Chef Shawn Cirkiel
Executive Chef, Restaurateur | 2012
The Backspace | 507 San Jacinto Blvd. | Austin, TX 78701
parkside | 301 East 6th Street | Austin, TX 78701 | (512) 474.9898
Olive & June | 3411 Glenview Ave. | Austin, Tx | 78703
AUSTIN, 2012: While I was in Austin, there was a long list of Chefs I hoped to meet and dine with. While it wasn’t possible to meet with every chef, it was absolutely essential to share each of their passions, colorful menus, and devour-worthy fare with readers and diners everywhere. Executive Chef of Austin gastropub, Parkside, Shawn Cirkiel was gracious enough to let me interview him. With a desire for cooking, awakening his senses with an overwhelmingly keen sense of smell, and parents that had a restaurant when he was a child, being a chef is something that courses through his veins. One could say with undeniable certainty, Chef Cirkiel is doing exactly what he is meant to. Named Austin’s youngest five-star chef in 2002, Chef only continues to get better – trying to evolve at every turn, willing to be fearless with his menu – A menu that screams “YUM”. The menu boasts an array of items but there are oysters in plenty: 11 to be exact (malpeque pei, shiny point pei, pickle point pei, blue point, fanny bay, kumo guay, royal miyagi, rappahannock, barcat, milford haven, umami – no really, I wasn’t kidding!). The menu also includes a raw bar that will make your need for “insatiable and fresh” enliven; hearty “happy’s” like crab fritter, crispy sweetbreads, marrow bones, and Texas quail; entrees ranging from short ribs to green garlic risotto; comfort soups and tasty salads; and of course, there’s dessert! The dessert deserves it’s own write-up entirely! With intoxicating blends like the blood orange semifreddo served with coriander, cashew soil, mango, and passion fruit sorbet (an easy mental escape to the landscapes of India); frozen goat cheese mousse with strawberry kalamansi curd, and basil ice cream (a beautiful marriage of flavor and color, texture and taste that will put your palate in a very ecstatic state); and the ole standby, S’mores which are anything but boring.
What Chef Cirkiel has done is create a restaurant – a menu – that takes you on a journey. It is unsuspecting and simply sophisticated. Located in the Historic Sixth Street District, parkside is a restaurant that beckons comfort and taste. Whether you are drinking one of their impressive specialty drinks like the Strawberry Sunshine (Stoli Strasberi, lime, and Cava), the Aromatic* (organic gin, tawny port, organic orange liqueur), Siberian Donkey (Absolut Peppar, ginger beer, lime), Texas Negroni (organic Republic Anejo, Campari, kaffir leaves), Rosemary Cucumber (Hendricks Gin, rosemary, cucumber puree), the Last Word (Bombay Gin, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo, lime), or any one of their wine, beer, or top shelf selections – you will most definitely have options. Those in Austin and anyone considering going to Austin, stop at Parkside. Feed your senses.
Chef Cirkiel also has a newly opened restaurant located in the old El Arbor space, Olive & June open at 5pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Here is a short segment posted in Austin360: Olive & June is the newest restaurant from parkside Chef Shawn Cirkiel. Named in honor of his and his wife’s grandmothers, the Italian restaurant specializes in made-from-scratch pastas and piccoli piatti, or small plates of dishes such as crostini, eggplant, fried artichokes, and fried risotto balls. You’ll also find full-sized entrees including grilled swordfish and bistecca alla fiorentina.
Thanks to Chef Cirkiel for taking the time to answer the interview questions. I cannot wait to return to Austin and actually dine with you!
Where did your passion for food begin?
My parents had a restaurant when I was little and they always were cooking, baking, etc. It was an integral part of who we were! From there it was what I always did.
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Food wise there are many—picking blueberries in Arkansas; Baking biscuits on a wood burning stove with my blind great grandmother; making our own butter from cows we milked, eating all over NYC; cooking Thai food with some Thai exchange students every year and them sending me spices – and the list goes on and on..
The memories of food are about the only thing I remember—not sure what that means.
(ATOD: I’m guessing it means your love of food is as natural to you as taking in air is to most everyone else.)
