How Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas Bonded over Vintage Cookbooks
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Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas; Olamaie, Austin
Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas are an unlikely duo. Fojtasek, blond and a big smiler, was raised in Dallas and worked for the Texas Rangers baseball team. “It was like Animal House,” he says. The intense, dark-haired Nonas grew up in New England and was an indie musician until his band broke up. But when the two chefs began working together at Los Angeles fish restaurant Son of a Gun, they found a common bond in an unlikely place: vintage cookbooks. Most young cooks’ apartments are filled with empty beer bottles and dirty clothes; roommates Nonas and Fojtasek had a place dominated by shelves of cookbooks. “My mom would send me one book, and I’d say, ‘Send more, more, more,’ ” says Fojtasek. One of their biggest influences is the legendary Southern cook and author Edna Lewis. Fojtasek gave Nonas a copy of her seminal book The Taste of Country Cooking when they decided to open Olamaie in an old cottage in Austin. Both credit her with helping inspire the innovative but classically based Southern dishes they serve, like whey-caramel-glazed sweet potatoes with sorghum, and cucumber salad with buttermilk dressing. “Edna did a book with Scott Peacock called The Gift of Southern Cooking. He takes herto a place that’s both modern and old-school,” says Fojtasek, sounding like a fanboy. “Modern and old-school—that’s Olamaie,” adds Nonas.