What is life like for an executive chef in Texas in the ongoing pandemic? And how are customers to best navigate today’s dining out options?
For the inside scoop, we were eager to hear from Alma Alcocer, the busy Executive Chef at Austin’s Mexican favorite, El Alma. With online to-go ordering now in full swing, and in-dining available by reservation at her cozy neighborhood restaurant, Chef Alcocer dished on her career, challenges and tips for flavorful curbside menus.
By the way, El Alma’s full menu is available online–with accompanying margaritas and more!
What career challenges have you faced, especially as a minority Latinx woman?
I feel that as time goes on, the challenges of having chosen this profession are more or less the same for both men and women. You have to prove yourself every day.
The main difference is that as a woman you are not taken at face value. You have to constantly show up, and prove what you are capable of, what you know and what you are willing to do — nothing is given. You have to ask for things or nothing will happen.
Today’s pandemic world brings new challenges. What is the biggest for you?
The restaurant business is challenging at all times, the added financial struggle of the pandemic makes it even more challenging. This pandemic keeps me from sleeping and makes me value everything. Nothing can be taken for granted.
We are trying to serve customers with the same service and quality of food and drinks as before while keeping a safe working environment. This is difficult because of the nature of the service industry. The balance between cost and keeping our staff employed has been our priority and is what keeps us going despite our personal fears. All while wearing a mask!
Is it difficult planning for both in-house dining and to-go? How do you do that?
The curbside take-out trend has been a true learning experience. Both the kitchen and front of the house staff have been incredibly supportive and have worked extra hard. It took a team of people that set up the online ordering system, the tablet with the text messaging for pick up, branding and printing signs for the curbside parking spaces. It was a huge team effort.
We had a lot of trial and error at first, and our customers were very forgiving and supportive. Now that we have been at it for over 2 months we figured out that what it takes is organization, extra staff, planning ahead and a lot of packaging!
What would you suggest ordering to-go for a romantic dinner for 2, with cocktails?
For a romantic dinner I would start with a pitcher of Flaquita Margaritas. It’s the spicy watermelon margarita you shake with ice and it’s ready to drink. Follow that with Tuna Ceviche Tostadas. Some assembly required, so you can eat them whenever you are ready.
Then, Grilled Shrimp Salad with ancho balsamic vinaigrette and a shared Duck Relleno, and save room for Chocolate Pepita cake. (I confess that I sometimes take one home to have with a glass of red wine, and I do let my husband have a couple bites!)
And what do you suggest ordering for a to-go family dinner? (With appropriate cocktails for the grownups.)
For the family, I would do what one of our customers had a couple weeks ago for her daughter’s birthday:
Guacamole and Queso, then the Chicken Tinga family-sized enchilada dinner (with chipotle sauce). It also comes with chips, salsas, rice and beans (choose refried beans). Tip: Call us ahead of time and you can get a full-size Tres Leches cake, a staff favorite.
I would add our non-alcoholic Margarita Classica kit. You can add Topo Chico and ice to make the best limeade ever! It’s what I have been drinking to make up for the discomfort of the mask in the heat of the kitchen. (For parent’s add a splash of tequila)
Give yourself time so you can enjoy a snack and a frozen margarita on our patio, before you pick up your to-go order!
Cover photo Erika Wilkins Photography
Julie Tereshchuk is the Editor-in-Chief of Texas Lifestyle Magazine.