gallic feast featuring Épicerie’s Sarah McIntosh

On Monday, May 22, Chef Mashama opened the Diner Bar kitchen to a guest chef (and Hot Luck participant) who needs no introduction among savvy Austin diners: Sarah McIntosh of the hugely-beloved Épicerie in Brentwood. According to Chef Mashama, her menu with McIntosh aimed to offer “French food with subtle feminine twists.” Chef Sarah knows a thing or two about getting playful with classic French techniques; at Épicerie, she blends traditional French fare with influences from Louisiana and other areas of the American South, resulting in hugely flavorful “comfort food” with European sophistication.

The meal began with a glass of Prosecco and lively passed hors d’oeuvres, which included cheese crisps with cured ham and fish roe, sweet potato croquettes with sesame, and Texas oysters with an herbaceous mignonette. We then moved on to a very French first course: garlicky escargot served with crispy mille feuille pastry and a pistou sauce bursting with herbs like fennel and tarragon.

The second course was a vegetable dish with naturally-sweet roasted carrots as the centerpiece. Earthy, tangy beets provided a welcome contrast and a silky pistachio butter provided some nutty indulgence, while a hint of grapefruit brightened the plate.

Slow-braised beef shank is, in our view, the epitome of cozy comfort food, and the version served by Chef Mashama and Chef Sarah nailed the juicy and tender mouthfeel and savory flavor that we hoped for. An extra level of richness came courtesy of velvety bone marrow, and white peas and a luscious broth of beef jus and smoked tomato were an ideal complement to the plate’s other flavors. Meanwhile, small “salad” of crisp green beans and sugar snap peas on the side lent a welcome freshness.

But the highlight of this already-excellent meal had to be the dessert course, in which Chef Sarah and Chef Mashama tinkered with the idea of the “king cake,” a staple sweet in New Orleans. They married the king cake with the chocolate croissant, resulting in a flaky crust, a soft interior, and deep flavors of chocolate, tahini, and butter. The cake was served on top of a smooth crème anglaise made with duck eggs, which heightened its richness and made the dessert feel both luxe and homey.

For the second dinner, Chef Crystal Wahpepah introduces Native American ingredients & influences

Chef Mashama’s second collaboration night on Wednesday, May 24 featured a chef in town for Hot Luck, whom Chef Mashama was especially eager to work alongside: Crystal Wahpepah of Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland, California. “I wanted to be a chef to feed people, but to cook with incredible people who have a deep love of cooking and their ingredients,” Chef Mashama said at the start of the meal, and Chef Crystal certainly falls into this category, as she’s one of the most celebrated Indigenous chefs in the country and she works tirelessly to promote Indigenous food sources and ingredients.

After a round of canapés (the same tasty bites that were served during the May 22 dinner), we began the meal with a salad made with fresh crab, chickpeas, fresno chiles, and peanuts, seasoned with lime juice, and served with a fragrant broth of coconut milk and herbs. These ingredients speak to Chef Mashama’s work in Savannah, Georgia, as that city is famous for its shellfish (plus, the state of Georgia as a whole loves their peanuts!). The coconut balanced the crab’s assertive flavor, while the lime and chiles infused the dish with vibrant zing.

When discussing the wild rice she used for the second course, Chef Crystal said, ” go to their communities first, then to Native American restaurants, and I feel fortunate to receive them and have the chance to share them with you.” The “heirloom pilaf” was a take on Three Sisters rice, a classic Native American dish that combines wild rice with corn, squash, and beans (the “Three Sisters”). Chef Crystal’s version also included earthy mushrooms and nutty sunflower seeds, along with a touch of sweetness from golden raisins. Overall, the balance of both flavors and textures was impeccable.

The main course of lamb shoulder with wheat berries, sweet peppers, and lamb jus was an entree that will surely haunt the dreams of everyone who tasted it. Lamb always feels a bit indulgent and special, and this preparation leaned into that fully with its unctuous texture, deeply savory jus, and the bright contrast provided by the peppers. The wheat berries proved a surprisingly delightful grain companion, as their toasty, nut-like taste and just-chewy-enough texture supported and emphasized the lamb’s richness.

Dessert had a “homemade, but better than you’ve ever had at home” vibe, thanks to a intensely flavored and comforting blue corn cake dressed with buttermilk and almonds and a summery ice cream sundae with fresh blueberries, hot caramel sauce, crunchy oats, and a hint of cinnamon spice.

This collaboration between Chef Mashama and Chef Crystal told a compelling narrative of these chefs’ backgrounds, inspirations, and passions, and the guests all left nourished by great food and warm hospitality.

Diner Bar & Chef Mashama hope to continue these collaborations well into the future

Chef Mashama told us that she has no intention of letting the Girl Power dinners be her final in Residence series, and she’s already working to put together an event for this autumn that will highlight chefs based here in Austin. 

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