Restaurant Gwendolyn has made quite a splash with Texas locavores since it opened last year in the River Walk location once held by Andrew Weissman’s Le Rêve. Gwendolyn’s chef-owner, Michael Sohocki, named his restaurant after the grandmother who taught him to make do with simple things, “to eat gristle off of chicken bones,” if necessary. But his interpretation of simplicity is extravagant. Gwendolyn’s prix-fixe meals feature local delights like venison from Luckenbach, South Texas quail, and heritage produce from small local farms. With rare exceptions (salt and pepper, for instance) all the food served at Gwendolyn is sourced from within 150 miles of San Antonio, a chef’s rule that Sohocki says he has broken “not once.” In addition to shopping locally, he disdains modern innovations like feedlot beef and factory-farm produce. He keeps strictly to a collection of sources and cooking methods that were available in San Antonio before 1850, when the invention of the refrigerated railroad car brought the advent of what he calls “hollow food.”
Raised in Robstown on the edge of Corpus Christi, Sohocki began his culinary journey 18 years ago in San Francisco kitchens, where he trained before attending the four-year program at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. After graduating, his young family moved to his wife’s home in Osaka, Japan, where he started a cooking school named Industrial Strength Cooking, located within an English language school. When the family returned to the U.S., they chose San Antonio, a city Sohocki first visited as a child, deciding that opening a sandwich shop in one of SA’s many hospitals would be a prudent move. But first he decided to research a successful business. He chose to cook at the Cove, and his world changed.
“What I did not know is that the Cove is entirely centered around sustainable, organic, and local products,” he said. “Lisa Asvestas breathed a new life into me. I had never had any appreciation for those things at all. I was a standard, conventional CIA grad cook, so *Sysco [the large restaurant supply company] was fine. For the first time, at the Cove, *Sysco was the enemy.”
Reading sustainable food advocate Alice Waters, Sohocki decided that he, too, wanted to “serve food that is honorable.” Though he was running the Cove kitchen, Sohocki left to upgrade his skillset, cooking under celebrated chef and restaurant owner Andrew Weissman at both Le Rêve and Il Sogno. Sohocki is well grounded now in both his technique and his new vision, and the bond with his new kitchen is visceral. “I have a relationship with the floor,” he said. “I have cleaned it with my own hands.”
152 E Pecan, Ste 100
*Changed from "Cisco," October 26, 2011.