The first interview in the FriendsEAT Chef Series is withChef Mark Paulwho is currently working at Wink Restaurant. Here’s what he had to tell us.
FriendsEAT: Did you grow up cooking?
Chef Mark Paul: Absolutely- My father’s family were farmers in North Carolina, so we grew up around a table, snapping beans, shucking corn, etc. Later, trips to Europe shaped our family’s cooking – with a special affinity for Italian!
FriendsEAT: Who in your life influenced your cooking the most?
Chef Mark Paul: My father and mother were big influences early on – they taught me to be open-minded about ingredients and techniques. My dad and I still cook together quite often. Professionally, Charlie Trotter, Alain Ducasse, Jean-Louis Palladin, Jacques Torres, Pierre Herme… just to name a few.
FriendsEAT: What made you decide to become a chef?
Chef Mark Paul: I was never good at flying a desk! I love the constantly changing dynamic of the kitchen from day to day…hour to hour. Selfishly, I also enjoy the instant gratification when you watch a guest take that first bite of something you created and watching their reaction… you know immediately whether you hit it or not!
FriendsEAT: What misconceptions do you think people have when coming into the field?
Chef Mark Paul:That a first timer in the kitchen is going to light the world on fire and be the next “Top Chef!” Most of us have had to work our way up through the ranks, and have sacrificed a lot personally to get where we are as cooks. You get to work while everyone else is playing.
FriendsEAT: What is the best advice you can give a novice:
Chef Mark Paul:Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t be afraid to use SALT!
FriendsEAT: What are your three favorite cooking gadgets, things you just can’t live without?
Chef Mark Paul: I love the Micro-Plane Zester, the pasta attachment for the KitchenAid Mixer, and the Cryovac machine.
FriendsEAT: And what is your favorite ingredient to cook with?
Chef Mark Paul: I really enjoy cooking all different kinds of vegetables. I think they are much more interesting to work with than meats and seafood.
FriendsEAT: What about the thing you love to eat?
Chef Mark Paul: When I cook at home, we still tend toward Italian influenced dishes and Provencal dishes.
FriendsEAT: And what is your favorite cookbook?
Chef Mark Paul: I think James Peterson’s “Cooking is a great reference book and All of Trotter’s books are great “food porn!”
FriendsEAT: Can you tell us the funniest thing that happened in your kitchen?
Chef Mark Paul: One of our cooks spent an hour looking for his keys (along with everyone else) at the end of the night. He had to hitch a ride with another cook to get home that night. We spent the better part of the next day looking around for the keys, but they had disappeared. Later on we were straining the veal stock that he had put on the night before… guess where the keys were!
FriendsEAT: Now tell us a bit about Wink, what is it that makes it special to you?
Chef Mark Paul: The #1 thing in Wink’s kitchen is creativity and flexibility! We twist and turn within the confines of our nightly larder, and accomodate all sorts of special requests… we cook for a living- and throw a great party every night!
FriendsEAT: Can you describe for us the cuisine you serve at Wink?
Chef Mark Paul: Our menu changes daily and is driven by ingredients that are sourced from local farms, gardens, ranches, and foragers. We choose how we are going to prepare each dish based on the ingredients that are in our larder that day… a dish could have a classic French twist because of the combination of ingredients one day and get shuffled around the next day and take on a more Asian feel… Wine also influences our cooking tremendously. We have over 50 wines by the glass and an eclectic, food-friendly wine list, which enables us to pair wines with each dish on our a la carte menu & our tasting menus (vegetarian & omnivores alike!).
FriendsEAT: Before working at wink, where did you work?
Chef Mark Paul: The James Beard Foundation and Le Cirque in NYC, Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Brio, Brio Vista and Zoot Restaurant in Austin (which I Co-own).
FriendsEAT: Is there a recipe that you would be willing to share with the community?
Chef Mark Paul:
Grilled Quail Breast with Spring Pea Succotash and Caramelized Fennel
12-18 quail breasts (Texas Quail Farms-Lockhart)
salt and pepper
1 Tbl fresh thyme
2 oz olive oil
2 cups spring peas
2 cups corn kernels
2 cups carrots, large dice
2 Tbl olive oil
1 Tbl unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 Tbl minced garlic
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 Tbl chopped parsley
1 bulb fennel, sliced ¼ inch thick
For the Succotash:
Blanch the peas, carrots, and corn separately until just tender in boiling water. Rinse under cold water. Drain and reserve. Melt the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until wilted, about 10 minutes, stirring, adding the garlic during the last 3 minutes. Stir the blanched vegetables into the onions, coating with butter. Toss with broth, adding sage. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes. Cook, covered, another 5 minutes. Add the parsley and adjust the seasonings to taste.
For the Quail:
Combine the olive oil, thyme, and a little ground black pepper in a bowl and toss the quail breasts until coated. Grill until done to your preference.
For the Fennel:
Add 1 1/2 more tablespoons oil to skillet and sauté the fennel over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown on the outside (3 minutes), then remove from heat.
Place the succotash in the middle of the plate, along with a slice of the caramelized fennel, then top with two or three whole quail breasts Spoon a little of the pan juice around the plate and serve.
To try Chef Paul’s creations, visit him at Wink Restaurant located at
1014 North Lamar Blvd. Austin, Texas 78703
Have you been there, tell us what you think.