Bridget Austria has found a place she can always come home to. Before stepping into her role two months ago as sous chef at AMP 150 at the Marriott (4277 West 150th St., 216-706-8787, amp150.com), Austria broke away from the restaurant more than once. It continued to call her back.
"I left the nest, but sometimes the grass isn't always greener," she admits. "I feel like I have a second family here. Every time I've come back, they've welcomed me with open arms."
Austria began working as a prep cook at AMP at 18. Two years later, she followed her former supervisor, who she describes as one of her greatest mentors, to AMP's sister restaurant in Texas, Asador.
Southern and Southwestern cooking has seeped into her repertoire. Its heat-heavy influences continue to make their way into her Northeast Ohio crafted dishes today. She has learned a lot about meat cookery, especially by working with a wood-burning grill.
"There's something about making your own fire," she says. "It's my favorite thing I've ever cooked on."
She learned about farm-to-table cooking through regular staff trips to the nearby farmer's market. Today, she gets her hands in the soil of AMP 150's kitchen garden, where she plucks fresh zucchini, squash, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkin and potatoes.
A year later, she returned to AMP, but soon left for the opportunity to help run the Sterle's Country House food truck for a summer. Working on the inventory and business side was an eye-opening experience that she carried over to her sous chef position at AMP. She was also responsible for creating the wildly popular Schnitzelwich, a schnitzel sandwich with horseradish and red pepper tapenade.
At AMP, such sauces and spreads with a kick have become a staple for Austria.
"To me, the most basic things are the most important things, and the most basic things get overlooked sometimes," she says.
Those items add intensity to one of her favorite dishes, deviled eggs, which she describes as old-school but classic. Her take, appearing on the summer menu, is made with horseradish, Dijon mustard, lemon aioli, chives and smoked bacon with crispy fried onions.
Even a slaw created for AMP's brisket sandwich has Tabasco and Worcestershire for a little heat to counter the cilantro and lime. Pickled red onions rest on top.
Chimichurri, a sauce she learned to make in Texas and brought back to Ohio, also has hits of Tabasco and Worcestershire. She's used it at AMP on a flatiron steak with au gratin potatoes stuffed with horseradish and Gruyere cheese. It currently comes on a half-chicken. "It's one of the simplest recipes," she says of chimichurri, "but you can put it on almost anything."
The young chef's next goals are to learn the Filipino cuisine of her father's heritage and to tackle desserts. Her newest sweet creation is a panna cotta created with kiwi lime sugar mix for the base layer and cream and vanilla bean for the second layer before being topped with diced kiwi and sliced almonds.
She describes her new task of developing desserts as just one more lesson in broadening her horizons.
"I think I thrive under pressure," Austria says. "I like to be that person wearing all the hats."