Ask any native or long-time Austin resident and chances are they attended a wedding or enjoyed the legendary Sunday brunch at least once at Green Pastures, an iconic restaurant and venue that opened in 1946 in a 19th century Victorian estate. After closing for an extensive remodel and change in ownership, the property reopened as Mattie’s on March 1, 2017. The Southern-inspired kitchen is now in the hands of executive chef Ethan Holmes, an Austinite whose love for food blossomed as a child cooking alongside his Grandma Blanche, and who once worked in the former Green Pastures Restaurant kitchen as “chef for a day” on his 11th birthday.
Growing up in Austin, we came to Green Pastures for Sunday Brunch, Easter Brunch and Mother’s Day Brunch,” says Holmes. “It was always a massive treat and something I looked forward to. My mother was friends with Ken Koock, who took over the restaurant from his mother Mary Faulk Koock in the late 60’s. Around the time of my 11th birthday, my mother asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I thought about it and explained, simply, I wanted to be a chef. I think I bewildered her a bit. She clandestinely reached out to Mr. Koock. According to my mother, he was thrilled to hear this and was happy to help my birthday wish come true. Here we are several decades later, and I am tasked with carrying on the tradition that Mary Faulk Koock and her son, Ken, intended.”
After earning an associate degree from New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont, Holmes ventured through the culinary world at Shutters on the Beach in Los Angeles, Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa in Palm Springs, Austin-based Snap Kitchen and Second Bar + Kitchen downtown.
At Mattie’s, Holmes continues the long-standing traditions for which the Faulks were known – Texas-style hospitality in a simple and elegant dining experience. Combined with his passion for wellness and plant-based ingredients, Holmes’ menus feature thoughtfully-sourced ingredients in dishes inspired by the restaurant’s regional and culinary heritage, and seasonal signature offerings that maintain the flavors and simplicity of traditional Southern cuisine.
We wanted to focus on updating Texas and Southern cuisine,” says Holmes “Our first direction has been to focus on local ingredients. The ingredients are here to help us tell our story. We look to see what is available, and then we design the menu by looking at old recipes and seeing how we can use these notions of classics in a modern way.”
Holmes highlights the smoked duck dish as a perfect example of this philosophy:
We started playing around with duck a l ‘orange,” he says. “How to update it and make it more Southern- inspired? Using local Texas duck we created a dish that has a duck confit bread pudding, braised local collard greens, a spicy duck jus, and a Cara Cara citrus marmalade. The dish is a nod to a classic on many levels.”
He also finds inspiration in another classic – The Texas Cookbook by Mary Faulk Koock, the daughter of Henry and Martha “Mattie” Faulk, one of the Green Pastures estate’s original homeowners. He adds a modern spin to an addicting pimento cheese, serves fried green tomatoes with saffron aioli, and pairs a crunchy fried chicken with Kennebec puree, spinach, bacon, pickled onions and chipotle-yogurt dressing. Currently he is working on late spring and early summer additions, such as a savory take on a shortcake with heirloom tomatoes and burrata, and exploring how to update old Southern soups to make them less heavy.
Continuing the idea of modern versions of vintage Southern favorites in the dessert menu, hummingbird cake was a natural fit. It is one of those old Southern staples; a combination of coconut, pineapple and bananas that is usually very sweet. “Kasey Fitzpatrick, our pastry chef, and I had several conversations on the origin and flavor profile we were looking to snare,” says Holmes. “Kasey nailed it with her execution.” She took the idea and came up with a beautifully elegant version, elevated with banana pastry cream, candied cashews and a ginger-pineapple glaze.
“As long as I have been working as a chef, I can remember multiple times over my career where I was reminded of the inspiration I drew from the various events that my family and I attended at Green Pastures. Several years ago, I was working in Palm Springs and we were working on our Mother’s Day Brunch. As I was designing the menus and the layout of the buffets, I was reminded of the massive influence Green Pastures had on my choices from both the menu and the design.”
The historic building, with its wrap-around porch and manicured gardens where peacocks stroll, exudes Southern charm and hospitality. Its storied past has earned it a solid spot in Austin’s history, and with Holmes coming full circle, turning a childhood dream into a life-long career with a fairy tale plot, the history of Mattie Faulk and her family’s rich culinary heritage will live on.