The Empty Bowl Project 2017

And the winners are….

Sixteen of Bastrop County’s best restaurants and caterers worked their culinary magic for last weekend’s

Empty Bowl Project, an annual “battle of the ladles” for bragging rights for the best offerings—determined by a panel of celebrity judges and the more than 600 “samplers” in attendance.

Three celebrity judges sipped, savored and scored their way through 26 soups, chilis and stews and named the following winners in each category:

  • Cream-based soups:  the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and Spa took top honors with its “King Ranch Soup”.    Southside Market and Barbeque—with its “Smoked Chicken and Corn Chowder—and Elgin Local Goods—with its “Tomato Basil Soup”—were named runners-up.
  • Broth-based soups:  Jalisco’s won a “best” with its “Tortilla Soup” and snagged a runner-up spot for its “Beef Soup”.   Sharing the runner-up spot was Las Cocinas’ “Shrimp Soup”.
  • Chilis:   Southside Market and Barbeque’s “Shiner Bock Brisket Chili” was named best chili.   Roadhouse Bastrop (with “Pork Green Chili”) and Auzell’s Kitchen (“Auzell’s Chili”) were named category runners-up.
  • Stews:   Mai Thai Restaurant earned a “best” with its Red Curry Stew.

Pressed to name just one “best” across the 26 offerings, the attendees blazed their own trail.   In cumulative voting, Cedar’s Mediterranean Grille was named “Fan Favorite” with its “Chicken, Artichoke and Mushroom Soup”.  In separate judging, La Hacienda—with a display of handcrafted Mexican ceramics and fabrics—was named “best table presentation”.

The three celebrity judges are themselves great fans of the Bastrop Empty Bowl event.  Having judged this competition for the past five years, all agree that they really look forward to this event and to the creativity it brings forth among Bastrop County’s restaurants and caterers:   “All are winners in their own right,” stated judge Nell Carroll.   The judges are:

  • Photojournalist Nell Carroll of the Austin American-Statesman and a committed “foodie” and home gardener who hopes to grow her Cedar Creek garden and “peep” of chickens into a self-sustaining hobby farm when she retires from journalism.
  • Cecilia Nasti, creator, executive producer and host of the “Field and Feast” radio show (heard Sundays on KUT 90.5 FM and KUTX 98.9 FM) and producer/host of Texas Parks and Wildlife’s “Passport to Texas” blog/audiocast on discovering the outdoors.
  • Lois Rodriguez, an accomplished chef and Texas-focused travel writer, editor and contributor to the Texas Highways website and contributor of cooking features/recipes to Texas Highways magazine.

Countywide ‘Empty Bowl Project’ a hit

Photos by Terry Hagerty

Serious business, an opportunity to sample the talents of some of Bastrop County’s
leading restaurants and caterers, and a lot of fun for the more than 600 attendees.   Those—and a ceramic bowl decorated by BISD art students—were the big take-aways for last Saturday’s 13
th Annual Empty Bowl Project.

On the serious side:  it was a serious cause (providing the Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry and Support Center funds to sustain its mission) and a serious challenge (among local chefs for bragging rights for “best” in this annual “battle of the ladles”).

On the fun side:  it was a taste treat (some 26 “riffs” on soup, stew, and chili), great live music (Max Butler and “Dunn Deal”), and a silent auction of some 41 handcrafted items created by local artists.   The “menu” includes cookies from the kitchens of Home and Community Club members and of other local organizations.

“There are a lot of ‘cooks in the kitchen’ for this event,” says Food Pantry Executive Director Tresha Silva.  “Pulling it together requires well more than a 100 volunteers, supportive community organizations and businesses, an active arts community, popular local musicians, Bastrop ISD students and their teachers and, of course, great chefs.  And I cannot sing loudly enough about the members of the Food Pantry Board of Directors who made up the core of the event steering committee and who contributed many, many hours to its success.”

“This year’s event was a huge success by so many measures, not the least of which was the love shown by the community,” Silva adds.   “I’m so grateful for all who supported the event and for the funds raised, approximately $25,000 in sponsorships, ticket sales, donations and silent auction proceeds.   This revenue funds a major portion of the Food Pantry budget and is absolutely critical to our ability to deal head-on with poverty across the county.”   
According to Silva, one in seven Bastrop County residents live in poverty and thousands more are at substantial risk—where  any illness or injury, loss of income or increase in housing and food costs can tip the balance.  “In 2016, the Food Pantry provided a critically needed lifeline to approximately 11,000 households encompassing more than 18,000 lives across the county.  We provided nearly 325,000 pounds of food and engaged our clients in a wide range of training opportunities, including money management and budgeting, nutrition and smart food choices, and safeguarding health.”