“Any chef can cook a great meal.
It takes an Artisan to create”
MEET THE CHEF
Founder, Executive Chef, and Owner of The Austin Artisan, Michael Wards didn’t find his way to the kitchen by traditional means. Following a lucrative career in corporate America, he found himself tired, burnt out, and completely unfulfilled. After a lot of soul searching, he took the leap and began to chase his dream of becoming a chef.
Honing his skills in Austin’s great kitchens like Second Bar and Kitchen/Congress, The Driskill Hotel, and 2Dine4 Catering, he decided it was time to do food his way, and launched The Austin Artisan, now the ATX area’s premier private dining and personal chef service.
But unlike many professional chefs who credit the joy of cooking for their career aspirations, that’s not what inspires Michael. Of course he appreciates fine food and the challenge of incorporating classic flavors and textures into cutting-edge culinary creations, but to him, the most fulfilling part of the process is the three-second reveal when clients get their first looks, smells and tastes of a dish.
That’s because what goes into each dish is way more than its ingredients.
“One of the main reasons I cook is because food takes me back to a place or time,” he says. “There’s emotion and memory to food even if you haven’t had that exact dish before. An inspired dish can set the tone and fill you with feeling.”
Michael says true personal chefs strive for personal relationships with their clients. That philosophy is at the core of his business. It’s obvious when working with him that each meal and menu is more than the art of presentation or the science of tweaking a recipe to perfection. It’s the giving of himself through that plate.
“I’m not nearly as inspired by the food as I am by the people I’m creating it for,” he says.
How do the people in the group know each other? Is it a celebration? Is there a back story? With each personal menu, Chef aims to present an experience that goes well beyond just cooking a fantastic meal. It also involves revealing a vision that includes unearthing specific details conjure up special shared memories while at the same time making new ones.
“Almost anyone, with a little practice, can prepare a good meal,” he says. “The gift is in preparing a meal that makes someone feel special in some way, which is why we specialize in intimate gatherings.”
Smaller groups allow him to directly appeal to individual guests as opposed to to trying to satisfy the masses.
Perhaps it’s a favorite drink from a client’s single-girl days that inspires the flavors for the dessert at her bachelorette party, or the specific cultural components from a great uncle’s homeland sprinkled into a meal designed to honor him on a special birthday.
“Memorable dining experiences rarely happen in large group situations,” Michael says, “Rather, they occur in intimate settings over real laughter and conversation. The trick is in the details. Food is merely a very special vessel.”
This applies preparation to presentation. Every event he manages is as interactive as the group desires. Guests are invited to experience not only the final product, but the actual construction of the meal on site — allowing those interested to talk to him while he works, perhaps even sneak a taste. Once dinner is ready, he loves introducing each course and talking to guests about the sourcing of the meal and the flavor combinations. In this way, he is both chef and entertainer. And those who hire him are both host and guest.
His passion for outstanding food, genuine hospitality, and culinary entertainment is the heartbeat of The Austin Artisan and exactly what makes him the best at what he does.