Chefs Deconstructed: Juan Rodriguez and Aaron Austin
Menu Madness continues this week at Central Market Fort Worth with chefs Juan Rodriguez and Aaron Austin. The series of dinners pairs up two chefs who compete over several courses. Diners have the privilege of watching the chefs and enjoying their menus, then the responsibility of selecting the best chef of the evening. The winners of each night will advance through a bracket system and continue competition until a Menu Madness winner is determined in April. So far, chefs Andrew Dilda (Independent Bar & Kitchen), Jason Harper (Trio), and Blaine Staniford (Grace) have advanced to Round 2.
Buy your “cuisine-side” seats here for this Thursday, March 2nd.
In the middle of a successful career which included work at Lonesome Dove, The Classic Café in Roanoke, and six years as the Executive Chef of Reata, Juan Rodriguez launched Magdalena’s Cocina Mexicana Local with his wife, Paige, in 2015. Magdalena’s does catering for special events and hosts supper clubs, which are open to the public.
What’s next for Magdalena’s?
Right now, I’m focused on building a good foundation for our company so that I can look for the next project, maybe a storefront! Our Supper Clubs will be more frequent, three to four times a month instead of only one or two. This month the dates are March 11, 17, and 25.
You grew up in both Chicago and Monterrey—how did you land in Fort Worth, Texas?
My mom worked for Motorola in Chicago. She wanted to be closer to my grandparents, who lived in McAllen and Monterrey, so when the new Fort Worth plant opened, she transferred to be closer to them. My second semester of freshman year, we made the move. It was hard at first, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything now.
Magdalena’s is named after your grandmother and you credit her as your biggest influence. Were you always drawn to the kitchen with her? What was your favorite thing to make together?
I was always drawn to the kitchen. It seems all we ever did was cook and eat. Tortillas were my favorite thing to make with her. I would get so frustrated because I could never get the tortilla to “inflar”, puff, like she did. It definitely takes experience and the right touch to get the tortilla to puff.
What do you pick up on the way home from work?
Whataburger! I get a Whataburger Jr. and I tell myself, “it’s better for you if you get a junior.”
I hear you’re a fan of the NPR podcast, How I Built This. Is there anyone you would like to interview?
I’m a big fan of the podcast. It’s fascinating to hear different stories on how companies got started. Never stop learning. There’s several people I’d like to interview—Salvador Dali, Antoni Gaudi, and Ferran Adria—all my favorite Spanish artists.
If a movie was made about your life, what actor would play you?
FEZ!! Wilmer Valderrama.
Chef Aaron Austin was born and raised in Weatherford and is now the Executive Chef and General Manager of his hometown’s Vintage Grill & Car Museum. Aaron served several tours overseas in the Army and worked as an ER medic before attending the Culinary School of Fort Worth. He previously served as the Executive Chef at Varsity Tavern.
It didn’t cross my mind! But I love this town, and getting to be part of its changing food scene is exciting!
How did you transition from an ER medic Veteran to Culinary School?
I was miserable in my job. I loved helping people, but it wasn’t where my heart was. Being in the kitchen is the biggest adrenaline rush. Granted, getting shot at or rocketed in Iraq is also a rush, but this is different.
Food has consumed every aspect of my life. Just ask my wife—I talk about it, read about it, and watch shows about it. I’m always trying to find a way to do food a little differently. Yesterday, I had my 4-year-old tasting different kinds of herbs. Seeing his face was awesome.
During your tours overseas, were there any times you were able to eat locally? How has that influenced your cooking?
I had a few things locally. The chow hall taught me what not to cook! But Middle Eastern foods are full of so much flavor and spices. It definitely makes you think about flavor combinations.
What do you pick up on the way home from work?
Jack in the Box tacos. Might be the worst tacos in the world. But after a beating on a Saturday night, there isn’t much better at 1am!
If it was a work perk, what car would you borrow from the Museum?
Man that is tough. We have a 1955 Ford F100, Candy Apple Red, with a 289 V8. Pretty much in love with that truck.
What actor would play you if a movie was made about your life?
Kevin James. That dude is hilarious, and us big dudes gotta stick together. Plus he could pull off a beard like mine.