At Swift’s Attic in Austin, Texas, Mat Clouser serves “nothing short of excellence.” The one restaurant where one can grab a beer, eat a fancy hamburger and share a table with who will be a new friend – Mr. Clouser ensures your evening goes splendidly.
You’re credited on FoodAndWine.com for bringing vegetables back in Austin. Yeay! What are other examples of your veggie-centric cuisine that isn’t a salad?
We’re always playing around with new vegetable preparations, as our customer demand is very high, so really there’s a ton of dishes that I’m sure I could feature, but right now we’re playing around with Preserved squash done with some nontraditional flavor pairings- coconut, in powder form, a rye and peanut crumble, nam pla, and pop rocks. It sounds really strange, but its a lot of fun to eat, and really has a richness to it that you might not expect from a mostly raw or near to raw dish.
You studied cooking in Vermont. What do people eat up there, besides fresh maple syrup over pancakes, of course?
Vermonters know really good food. In the winter the food is really rich and hearty, very similar to what the Quebecois are eating just across the border. A lot of game meat, as hunting for many is a means for survival, not just sport. In the spring and summer, they actually have a very wide variety of great veggies; fiddle head ferns, ramps, and lots of wild mushrooms. Summer there is pretty idyllic actually, albeit very short.
Swift’s Attic has communal tables. Do people really talk to each other when they sit together? Is it more for meeting new friends or a new love interest? Should people dress up?
I think the degree to which people chat with strangers varies depending on the combination of personalities, but its pretty hard not to acknowledge one another, particularly where the intoxicating effects of good food and drink are concerned. It has been said that we’re a great place to take a date for a lively time, and also that we’re the perfect spot to lose love and find it again right away. We’re pretty boisterous, so groups of friends meet here all the time. As such, it does make it a little tougher to have a deeply private and intimate time. Swift’s has a very lived in, casual, yet elegant feel, and because of that I think people feel equally comfortable dressed all the way up or down.
Would you say your restaurant is more for people with a younger spirit, compared to Austin’s stuffier steakhouses?
I’d say Swift’s Attic is perfect for anyone with an adventurous spirit regardless of their age, and i would also say that, while we are many things, stuffy is definitely not one of them. That being said, I think that while it may not always appear as such, we can easily please anyone who might crave the relative simplicity of what they do at steakhouses. We require our guests to take a bit of a leap of faith at times, but really all our dishes are steeped in tradition and balance, so they really do make sense when you eat them.
What is a secret off menu dish you whip out from time to time at Swift’s Attic?
We’re always tinkering with things in the back, so there’s typically a number of items we’ll employ at a moment’s notice. We have a few vegan items we like to throw out, nicely composed plates, some snacky items, too. Lately we’ve been doing Bao with roasted mushrooms and pickled cucumbers with herbs a lot. We have an off menu dessert with cucumber sorbet, too, that sort of eats like fancy ants on a log. Our daily features menu is pretty extensive, too, so there’s always a ton of new stuff. I recommend the Albacore tataki we do now, seared in chorizo drippings, and paired with carrot custard, and a vinaigrette made with squid ink stained vinegar and more of the same chorizo fat.
Your former co-worker at Uchi was Paul Qui, a popular Bravo TV reality contestant. Why are you just as cool as him in your skill and persona?
I was his boss at Uchi when Tyson brought him in. I was running the kitchen at the time he came on board, so I’m fairly certain I was there for his first day ever working in a professional kitchen. He’s an amazing guy, super humble, very creative, and very very diligent about learning the craft. It’s no surprise he has been so successful. We used to hang out a lot as co-workers. Things, of course, are different now, but we remain very friendly, if not in close contact. I love his restaurant, and he has so many people from the old Uchi days working there that it still feels like family whenever I see them.
In terms of the question, I guess we both have a lot of the same interests outside of work, and we both tend to indulge ourselves with idiosyncrasies. We have, a couple of times at least, caught the other one wearing new shoes that the other had just acquired. I know I can rival his funny sock game, and while I may have to concede shoes to him, my hat game has him beat. I think we’re both pretty colorful guys in unusual ways. I think we’re both pretty shy, really, so things like funny socks are a good way to express ourselves with out having to throw it in anybody’s face.
As far as culinary skill, I know he’s got a rep for having sharp knives, but think I can hold a candle to it. At Swift’s we call mine the “laser beams.” I, don’t know really, I mean we probably share a lot of the same strengths. He loves to use gastriques, which he may or may not have learned from me. Hard to say, but I certainly didn’t invent them myself, so really who’s counting. I know that, for both of us, cooking is a deeply profound means of self-expression. It just so happens that we’re both pretty irreverent men, and I think that that is on full display at our restaurants, and in our food. That being said, I’m definitely holding down the old school to his new school.