Writing by Bo Duncan
Photography by Lauren Ussery and Adrienne Dever
This summer, when White Lodging opened the newest Westin Hotel, it brought two new features to downtown Austin: a stunning view from its rooftop pool and an outstanding new restaurant called Stella San Jac. We sat down with Executive Chef Michael Cerrie to chat about what makes this eclectic Southern eatery so spectacular. Here’s a hint: it involves biscuits.
Chef Cerrie has been with White Lodging for years, working alongside a carefully curated team of consultants and “experience experts” to bring a special dining experience to the new downtown hotel. Cerrie began working on this project in December, immersing himself in Austin culture and spending weeks in a cooking boot camp to develop the menu. When developing the restaurant, they merged two important elements: what makes the most sense in Austin, and Chef Cerrie’s own cooking philosophy.
“You won’t find any plating tweezers or tackleboxes on my assembly line. The true craftsmen in food are the ones who are making the ingredients.”
Most people walking through downtown Austin are not from here — it’s an eclectic population. This, Chef Cerrie explains, was the inspiration for making an equally eclectic menu, adding a Southern twist. By applying his Nonni’s “simplicity is best” approach to cooking, the menu became a showcase of quality dishes from breakfast to dinner. Cerrie’s Nonni was from Sicily, and she taught him how to raise or grow almost everything he ate. “You won’t find any plating tweezers or tackle boxes on my assembly line,” he says. “The true craftsmen in food are the ones who are making the ingredients.”
Most dishes on the menu are served with fewer than three items on the plate, in keeping with the theme of simplicity. By no means does that imply “boring,” though. Take, for example, the bacon and eggs – braised and flash-fried pork belly topped with a fried Texas quail egg, served with bit of corn pudding – quite a twist on a traditional dish. The biscuits are called “#16” because it was the sixteenth recipe tested while perfecting the down-home staple. Other all-stars on the menu are the crab cakes, chicken Johnny cakes, kale and Brussels sprouts salad and prawns. On the sweet side, don’t miss the sticky buns at the bar or the s’mores cake for dessert.
With a chef who has spent much of his career cooking for private clients, opening the Westin Domain and sister property JW Marriott, Stella San Jac brings with it a promising leader – one who has a definite vision for the eatery and expects it to stand out from many of its contemporaries.
“We’re a restaurant in a hotel,” he says, “but we aren’t a hotel restaurant.”
Tip: Try to get your hands on the Stella Fusion cocktail of the day, served in the Porthole Infuser. Only 10 infusers are served each day on a first come, first served basis. Flavors change daily.
Writing: Bo Duncan
Photography: Lauren Ussery and Adrienne Dever
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