Article written by Robert Dean - Author of "Existential Thirst Trap" Grab your copy in Amazon.
Picture Credit to Courtesy of Scholz Garten.
n a matter of two decades, Austin has evolved from sleepy rock and roll town with cheap bottles of Lone Star where Dale Watson crooned at every seedy stage in front of punks, cowboys, and anyone who’s paid their rent a few days late to this percolating hub of all things cool. Many times, the city hasn’t had time to catch its collective and cultural breath.
We’ve always had the charbroiled burger from the mighty Top Notch. A bazillion joints around town sling their take on the breakfast taco. And we’ve been known for the best BBQ in the country for as long as anyone’s memory can hold out. But suddenly, chefs who didn’t want to deal with the LA, Chicago, or New York scenes came to town, taking all things culinary to the next level.
But one thing we never expected with this boom of culinary curiosity was a new kind of 21st-century cowboy: the YouTube chef. And Austin doesn’t just have one. We now have two. And we’re not just talking about any old hash hound with an iPhone and a dream to make the creamiest garlic mashed potatoes, either. Joshua Weissman and Sonny Hurrell, aka That Dude Can Cook, call the Capital City home and both of these dudes have serious chops. Hurrell moved here over the summer, and with Weissman, Austin being home right now is a little complicated, but we’ll get to that.
Between Weissman and Hurrell, a ton of people devour their cooking videos – literally millions. Joshua Weissman has crafted an empire out of taking his classically trained, fine dining approach and making cooking accessible to anyone who’s got a knife and a pan. He’s been so adept at his approach to teaching the masses how to properly pan-fry catfish that almost eight million people follow him on YouTube alone, notwithstanding his high numbers on other social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram. His site is a literal encyclopedia for anyone looking for something unique to bust out on that all-important date from home, whether it be peri-peri chicken or Japanese noodles. Look, the guy got in the kitchen and did a head-to-head video against Jean Georges, a Michelin starred chef. And he beat him in the blind taste test. That’s not exactly defeating Bubba on the burger trail in some dude’s backyard for the Food Network. Jean Georges operates sixty restaurants globally, yes, sixty.
Weissman released his best-selling An Unapologetic Cookbook and appeared on just about every morning show in America, showing the milquetoast hosts how to make a basic dinner while they guffaw like dipshits for the camera.
He’s even got a recipe for fried rice for a dollar. On Weissman’s channel, he dares to make his own Girl Scout cookies, challenges the notion of how good sushi can be when on a budget, and breaks down how to smash a burger. Despite his fine dining background, Weissman works to make sure his videos are relatable and that anyone with the drive to learn how to make scrambled eggs can do so without pretension. But no matter how famous he’s become and how many people globally know his cooking, Weismann loves this town. But, as life does, there were a few side quests along the way to his YouTube dominance, landing him in Houston, at least for a little while. “I’ve been in Austin for the majority of my career. We only moved to Houston so my wife could go to law school. As soon as she’s finished, we’re moving back immediately. We’ve already bought our house. I missed Austin so much. My entire professional life and even coming into adulthood have been spent in Austin. I cannot wait to be back full-time. I’m ready for it to be the place where my content comes from.”
And Weissman is wasting no time beyond getting the house ready. He’s also built his new studio for an easy transition and plans to launch his own restaurant, which has always been a dream. When asked about his favorite places to eat in town, he immediately had thoughts. “Even though I came up in the restaurant group, Uchi and Uchiko are amazing. I will always love that group because they gave me so much professionally. So, there’s a bias there. Suerte is fantastic; everything Fermin Nunez does is great. I love Emmer and Rye, and Olamaie. I ate at many of the nicer places in town because I was so obsessed with learning everything I could from their food. I pretty much spent every paycheck eating at all these upscale spots in town because I had to see every trick they used. But for all the fine dining, I loved Churro Co. I would always go there after service. I love Las Trancas. Those tacos are so good.” And the lore of Austin’s burger empire isn’t lost on him, either. “I recently discovered Casino el Camino and wow, that immediately shot to the top of my list. Randomly, you know what I’ve always loved? Fresa’s. They’re always consistent. Get a whole chicken with a bunch of sides. It’s perfect.”
Weissman was humble when asked about the pressure of more than ten million people watching his content. “I try to deploy value. I’m so grateful and in love with every person who supports me. I think the more people think about food, that’s a good thing. I’d love to see more people eating out, and seeing restaurants supported on a bigger scale. I want to see waitstaff making way more money, that local farms sell their products to a bigger percentage of people. Entertaining people and showing them the stories and the value of doing just that. Austin is a great place to showcase that belief.”
And Weissman isn’t alone on his path to culinary enlightenment. Sonny Hurrell, aka That Dude Can Cook, is also passionate about all things food. Like Weissman, Hurrell cares about people knowing how to cook. In a ready-made world, he thinks everyone should know how to throw a fried chicken dinner together, even if someone’s skills are basic.
Hurrell is a new transplant, arriving in Austin at the end of summer 2022. Before this, he lived everywhere from England, California, Colorado, and even the Netherlands. He spent time with his brother at the famed Fergus Henderson’s restaurants, St. John’s, and Bread and Wine in London. Which, if you’re a food person, that’s no joke. Like Weissman’s battle against Jean Georges, Hurrell having experience in a Henderson kitchen shows his skills because Fergus Henderson is widely renowned in the culinary world for his dedication to introducing the masses to nose-to-tail eating, which offers everything from the brains to the liver. Oh, and Henderson’s St. John has a Michelin star, too. So, both of these guys, Hurrell and Weismann, cook at that level and are now here in Austin. The Waffle House, this is not.
Hurell’s videos are different from Weissman’s in that for Hurrell, it’s all about keeping people laughing with his sentient pepper grinder, Sgt. Gilbert, countless counter slaps when something tastes good, or even better, attacking his fridge. (His poor fridge has been the victim of countless flying karate kicks, vicious elbows, and Street Fight II-style combo attacks and has the dents to prove it – all in the name of flavor.) Hurrell was stuck at home like the rest of us during the pandemic, so he started creating content across TikTok and YouTube. Now, more than three million people watch his content across all the platforms.
Upon visiting Austin, Hurrell was enamored. “We visited last year, and we loved the food scene. We dug the weird, cool people. The live music. It was an intuition kind of thing. Austin felt like the right community for us. We visited for a week and knew this was our place.” He continued. “Austin is a good mix of everything, which is so important. The smoked meats are incredible. I love a good taco; VeraCruz is off the charts. I’ve tried a lot of tacos everywhere, and those are pretty damn good. There’s even a lot of seriously impressive Japanese here, too. I love it.”
Like Weissman, Hurrell is excited about Austin’s talent pool and that there are creatives around town who can help facilitate taking their videos to the next level. “I’m excited to meet people who want to work with me, cook with me, and create fun content. I’m happy to be around people making things, doing stuff. This is a food city where people are doing cool work with food. I didn’t have the chance to go to pop-ups or these cutting-edge restaurants. I was in a mountain town. I’m ready to see what happens next.”
With the city being in flux thanks to our creative class constantly getting thrown on the financial bbq, having names like these two helps keep talented people around. It makes sense that social media food creators want to be here, too. What they’re doing is just another avenue of creativity that showcases the power of what this city can do on the world’s stage. For two creators who could live anywhere, they chose this place. And it’s one more investment into the all-important creative class, which should be protected at all costs. There’s more to Austin than beloved taco trucks serving up carne asada and cold Shiners these days: just make good food so the locals don’t revolt.