Culinary Dream Teams: John Russ and Elise Broz 

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click to enlarge Teamwork during an Alamo City Provisions event - DAVID RANGEL
  • David Rangel
  • Teamwork during an Alamo City Provisions event

They connect on several levels. Both hail from the South (Broz's family lives in Atlanta; Russ is from New Orleans); they've traveled extensively (albeit separately) through the U.S. (before working in St. Michaels, Broz and Russ held jobs in Illinois, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Florida, Georgia, New York, New Hampshire and Alabama); and their wanderlust took them abroad where he helped open hotel kitchens and she both interned and worked as a pastry cook in England and studied abroad in Switzerland.

They listen to NPR's This American Life, go on walks with Seth, their rather large Anatolian Shepherd/Great Pyrenees mix—a gift from Mark and Kelley Escobedo of South Texas Heritage Pork, whom Broz and Russ credit for introducing them to all their area friends.

"A lot of the 'normal' activities where I think people find their 'clicks' ... well, for us it's really being in the kitchen together, talking about the food, seeing how the other reacts to the food, what they love about it ... going back to our favorite restaurants are things we love," Russ said.

They spoil each other in the food department as well. According to Broz, Russ will make fresh pasta with sautéed garlic, olive oil and a mountain of cheese after coming home from a long day at Lüke. Jealous yet? In turn, the head baker in charge whips up a key lime pie using her grandmother's recipe that Russ can't seem to share. "I have to make sure we have company, cause he'll eat the whole thing," Broz said.

When they're not using their days off to visit their favorite local eateries (Kohinoor, Cascabel, Bliss, Niki's Tokyo Inn and the Hardbodies taco truck among them), they're collaborating with friends and local chefs. They teamed up with Pieter Sypesteyn, Diego Galicia, Rico Torres, Jesse Torres, Luis Morales and a slew of featured chefs to create Alamo City Provisions, the dining concept Russ dreamed up and Broz helped make a reality.

The goal for this chef super-group was two-fold. They wanted to showcase venues people might not be familiar with, while cooking with friends in a different way. The dinners are also meant to stretch their legs and push participating chefs to think about food in new, exciting ways. For their inaugural event inside the Josephine Theatre, the group turned their attention to game-heavy dishes of the Prohibition era and guests dined on a smoked ox tongue chef salad, elk tartar, terrapin stew (in which Russ introduced this eater to the virtue of eating turtle), canned quail and a pineapple upside-down cake (presented as a deconstructed take by Broz).

Subsequent events were held through the city's core. Dinner at Landa Gardens was themed after the chefs' favorite books; a Champagne reception opened the event at the Inn at Craig Place, which ended with a dessert buffet; a family-style fall harvest dinner at the Lambermont focused on the flavors of autumn in South Texas; and a recent installment at High Wire Arts featured dishes inspired by Edgar Degas, Andy Warhol, Georgia O'Keeffe and Piero di Cosimo.

"It's not just dinner, it's the whole experience," Broz said, of the evening that included cocktails and wine or beer pairings by Jesse Torres of Mixtli, along with music by Doc Watkins and The Marcsmen. "You get to hang out and meet the chefs; people like to interact with the people that cook their foods."

The dinners will kick back up again in the spring, as Broz and Galicia have successfully convinced the group to host a Game of Thrones-themed event in April in advance of the next season of HBO's hit show. In the meantime, Broz and Russ are already hard at work planning for February's Boucherie, a daylong celebration of fine swine and New Orleans cookery at South Texas Heritage Pork, but not before planning the food element for this January's San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

"The most exciting thing is the fact that it has grown at such a pace that they asked people like Elise and I to help," Russ said. After the success of last year's events, which increased the food items available, Russ is beefing up the offerings by tapping even more chefs from around the city to join the parties. The Stroll on Houston, which will serve as the Saturday party for the conference, will open up the IBC Plaza and double the number of eateries present.

"We've had the opportunity to meet people and build relationships we never would have because we're doing this," Russ said, while adding, "we're making sure there are the right chefs, of the right caliber, so people who have been enjoying themselves at the seminars can have something awesome to eat."

With Broz's logistical prowess, and Russ' leadership skills, the team has proven nearly unstoppable in helping propel the SA dining scene by ultimately pushing each other to be better.

"We definitely hold each other accountable ... he's also a great person to ask for advice," Broz said. "He pushes me when he's coming up with these crazy ideas and trying to make them happen. He's always there for support when I need it."

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