By Robin Chotzinoff
Photography by Marc Brown
On the 20th anniversary of his job as executive chef for the Z’Tejas restaurant chain, Jack Gilmore politely quit. “I believed in what we did, but it became too corporate,” he says. “My philosophy was to keep it local, keep it fun.” Jack was ready to live that philosophy. In December 2009, he opened Jack Allen’s Kitchen, which is local and fun, but also a 65-minute commute from his Marble Falls home to its Oak Hill address.
“I don’t mind, actually,” Jack says. “It gives me time to wind up and wind back down again.”
The final minutes of the homeward drive take him down a dirt road to the lakeside home he and his wife, LuAnn, outfitted with everything two Texans could possibly need for the immediate enjoyment of life. More often than not, Jack will fire up one of his many outdoor cooking devices, like the grill, the spit or the fire pit—or all three, if a few dozen more Texans drop by. But if these amenities—and the various hillside decks, tequila-sipping stations, the beer-can wind chimes and rusty, beverage-themed signs—were to disappear, the party would go on as long as two essentials remained: fire and cast iron. Dutch ovens and frying pans of all sizes and vintages are everywhere in the Gilmore house, inside and out.
One recent drought-stricken day, with the lake bone-dry and the heat almost unbearable, Jack hovers over his outdoor fireplace—tending a pork shoulder on its way to becoming carnitas, the Gilmore family’s meal of choice.
“You only need about a four-hour braise,” Jack says, as he nudges the pot farther into the fireplace. “Then you get ’em crispy in a cast-iron pan, and that’s carnitas. Boy, just the smell of it! You get a cold beer, and some tortillas on the grill, and that’s all you need.”
You have to wait for it, though. You can’t rush carnitas.
“The best thing is to make a whole day of it,” says Jack’s son Bryce, a talented local chef in his own right. “We drink beers, swim in the lake, listen to country music. Dad does pinto or borracho beans, and it’s a take on barbecue and Mexican at the same time. Honestly, I don’t eat a whole lot of meat unless I know where it’s from, but I like carnitas and I like to cook with fire. It’s the most primitive way and it adds the most flavor, especially if you know how to manage the heat.”
Bryce learned that from his father at an early age, and, drawn to the family business, he ended up graduating from the California Culinary Academy, returning to Central Texas for his first restaurant jobs, then moving on to high-profile restaurants in San Francisco and Aspen before returning again to Austin. With his father’s help—and in his father’s barn—he built the Odd Duck Farm to Trailer food cart, which opened on South Lamar in December, 2009, just in time for the trailer-food craze. Last spring, he turned Odd Duck’s day-to-day operations over to his brother Dylan and opened Barley Swine, a tiny restaurant with an outsize reputation even before Food & Wine magazine named Bryce one of the Best New Chefs of 2011.
But the acclaim comes with a price. One way or another, Bryce ends up cooking for everyone but himself. He might make himself a late-night fried-egg sandwich using eggs from his backyard chickens, but for home cooking, he depends on casual afternoons with his father.
Best of all, he says, is football season. Jack’s outdoor kitchen has everything—including a big-screen TV. With the game on, cold beer at hand and carnitas in the final sizzling stage, complete R and R is actually possible.
“We live pretty far out, so I want people to feel comfortable staying around for a while,” Jack says. “If you want to spend the night, we’ve got room. If you drop a glass of red wine on the floor, so what? It’s kid friendly…and adult friendly…and dog friendly. We have everything we need right here.”
JACK GILMORE'S EVERYTHING-WE-NEED-RIGHT-HERE CARNITAS
4–5 lbs. pork butt, cut into 2-in. chunks, excess
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 c. orange juice
½ c. pineapple juice
4–5 dried ancho chiles
1 bottle of your favorite Mexican beer
1 T. kosher salt
1 T. black pepper
10 garlic cloves
Mix all ingredients well in a large mixing bowl. Transfer to a large Dutch oven, cover and cook on a medium fire (directly on the coals) for approximately 4 hours.