For the second year, the School of Culinary Arts at Francis Tuttle’s District 21 Restaurant hosts a series of guest chefs. 

click to enlarge Kathryn-Mathis_7331mh.jpg

Kathryn Mathis is a woman of few words.

The chef and co-owner of Pizzeria Gusto prefers to let her food speak for her. That’s when Mathis has plenty to say and does it with both precision and style.

“Kathryn, being an amazing chef, she sort of riffs on stuff,” said Chris Lower, who owns Gusto with Mathis. “She has  come up with some amazing things.”

They’ve been business partners for years, since Mathis and Cally Johnson opened Big Truck Tacos in 2009.

For the second year, the School of Culinary Arts at Francis Tuttle’s District 21 Restaurant hosts a series of guest chefs as a way to expand student education and encourage notable chefs to use their experience to give back to the community.

Mathis is first in this year’s lineup. Last year included area chefs Russ Johnson and Jonathon Stranger, owners of Ludivine and The R&J Lounge and Supper Club, as well as celebrity chef and native Okie Rick Bayless (Chicago’s Tortas Frontera and Frontera Grill).

“Our 2015 guest chef series is off to a blistering start with the energy and enthusiasm of Pizzeria Gusto chef and owner Kathryn Mathis,” said Marc Dunham, program director. “She’s worked her way through the ranks in notable kitchens in Austin and Oklahoma City and will bring that passion and knowledge to our students.”

Mathis is excited to present her perspective of the culinary world and call the shots.

“I’ve got a list of ideas. I’m going to feature Gusto. It’s the newest one, and as a company as a whole, we’re still trying to get the name out there,” Mathis said.

She also looks forward to building a menu that’s challenging but not overwhelming for students. Students have about a week working with the menu before Mathis comes in as executive chef for a night.

The dinner includes four features and an amuse bouche (starter). This is the ideal format for a chef to show culinary skills in all areas. For instance — an amuse bouche is intended to wake up, or tickle the palate. Hence, the name. Also, features graduate in sophistication with each course.

“Since I love a challenge, I am pushing myself to do something interesting and challenging for them as well as me, and I want them to learn something in the process,” Mathis said.

She is also interested in letting the students know that when it comes to what you can do with your culinary skills, the sky is the limit.

“It’s just not cooking in hotels and industrial kitchens,” she said.

She’s a perfect example of this, having established herself in the Austin restaurant scene by working her way up from the bottom. She has learned some tricks of the trade along the way, including how to build a successful restaurant on simple concepts with radical interpretations.

Part of the success of Big Truck Tacos was that it was nothing new — taquerias aren’t revolutionary. It was the way that Mathis and Johnson interpreted the idea by using fresh and unexpected ingredients.

Next, she tackled hot dogs with Mutts Amazing Hot Dogs. Its menu features duck fat fries and a duck dog. Then came a barbecue joint, Back Door BBQ, with more of her signature spin on classic dishes. Mathis and her partners have greatly contributed to the Uptown district on NW 23rd Street being a delicious place to hang out.

Mathis admitted that Pizzeria Gusto was indeed a challenge for her. She had never cooked Italian fare. When Lower approached her to open a traditional Neapolitan pizzeria, she was ready and willing. She created a menu with her own instincts and Lower’s guidance and experience with pizza he ate in Italy and New York.

When Mathis crafts a menu, whether it’s for a restaurant or a single night like the event at District 21, her primary motivation is literally a single thing.

“I want to create something that no one’s ever had before; that’s what I start with,” she said. “I want it to be that one thing that people walk away thinking about.”

There is limited seating for this event, and if Mathis’ other concepts are any indication, diners will walk away talking about it. For reservations, contact the restaurant at 717-7700.

Print headline: She’s cookin’, Local chefs treat diners and students to evenings of technique and training at District 21’s 2015 Guest Chef Dinner Series.

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