Despite what canned concoctions may lead people to believe, humble chicken soup can actually be a work of art. A broth, so goldenly hazy it’d make IPA drinkers jealous, surrounds crispy islands of croutons; carrots pop against this canvas, as do cannellini beans and seemingly sun-kissed zucchini, and a sprinkling of Parmesan and dill brings it all together with additional color, fragrance and texture.
Of course, the beauty and composition of this particular chicken soup should surprise no one. By now, many Austinites who like food have seen (though not tasted) Joel Mozersky’s work. Over the last 15 years, the longtime interior designer has left his imprint all over town—from Bird’s Barbershop and Antonelli’s Cheese Shop to The Highball bar next door to the flagship Alamo Drafthouse. He dreamed up the “Real World” Austin house and a tour bus for The Dixie Chicks, too. As he puts it, “I’ve done a lot of weird little jobs over the years.”
Despite his variety in vision, Mozersky continues to be in high demand within one particular design niche: restaurants. From Juliet Italian Kitchen to the latest Pinthouse Pizza expansion, restaurateurs within our city’s growing food scene have continuously sought out his skill ever since his first (and perhaps highest profile) project: Austin’s pioneering Japanese restaurant, Uchi. “Basically someone gave me a chance in 2003 with Uchi, and it went well,” he says. “From then, I was pretty busy.”
Mozersky notes that food has always been a big part of his life, though, long before Uchi. While he was growing up in Central Texas, his mom attended culinary school and eventually became a food columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. Rather than being a straight critic, however, she wrote restaurant and dish profiles, or tracked down local recipes for interested readers. “I grew up eating good food—both making it and going out for it,” he says. “We tried a lot of cuisines…not that I liked everything…but it helped me develop a palate and appreciation for various flavor profiles.”
Mozersky loves to cook at home and his kitchen can be described as sleek—somehow combining rustic and modern aesthetics—with great pops of color, such as his orange chicken-soup pot. His Instagram (@whatjoelmadefordinner) has become a must-follow in local food media and showcases an endless amount of cuisine-spanning dinner inspirations. Yet within that wide array of dishes, only one taste brings him back to childhood—to something that reminds him of his grandma.
“I cook a lot of things, but they don’t necessarily have a lot of meaning to me. I like to cook what I want to eat,” Mozersky says. “But my grandmother would always make soups and add lots of dill. The flavor brings me back to that. Dill is the only nostalgic taste I have in my memory, and it’s an herb that not everyone uses all the time. So I feel it’s a little underappreciated…it’s so good.”
Mozersky’s chicken soup has naturally evolved from Grandma’s over the years. To start, his preferred flavor profile doesn’t rely on dill and dill alone. Instead, his holy trinity is dill, white wine and Parmesan cheese—lots of Parmesan cheese. “I love chicken soup, but I also love Parmesan cheese,” he says. “If I ever had to give up a cheese…I mean, I love all cheese, but the only one I’d freak out about would be Parmesan.” This trio takes a simple chicken broth and elevates it—the wine adds complexity with its acidity; the Parmesan ups the overall savoriness; and the dill cuts through it all in a clean, complementary way. And he’s correct when he adds that you can’t really “over-Parmesan” this soup. (Although interestingly, even though the soup is generous with cheese, his friends still lovingly refer to it as “wine soup.”)
Whether you want to call it chicken or wine soup, Mozersky insists the best way to make it involves borrowing an approach from his design career and trusting your creative instincts. While he can provide a base recipe for others to follow, he prefers to listen to his taste buds through periodic tastings and adjustments—making tiny tweaks to the broth-to-wine ratio, or to the overall cook time for ideal vegetable texture. The upside to doing it this way is that one month the soup might involve basil and artichokes, and the next it could be heavier on mushrooms and zucchini. “The great thing is you can make it with whatever you have—the basic broth tastes good with whatever,” he says. Of course, you can always make this soup the hard way—roasting a chicken yourself, cooking raw cannellini beans, etc.—but the easy way via a grocery-store rotisserie chicken and canned beans tastes great, too. “This soup is about Sundays,” Mozersky adds. “I want to just eat something simple. It’s hearty and warm; the taste of dill is comforting; plus…Parmesan. This dish has all the winners.”
By Nathan Matisse • Photography by Nathan Beels