Yeah, sure, it’s a total cliché by now. You know you’re from Austin when you’ve had a straight male stylist, a gay male plumber, a lesbian sheriff, and a mayoral candidate who defies demographics. Austin is a growing city defined by change and evolution, but some would say the food scene in the Capital City is relatively slow on the uptake and less inventive than its musical, technological, and political counterparts.
On the surface, it seems that Austin foodie’s can’t drive down most major streets without seeing signs for chicken-fried steaks, barbecue, tacos, fajitas, and burgers – and why would they want to? Texas culinary traditions reign supreme, but during the past decade-and-a-half, Austin’s food scene has grown more diverse, undergoing a drastic transformation.
And that’s helped add to the aforementioned list of unlikely characters a gay punk rock drummer/chef with an inspiring and sophisticated approach to food that has taken root in upmarket homes and countless high-profile events around town.
A veteran of the food world – having worked his way through a gauntlet of culinary jobs beginning in his early teens – Chef Brenton Schumacher clicked the heels of his black and white checkered Vans, left Detroit, and landed in Austin 14 years ago. He jumped into Austin’s music scene, drumming for bands with names like The Dead End Cruisers.
Of course, he had to pay his rent too, so armed with his hefty culinary background, Schumacher found himself thrust to the forefront of a project that was fostering a lot of talk, and raising a lot of eyebrows, in Austin’s food culture – Central Market. For more than ten years, he helped shape the store’s creative mission to romance Austinites out of their food rut. A quick study with keen instincts, Schumacher realized he was in the middle of something big. “We were doing something that people hadn’t seen before. We were putting new products in front of people that were used to a pretty fixed way of eating, and they were asking for more.”
Fast forward to the present and Schumacher is no longer Central Market’s executive sous chef. Instead, he pulled off a feat seldom accomplished. On his own, he started Pink Avocado Catering, a catering company that has not only managed to stay in business for more than a year, but has succeeded in becoming a major player in Austin’s event scene.
Schumacher stepped away from Central Market with several ideas and opportunities, starting as a one-man shop, then eventually hiring a staff of trusted colleagues who helped him grow his business. “We a very close knit family,” Schumacher says. “We all enjoy helping out with everything from dishes to bartending. I am the luckiest person in the world to have the chefs I have on my team. They are truly amazing people.”
The team moved into a small kitchen space tucked into the building occupied by Emo’s Lounge where they ran two businesses: the burgeoning Pink Avocado Catering, which was garnering business mostly by word of mouth, and Go-Bites, which served gourmet sliders to the late-night Red River crowd. Eventually, Schumacher closed Go-Bites and moved into a new event space, called the Palm Door, near the Austin Convention Center.
While Schumacher’s client list is impressive – quickly growing to include the Austin Film Society, Google, Atlantic Records, Little Steven, Seth Rogan, and Dell Inc. – Pink Avocado also seems to have become the de facto caterer for Austin’s South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival, producing dozens of parties during the conference. “It used to be a totally commando operation where we went in the tiniest kitchen piled on top of each other while Go- Bites had a line up the street,” Schumacher says. “It was crazy. We pulled off more than 80 parties during this year’s SXSW, the biggest week ever. The last day we pulled off 16 parties at the same time – and it was all perfect.”
Schumacher shares an East Austin home with his longtime partner, Blaine Morgan, a stylist at Jackson Ruiz Salon Spa. The couple were married on New Year’s Eve 2007. Together, they’ve brought up a Chihuahua named Annabella, a Pit Bull Terrier named Francis, and a Toy Rat Terrier named Chester. Weddings are no stranger to Schumacher, who is used to putting on several events during a weekend. Just one weekend after SXSW, Schumacher finds himself in the thick of wedding season. “This weekend has been crazy,” he says. “we’ve done two vegan weddings, one slammin’ crawfish boil wedding, and one super high-end plated event. And that’s how we like to do things – whether it’s vegan, down-home, uptown, whatever – we like to build events around people and what they like so they’ll remember it for a long time.”
While the Pink Avocado Catering van will still be seen tooling around town, Schumacher plans to bring more special events into what he thinks is a very special place with the swank new Palm Door space, and his plans continue to include everything from those high-end weddings to industry parties. “Our space is gigantic now, and we have plenty of room to work,” he says. And in case anyone is wondering, he shares, “We just got our liquor license and catered more than 10,000 drinks during the conference. This was exciting and new for us. We had some really killer bartenders on our crew for the festival.”
