TRIBEZA Talk | February 2014

Nicely Noted

There’s no month like February for getting inspired to put pen to paper and send out a heartfelt card. We spoke with Perry Nelson of Nicely Noted—a local stationery subscription service that delivers a monthly assortment of hand-pressed cards to your doorstep—about the magic of snail mail.

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Questions for Chef Michael Fojtasek

who has worked with the likes of Thomas Keller and Jonathan Benno, and whose newest restaurant project, Olamaie (1610 San Antonio St.), will bring elevated Southern cuisine to central Austin this spring. More at

Q: tell me about your history with writing letters: what do you love about sending and receiving them?

A: I send several notes a month, typically thank yous, an occasional birthday card, and some notes to say hello to friends far away. What I love about sending and receiving notes is the physical manifestation of sentiment. You think about someone and put words to paper that arrives at their doorstep days or weeks later. The discovery of a letter in your mailbox is a joy. And, the fact that you can rediscover that same letter over and over again tacked to the fridge or hidden away in a box filled with memories is pretty incredible. I often return to Bryon's statement, "Letter writing is the only good device for combining solitude with good company."

Q: Please define "Modern Southern."

A: We define [it] as taking ideas from southern culinary heritage and reinterpreting them in a way that reflects our background and perspective. [Olamaie co-principals] Grae Nonas, Ben Hickerson and I were trained at restaurants where classical technique was combined with modern presentation. It doesn’t mean you will see us hang bacon on a wire. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” […]

Q: Olamaie is named after four generations of women in your family: What meals do you associate with the original Olamaies?

A: I didn’t know my great-great grandmother, obviously, or great grandmother, but I did live with my grandmother as a child. Big Ola was her nickname; she was smaller than my mother, Little Ola. She could talk in her beautiful Tennessee accent for days and took even longer to eat a meal. Her specialty was TV dinner in front of an episode of “Magnum P.I.” Sometimes, she’d bake a ham, but it wasn’t ever a culinary adventure. My mother, on the other hand, is one hell of a cook…Whether it was marinating birds in Crystal Hot Sauce and milk for fried chicken or supping at The Cupboard in Memphis, food is and was always the central part of our lives.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about how Olamaie came together? What can diners expect, what are you most looking forward to, and what have been the hardest and easiest parts of the project so far?

The restaurant began with biscuits and cookbooks. I was working in New York and fiddling with biscuits for staff meals and on my days off. My mother would travel and send me cookbooks from wherever she found something she liked. At the time my professional homework was Italian books, but Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House Cookbook or something like it would show up and reading them made me feel at home. Each book moved me closer to the realization that southern food would be my first restaurant.

We will be happy if diners come to us for value. To us, it’s the most important part of how a restaurant can be perceived. Austin diners are driven by it more than any other place I have lived or worked. I think it’s why the truck scene is so successful here. If we can continue to source product from close-by and do it at an appropriate price point, Olamaie will be a success. Of course there will be folks who won’t see eye to eye with us, but I look forward to working hard to be a place where everyone can have a dynamic experience.

The easiest part has been working with my team. I am so fortunate to have unbelievably talented guys like Grae Nonas and Ben Hickerson. They have made the process bearable at times and a blast at others. It’s also really exciting to announce that Steven Carson is part of the Olamaie team. He’s a whiz-kid from Blackberry Farm and Quince who we talked into coming to Austin more than a year ago.

Q: What three culinary heroes would be guests at a dream dinner party?

Three? That’s a pretty small dinner party. I have so many heroes and the list continues to grow. I can say that the dinner party I would most like to be a part of right now would make me the only man at the table. I would choose Mrs. Mary Faulk Koock, Mrs. Edna Lewis and Mrs. Carol Ann Sayle. Mrs. Koock, founder of Green Pastures and author of The Texas Cookbook, was the original Austin restaurant matron in my eyes. Mrs. Lewis is the undisputed mother of current southern cuisine. Mrs. Sayle, the Boggy Creek Farm founder, has inspired me my entire career. In fact, if I could cook and serve while my mom took my place at the table, that would be a dream. I’d just want to have the whole thing recorded so I could watch them trade stories and become friends.

Three things to be excited about this month in Austin

1. New products from Milk and Honey:

The Austin favorite for day spa indulgence recently launched its own line of bath and body products, available at their three locations and on their website.

Good because: From bath soaks to home fragrances, the entire line is natural, organic, and nicely packaged: everyday luxuries we can get behind.

2. This excerpt from a 1965 letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse:

“Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO!”

Good because: It’s part of “Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt,” on display at the Blanton Museum February 23–May 18. This new exhibition will celebrate the friendship between Hesse and LeWitt, two of the most significant American artists of the post-war era, by featuring work of both artists and intimate glimpses of their relationship.

3. Briggo Coffee: the world's only "Robotic Coffee House." Yep. Installed first at UT's Flawn Academic Center (and with forthcoming kiosks in the works at Austin airport and several local corporate offices), Briggo allows for "over-the-top specialty coffee that you would see at a very high-end coffee shop" to be made-to-order via smartphone, says Marketing VP Dan Lowden. To get a coffee, place your order online or at the machine, then watch the Briggo make your drink, type in a confirmation number, and ta-dah! With the swivel of a Lazy Susan turntable, your Americano with a splash of two percent is ready.

Good because: While we wouldn’t necessarily give up our favorite local spots for futuristic coffee, sometimes that’s not an option. And so much cold robot love for making good-tasting, customizable coffee more accessible.

Austin Obsessions with Austin Marathon Director Jon Conley

Wherein we ask locals what they are loving right now in our city

1. Running at the Austin High School Track

“There is no prettier place to watch a sunrise over the city or see the sunset glinting off of the skyline. The colors and city view are different every day.”

2. The Austin Film Festival

“While I don’t always go to the films themselves, I love the random celebrity sightings and the feel-good buzz in the air. Conley Sports Productions is also a sponsor of the Film & Food Gala benefiting the Young Filmmakers Program.”

3. The Sustainable Food Center’s downtown Austin Farmers Market

“I love the local foodie atmosphere and I love buying interesting locally-raised meats from a guy named Sebastien [Bonneu of Countryside Farm]. He is a one-of-a-kind ambassador for buying locally sourced meats.

John Conley has been the race director of the Austin Marathon for 17 years, and also serves as director of the 3M Half Marathon, Cap10K, and is the CEO of ConleySports. The 2014 Austin Marathon takes place Feb. 16. More at


Photography by: TRIBEZA

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