What is your absolute favorite thing to make?
Whatever will make you the most happy!
(ATOD: I think I just fell in love … And ironically started thinking of every favorite thing I’d like to eat, though a plate full of really delectable oysters is not a bad start.)
When you’re at home, what is your guilty pleasure?
I don’t have a sweet tooth so I’m not very fun in that sense?
(ATOD: Nah, still fun.)
If you were asked to make one meal to appeal to everyone at an important dinner, what would it be and why?
Depends—who the meal is for, when it is, when the meal is [time] —then you can decide what to cook.
How did the concept of Parkside?
I love oysters and wanted to have a downtown restaurant that felt like you are in the city. And wanted the food to be both simple or complex so it can be your go-out adventure or the spot for an oyster and beers before a game.
What city would you most want to visit to indulge in culinary-wise?
What is your favorite cocktail? Favorite wine? Favorite Beer? (If you have one!)
(ATOD: liqueur made with black truffles [Amari] cannot steer you wrong.)
WINE: I drink all wine but have a special place in my heart for bubbles from working at Domaine Chandon.
What is your favorite smell?
I’m a super smeller and pick up the scent of everything all time – I think everything smells interesting. I’m a sucker though when walking through the spice district in NYC – it is overwhelming.
What does your Sous Chef call you?
Shawn or Chef.
What is your vision for Parkside and beyond?
To get better and better.
(ATOD: No doubt you will succeed in doing precisely that.)
What was your favorite childhood cartoon?
They all were good back then!
(ATOD: Seriously, they really were amazing back in the day. Agreed.)
UPDATE: Since this interview, I did in fact get to go hang out with Shawn in Austin, along with Austin photographer Jane Ko and it was beyond amazing! I met him at Olive & June AND The Backspace and both tantalized my palate and made Shawn a friend for life.
Bio | Shawn Cirkiel
Widely recognized as one of Austin’s most creative restaurateurs, Chef Shawn Cirkiel has been impressing area foodies and critics alike since the early 2000’s, when he gained the honor of Austin’s youngest five-star chef from the Austin American Statesman. Cirkiel was the first to introduce Austin to the gastro pub concept with his casually sophisticated parkside on Sixth Street. He also recently opened Neapolitan-style pizzeria, the backspace, and continues to inspire diners with his innovative approach to New American cuisine and authentic artisan pizzas.
Cooking fresh and local is in Cirkiel’s blood, having grown up on a farm with a family whose livelihoods were rooted in the food business back as far as his great-grandparents. His training at the Culinary Institute of America provided Cirkiel a more refined cooking style while further encouraging his obsession with seasonal, local ingredients. This passion later led Cirkiel to become a founding chef of the Sustainable Food Center’s Farmers’ Market in downtown Austin. Hoping to instill is his two children and the younger generation a similar passion for fresh, local foods, Cirkiel is also a member of the Nutrition and Health Board for the Austin Independent School District’s Highland Park Elementary, where he has played an instrumental role in building a variety of healthy-eating, exercise and gardening programs.
Actively participating in the community is also important to Cirkiel, who has long been dedicated to improving downtown Austin’s historic 6th Street District. His involvement as a board member and secretary for the Sixth Street Austin Association has been crucial in helping the preservation organization raise funds to continue restoring the legendary district, enhancing its historic character and better branding the area as a celebrated destination worldwide.
Since opening the award-winning parkside – known for its impressive oyster selections, raw seafood bar and seasonally rotating menu – Cirkiel has received much media attention, most recently noted in Food Arts Magazine. He has also graced the pages of the Los Angeles Times, American Way Magazine, Spirit Magazine, and Cooks Illustrated, just to name a few. Texas Monthly magazine named parkside one of the “Top 10 Best New Restaurants in Texas” in 2009, and Bon Appetit Magazine crowned parkside one of the “Hot 10 New American Taverns” and a top destination for pub cuisine.
Despite his many regional and national accolades, Cirkiel remains focused on the delicate details of serving well-crafted food to each and every diner visiting parkside and the backspace.