It doesn’t matter how fantastic the space is or how special a customer feels if the food doesn’t impress, and Schumacher devotes several weeks a year to keeping up with culinary evolu- tion. “The Hill Country Wine and Food Festival is a really cool opportunity to keep an eye on what’s happening in Texas and stay connected to the food community here,” he says. “I also take annual trips to New York City and Las Vegas to keep up with the latest trends.” His culinary knowledge, combined with rock and roll attitude, spawns pretty exciting food.
So what’s on the menu? A lot. But a few examples provide a look into Schumacher’s culinary philosophy which he says, “embraces fresh ingredients, creativity, fabulous presentation, and big, bold flavors.” For instance, crispy Panko-crusted triple cream brie accompanied by a sweet and spicy Serrano apple chutney pro- vides a pretty exciting approach to an old favorite. Petite crab and shrimp fritters with green chili lime tartar sauce are rustic and refined at the same time. A goat cheese sandwich with avocado, watercress, and walnut pesto on fresh multigrain bread is unique and sophisticated without being overly fussy. And a customer- favorite, the Applewood-bacon-wrapped individual meatloaf servings are clearly prepared with care, and hit lucky diners over the head with a pretty undeniable wow factor.
It’s very punk rock. And tres chic.
What sets the Pink Avocado Catering team apart from some of the other players in town? “We work really hard to make sure we understand what each client is all about and what they expect,” says Schumacher. While the Pink Avocado menu serves as a great starting-point for a solidly-planned party, Schumacher and his team are routinely challenged to create fresh, seasonal, inventive, and innovative culinary indulgences that find their way into heavy rotation. Born from client consultations, some of Schumacher’s small plates and two-bite appetizers provide inspiring examples:
Zing! Presented smartly in a demitasse spoon, this one-bite appetizer of fresh kiwi, a brightly-flavored whipped, citrus-infused cream cheese, and habañero jelly starts subtly sweet and finishes with a spicy wink.
Grilled Fruit Skewers
Radiating with a mélange of sweet fruits including peaches, melons, and pineapple, this brilliant and beautiful is accompanied by a cherry balsamic vinaigrette mellowed with honey. The light, smoky flavor permeating the fruit adds another dimension that leaves a traditional fruit tray feeling generally bad about itself. “We served this at the FronteraFest 2009 closing party at Hyde Park Theatre,” Schumacher says, “People jumped on it like lions at the kill.”
Apricot and Dried-Blueberry-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin Pinwheels
Food porn at its finest. “We got so tired of boring pork tenderloin,” Schumacher says, “so we sliced it, rolled it into pinwheels, put it on a stick, breaded it in Panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried it.” Rolled with dried organic blueberries and served with Chinese-style hot mustard, these look, honestly, like little pork popsicles. And they’re definitely not boring.
Lean Chicken Meatloaf with Sweet Potato Topping
Conceived as a nontraditional wedding offering, these were specifically requested by a client. This weighty hors d’oeuvre of savory chick- en meatloaf is nestled in a cupcake liner with whipped sweet potatoes piped on top. Ostensibly, they could be aimed at wedding guests who are watching their figures: the chicken is lean and the sweet potatoes are more carb-and fat-conscious than the traditional creamy, buttery mashed potato accompaniment. Or they could just eat them because they taste incredible.
Watermelon Feta Cubes
These have summer written all over them, but these cool little watermel- on cubes could fit the bill for just about any event, any time of year – except for maybe the coldest days of winter in Austin (all three of them). They’re stuffed with salty feta and a cool chiffonade of mint and finished with a tangy lime vinaigrette, creating a contrast of flavors that excite the whole tongue. The eyes get in on the action, too. Served as a small plate, these look like an elegant collection of petite jewelry boxes.
It’s a little too easy to get a predictable tuna tartare in Austin.
Southwest or Asian, it’s hard to escape the ubiquitous, lazy tuna-on-a-chip
approach. The Pink Avocado adaptation is a little Southwestern and a little Asia, a
unique East-meets-West combination: spicy tuna sitting atop a fried wonton crisp, accompanied by intense wasabi guacamole and smooth citrus soy, and finished with toasted ground sesame seeds.
Lobster Ceviche Shots
Put those old run-of-the-mill shrimp cocktail dreams back in the Tupperware … or in the rubbish bin. Pink Avocado lobster ceviche shots come with a mandate for good tequila and a sense of adventure. Served in a shot glass, the lobster ceviche shot showcases poached lob- ster and a fruity, summery mango pico de gallo, garnished with fluffy whipped avocado.
Palm Door on Sabine
401 Sabine St #A, Austin, TX 78701
Palm Door on Sabine
401 Sabine St #A, Austin, TX 78701
Pink Avocado Catering
401 Sabine St, Ste B, Austin, TX 78701