Feb 23, 2023 - News

Austin chefs collaborate on slave quarters restoration

The former slave quarters at the Neill-Cochran House Museum. Photo: Courtesy of Tara Dudley via NCHM

Three Austin chefs are collaborating to support a project to restore the city’s last known intact slave dwelling.

The big picture: The Neill-Cochran House Museum, on San Gabriel just west of the intersection of West 24th and Guadalupe streets, is working on a restoration and reinterpretation of slave quarters on its property.

Context: At the outbreak of the Civil War, 28% of Austin's population — 977 people — were enslaved, per the museum.

  • A few years before the war began, Washington and Mary Hill commissioned a local builder to construct a spacious Greek Revival house on nearly 18 acres of land northwest of the city limits.
  • The Hills, like the majority of white Austinites, were enslavers and their home was intended to be serviced through slave labor, per the museum.
  • The couple never actually moved into the main building — they ultimately lacked the means, despite their reliance on slaves — and it later became a school for the blind (1857-1858), a private home for the lieutenant governor and a hospital.

Of note: Slaves likely lived in the quarters, built of limestone, during the building's construction, and during its school and private-home years during the war, Rowena Dasch, executive director of the museum, tells Axios.

  • "Discovering who exactly lived here and when has been long and slow," Dasch said.

Flash-forward: To raise money to write a new curriculum and make signs to educate museum-goers, a trio of transformational Black chefs who bring their heritage to their work will share their culinary expertise, their professional journeys and the role that history has played in their craft:

  • Tavel Bristol-Joseph of Caribbean standout Canje.
  • Damien Brockway of highly touted BBQ food trailer Distant Relatives.
  • Amanda Turner of Southern cuisine stalwart Olamaie.

Of note: Bristol-Joseph and Brockway are both James Beard Award semifinalists in this year's Best Chef, Texas, category.

What they're saying: Brockway has said the cuisine at Distant Relatives is "inspired by the textures, flavors, heritage and narrative of the African diaspora within the United States."

If you go: The event is March 4 at 6:30pm.

  • Tickets for the event, which includes a panel discussion and cocktail reception, are $125 apiece.

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