Against The Grain

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Martha Pincoffs, creator of the Hot Dang, an all-natural meatless burger, makes fresh, local food a priority in her life.

Martha Pincoffs is certainly conscious of the origins of her food. Thoughtful when choosing what feeds her family and fuels her two businesses, she always picks fresh food that is humanely raised, sustainably farmed and locally grown.

“It takes so much less to create a really beautiful meal from what’s grown locally and without chemicals,” she said.

Pincoffs, a native of Austin, is the creator of the Hot Dang, a soy-free meatless burger. In August 2010 she was in the process of clearing the pantry because she was moving into a new home. With no experience in making a vegetarian burger, she threw a bunch of ingredients into a blender to create the first version of the Hot Dang. After giving her family and friends a taste and receiving rave reviews, she decided to move forward and pursue a career in product development. In 2011, the Hot Dang was born.

The Hot Dang stays away from high-processed meat alternatives and contains just eight all-natural ingredients: wild rice, brown rice, barley, cashews, rolled oats, eggs, salt and mustard. “I was able to come up with a product that’s healthy that I feel good about feeding people,” Pincoffs said. It can be found at Whole Foods Market, Wheatsville Co-op, Farmhouse Delivery, Farm to Market Grocery, Greenling Organic Delivery and restaurants Hat Creek Burger Co. and Zax. In addition to expanding her market to other Texas cities, she and her business partner Tim Murphy are developing a community giveback plan to launch in the near future.

Pincoffs also heads Not That Martha, in which she teaches private cooking classes with an emphasis on creating meals with in-season produce. One class demonstrates how to use all parts of a whole chicken, from making a broth to cutting it properly.

“I did a lot of soul-searching to figure this out, but I feel like my purpose, the reason why I’m here for this short amount of time, is to empower people with food,” she said.

Pincoffs’ zest for fresh food is so natural that it’s surprising that it took her years to figure out her calling. After majoring in government and Spanish at UT, she moved to Washington, D.C., and became a lobbyist. After a dreadful year-and-a-half living in that city, she couldn’t move out of there fast enough.

She then journeyed to Telluride, Colo., where she waited tables at a guest ranch, her first experience with the food service industry. When Pincoffs returned to Austin, she sold real estate for five years. One of her clients, Mike Young, co-founder of Chuy’s restaurants, hired her as a project manager for Garrido’s, a modern Mexican restaurant in downtown Austin. While there, she observed head chef David Garrido develop a menu and breathe life into the restaurant. Soon after the project was finished, she had fallen in love with food and in 2008 went to the Texas Culinary Academy.

SIMPLY KISMET

Pincoffs knew she was different when she was 13. She remembers shooting baskets in her front yard while an internal debate rattled in her head. “I would play that game where if I make it, I’m definitely not gay,” she said. Day after day, year after year, she would wake up every morning and force herself not to think about “it.”

Throughout her adolescence and young adulthood, Pincoffs was in denial about her sexuality. “I was afraid that if I really showed myself, everyone would walk away because I thought what I was, was so bad and shameful,” she said. She turned to alcohol as a way to hide.

But when she was 27, everything changed. “I fell in love and it was undeniable,” Pincoffs said about a former co-worker. “I think it saved my life because I would’ve gone down this path of self-destruction.”

The first couple of years after coming out were difficult, she said. Her family wasn’t happy. Today her parents have accepted her and her new family.

Pincoffs first met her partner of three years, Jo Sugar Walski, through a mutual friend at Austin Pride 2006, each with a girlfriend in tow. It wasn’t till three years after that encounter that they found themselves single and interested in each other.

The two women fell in love at Alamo Park, which they frequented on their dates. The couple had a magnetic connection. “She is very quick to laugh, so we laughed a lot when we first started dating,” said Walski, a financial manager for Microsoft.

In 2011, Pincoffs and Walski decided they wanted to start a family. Fate hit when they got a very unexpected opportunity for a private adoption. “It felt like the universe was saying, ‘You want a family? OK, here you go,’” as Pincoffs described the experience. “It was kismet.” The couple met the birth mom and felt like it was the right choice to have an open adoption. His arrival came so quickly that the couple didn’t even own a onesie on his birthday.

River, a redheaded 18-month-old bundle of joy, is learning Spanish at Escuelita del Alma. As you would expect, Pincoffs makes all of his food. “He freaks out for sweet potatoes and avocado,” she said. “My hope is to give River a happy and safe environment where he can grow up and be exactly who he wants to be.”

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