For those of you that don’t know Chef Kevin Williamson and his restaurant, Ranch 616, let me introduce you to a true Austin original. The Austin native chose a career in cooking after exploring careers in real estate and on Wall Street first. His beginning work included cooking at La Jolla in New York City and Aspen, which then led to working with chefs Michael Chiarello and Nick Morfogen at the famed Ajax Tavern in Aspen.
During his tenure at Ajax Tavern, he began contemplating the idea of opening his own restaurant. “I always knew I wanted to own a restaurant but had no clue how it would happen,” says Williamson. The concept of Ranch 616 was born out his frequent trips to South Texas and the gulf.
He wanted to create a Texas-style ice house that could be a casual gathering spot for locals. In 1998, Ranch 616 opened its doors just off the growing West Sixth Street. They immediately made a mark in the culinary world with their award winning fried gulf oysters, along with his sugar cured dry rub. While you’ll still find these classics on the menu, there’s a great variety of premium cuts of beef, chicken and my personal favorite, the quail.
“The specialty of Ranch 616 is not a specific food. It is more so the entire concept of the restaurant. The food is not Tex-Mex. It’s not Southwestern either, but it draws from the inspiration I continue to get there.”
“The specialty of Ranch 616 is not a specific food. It is more so the entire concept of the restaurant. The food is not Tex-Mex. It’s not Southwestern, either.”
It’s this authenticity and loyalty to the creative originality Austin is known for that makes this a popular spot for natives. There’s a respect for what he’s doing, and clearly he respects his patrons just as much: “My goal is for the restaurant to be a place where everyone can gather, enjoy good company, good food, good service, and feel like a VIP.”
Kelsay’s Q & A with Chef Kevin Williamson
What’s one thing that you never leave home without? My pocket Virgin of Guadalupe.
What’s your favorite happy hour drink when you’re not at the restaurant? It’s a COLD BEER at The Horseshoe Lounge.
What’s the best purchase you’ve ever made? It has to be my house in New York City.
As a chef, what’s your go-to recipe? Definitely the Ranch 616 award winning Sugar Cure Dry Rub. You can rub it on any protein and use any cooking method.
What inspires you to continue cooking and creating new dishes? I’m most inspired by traveling. I always try to infuse a little piece of my travels into dishes.
What’s your favorite restaurant or bar in Austin? It has to be Matt’s El Rancho because of my family history there. We grew up eating there. My favorite bar is Dirty Bills.
What do you love most about being back in Austin? I love Austin mostly because everyone is allowed to be who they are. Praise Jesus!!
I have to know if you have any quirks or pet peeves in the kitchen? Yes, I have to have complete cleanliness and NO TALKING.
Photos courtesy of Claire McCormack, a Dallas based commercial food photographer.