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Five Boundary-Pushing Austin Chefs Reveal the Plates That Defined Their Childhoods

Nostalgic dishes from Sarah McIntosh, Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Erind Halilaj, Ling Qi Wu and Fermín Núñez

Home Plate

Regardless of where we call home, we are all bound by a common thread: the dinner table. Food is a universal language and at its best leads to understanding, honesty and laughter. Five passionate, diverse and boundary-pushing chefs have graciously invited us to experience their nostalgic plates — the meals, spices and scents that defined their childhoods. Whether recalling a rowdy Cajun gathering or a focused dumpling lesson with Grandma, each one is distinct to its own time and place.

Who: Sarah McIntosh
What: Owner and chef, Épicerie and Épicerie at the Contemporary
Hometown: Shreveport, Louisiana
Food: Seafood gumbo with shrimp, oysters, crawfish, blue crabs, redfish and blackfish

“Seafood gumbo is normally made during Lent, but it also coincides with crawfish season, so you use the shells leftover from a big crawfish boil to make the broth. Food was a huge focus in my house growing up. That’s just the culture in Louisiana. But also my maternal grandmother, Drendy, was a huge cook, and every time we walked in her house she was cooking something.”

Who: Erind Halilaj
What: Executive chef, Il Brutto and La Matta
Hometown: Umbria, Italy
Food: Umbricelli with fava beans, black truffle, pecorino cheese, black pepper and olive oil

“I mean, everybody cooks in Italy. Regardless of what job you do, you cook. Because it’s not just about eating food, but about being together. You share an experience. Think about fava beans like you would crawfish. You put them in the middle of a table and everyone gets messy and drinks. On a Sunday morning before lunch, farmers come with cases of the beans, and people drink red wine, eat pecorino cheese and clean fava beans.”

Who: Tavel Bristol-Joseph
What: Pastry chef and partner, Emmer & Rye, Henbit, TLV and Hestia
Hometown: Georgetown, Guyana
Food: Curry chicken with red potatoes, ginger coconut milk and a blue emmer roti

“Growing up, my grandparents had seven kids and two grandkids in a two-bedroom house. Food was scarce at times, so when you had it, you cherished it. I became a chef so that I could give, because I understand what it’s like to be without. In Guyana there’s a strong Indian influence. It’s all about eating with your hands. First you rip the roti and then dip it into the sauce. You want that bread to soak up some of the moisture so you get a really juicy bite. Make sure you get some meat, make sure you get some potatoes, then kind of shovel it into your mouth.”

Who: Ling Qi Wu
What: Owner and chef, Lin Asian Bar + Dim Sum
Hometown: Langqi, China
Food: Fujian red wine chicken with rice

“This is my favorite dish my grandma made growing up. She would raise chickens in her backyard, so whenever we had a special day, we’d catch one and clean it up. We’d chop up the chicken, marinate it — a little bit of salt, wine and ginger with rice wine paste — and stir-fry it with some spicy chile paste. My grandma taught me a lot. She never complained and always worked happy.”

Who: Fermín Núñez
What: Executive chef, Suerte
Hometown: Torreón, Mexico
Food: Black bean tamal with picadillo

“When I was a kid, I was the pickiest eater. Sometimes my parents would have to take me to McDonald’s. I was that kid. Growing up in Mexico, there’s all these options for having delicious food every day. I always took that for granted until high school, when my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A lot of things changed in our household. I went from Wednesday night tamales to Thursday morning steamed broccoli. That got me thinking about what I really liked about cooking and why all of a sudden I didn’t like this new food.”