By Robin Chotzinoff
Photography by Marc Brown
Chef David Bull definitely knows his way around a kitchen. But with a job supervising restaurants in San Antonio and Dallas for that town's La Corsha group AND three new restaurants—Second, Congress and Bar Congress—slated for downtown Austin, Bull seems right at home on the other side of the line, as well. Already under his belt are a 2003 Best New Chef award from Food & Wine, a nomination for a James Beard award and a spot as an Iron Chef contender.
To say that the guy’s become a master at creating and navigating workable systems for whatever he’s doing is an understatement.
At home, though, all bets are off. “We have five kids, ages 15 months to 15 years,” says Bull. “That’s diapers to drivers. Plus two parents. If you think about it, that’s 21 meals a day! I try to bring systems home from the restaurants, but it doesn’t work, whether it’s a blown-out diaper or an Oh I forgot the band concert tonight.”
Nevertheless, Bull misses these challenging family meals when he travels several days each week, and thinks constantly about how to stay in the loop when he’s home. The answer usually revolves around food. “We try to sit down at the table, even when some of the kids don’t get home till seven or eight, and everyone has homework and projects.”
You don’t sacrifice food to such things; his own mother never would have, even though she raised David and his brother as a single parent and worked full-time at Olivieri’s, her family’s restaurant in Endicott, New York. “By the time I was ten, I was going to work with her,” Bull remembers. “It was a baked manicotti kind of place—Italian salad with red wine vinaigrette and iceberg lettuce in a plastic bowl that looked like parquet. My grandmother baked the desserts; my mother was in front. I loved the smells, the people, the purveyors—and I idolized my uncles and grandparents.”
No matter how busy she was, his mother cooked weekday dinners of pasta, roasted chicken and vegetables—often combining them into five different meals. Her dedication had a huge impact on Bull. By the time he graduated from culinary school, Olivieri’s had closed, and he moved to Texas where he was lucky enough to land a job at the five-star Mansion at Turtle Creek in Dallas. There, he honed his signature style: “always seasonally based and technique- and quality-driven. Everything that’s not fusion,” he says. “If it comes from Egypt, we’ll cook Egyptian. Whatever’s available at peak quality.”
How does this transfer to the Bull household? Like many parents, he and his wife, Fawn, have had to break their children of the soda habit and wrangle one child who won’t eat “green stuff” and another who’d prefer to live on ravioli. David doesn’t cater to such quirks. “If it’s on the table,” he says, “that’s what they eat.”
It becomes easier as the children get involved. “Everyone cuts and chops, and they all love making gnocchi,” he says. “My daughter Jamison [age 4] makes her own salad. I don’t know if you want to eat it, but she’ll make it.”
A recent Sunday dinner included grilled chicken, seven-layer dip, twice-baked potatoes and David’s ancestral family salad. You can usually count on pasta and conversation, which is why a family sits down together in the first place.
“We go around the table and ask the children what the best and worst parts of their day were,” David says. “The most difficult part for them is to take turns, but we’re all starting to figure it out.”
David Bull's Potato Gnocchi with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes and Black Olive Oil
2 t. olive oil
32–38 Potato Gnocchi (see recipe below)
½ T. minced garlic
½ T. minced shallots
¾ c. white wine
1 c. Oven-Roasted Tomatoes (see recipe below)
2 T. butter
½ c. parsley leaves, loosely packed
½ c. shaved Parmesan
2 t. Maldon sea salt
½ c. Black Olive Oil (see recipe below)
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil. Sauté the gnocchi for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté for 1 minute. Add the white wine and reduce by half. Add the tomatoes and heat through.
Remove from the heat and add the butter. Add the parsley leaves and toss.
Divide the gnocchi mixture between 4–6 serving bowls. Top the gnocchi with the shaved Parmesan and sea salt, and drizzle with Black Olive Oil.
Makes 80–100 gnocchi
4 russet potatoes, baked until tender
2 small eggs
6 oz. semolina flour
¼ c. chives, snipped
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter, melted
2 t. white pepper
2 t. salt
Water, as needed
Semolina flour, as needed
Olive oil, as needed
Slice the potatoes in half while still hot and scoop out the flesh. Put the potato flesh through a ricer into a bowl. Working quickly to retain the warmth, add the rest of the ingredients and gently fold together. Do not overmix, as this will create a dense product.
On a clean work surface dusted with semolina flour, form and separate the dough into 6 to 8 equal parts. Roll out each part into logs approximately ¾ inch in diameter (about the diameter of a hot dog) and as long as possible. Cut the logs into small squares. Once all of the gnocchi are cut, place them in boiling salted water until they float to the top. Drain the gnocchi, toss in olive oil to coat and place onto a sheet pan in a single layer to cool. Reserve for assembly.
1 lb. Roma or heirloom tomatoes, cut in half
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place tomatoes, cut-side up, in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 30 - 45 minutes.
Black Olive Oil
1 c. kalamata olives, pits removed
½ c. olive oil
Place ingredients in a high-speed blender and puree until smooth.