Foreign and Domestic. The words capture the meaning injected into the dishes. The flavors taste freshly picked from the ground or recently taken from their animal.
I visited before the new owners, Nathan Lemley and Sarah Heard took over. They became intimate with the establishment by working here for two years before taking ownership of the restaurant from Ned. According to Eater he is going to be expanding to Cincinnati, and then Houston, for his future career plans.
With this change in ownership comes a new life and friendly atmosphere to this neighborhood restaurant. We had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah and Nathan to learn how they are honoring Ned’s restaurant baby and how they are going to grow Foreign and Domestic into a new vision. “It really is like having new parents”, they said after asking how the staff was responding to them.
A quick note on the food. The savory maintains its ability to give you a unique bite with every fork while maintaining each layer of the dish. Many restaurants will have delicious sauces, meats, and accouterments that taste delicious when eaten alone but don’t sing into harmony when taken together. Foreign and Domestic has maintained its ability to harmonize meat and field.
The true masterpiece of the meal was the dessert, which I rarely ever say. Each layer had its own flavor and texture. For the Pot de crème it was never too sweet and the creaminess was silky and light. The juniper vibrated across the tongue and the meringue made it sing. The blood orange dark chocolate tart was so dark I could actually taste the chocolate. And it had a red wine gastrique.
Please bring me a bite after you go.
Interview with Nathan Lemley and Sarah Heard
When did you two take over the restaurant?
Nathan: Both of us have been here since the 8th of August and Sarah has been working on and off for a year. We officially took over in August. I moved here eight years ago to work here after Houston. I moved from Tony’s. This is “the restaurant” to work for in Houston.
I worked here for three years then left to go run Parkside. One day Ned mentioned wanting to sell the restaurant and go do new stuff so we went from there.
Nathan: I like it being small here because I can see all the tables and diners. It’s awesome. It’s instant gratification.
We can tell people like it because they’re quiet at first and then ask a ton of questions.
Jason brings up how with Steve from Cured we learned that for him it is seeing a table go quiet to know they love the food. For Jason, it is when people’s eyes close.
Nathan: For us, it’s really cool because we have the chefs counter. So we can tell people like it because they’re quiet at first and then ask a ton of questions. Then they tell us they love it. It’s really cool because we can talk to them right there
Ainsley: Do people view you as the Gods of food or do they think they can recreate it at home?
Nathan: A lot of it is really technical. But we do tell them they can cook it at home and it won’t look the same but it will taste really good.
Ainsley: Ok, cool. So, the Houston food scene is considered even better than Austin so how could you reach your peak in Houston and then come to Austin?
Nathan: Austin’s come a long since I’ve moved here, even eight years ago. I just think there’s just more opportunity here, really.
Ainsley: There’s more collaboration, right? Like, the chefs are-
Nathan: Er, it’s getting there, it is getting there. That’s the one thing I found out when I first moved here is that there wasn’t a lot of collaboration. It was just competitive.
Jason: Oh, for sure.
Nathan: Yeah, there wasn’t a lot of cool new restaurants, you know? Just the old staples.
Ainsley: Tacos? And taco food trucks?
‘Let’s just enjoy the quiet for right now’ but usually one of us will have an idea for a dish or will start talking about and the other one will be like “Hey, this would be awesome!” or “Why don’t you try this!”
Nathan: Yeah. So, now it’s actually really cool, we get to do the festivals and stuff and all the chefs are friends and all of them hang out more like other cities how it should be.
Ainsley: Alright, so between the two of you who usually comes up with the recipes or do you like, converge your heads together? Oh, this is being recorded. Sarah has joined us.
Sarah: Oh. Hi!
Nathan: We drive the hour back and forth every day and we talk a lot about the restaurant, it’s our mobile office and we talk a lot about food.
Ainsley: Is there a moment where you have to stop and say “Can we talk about something different?”
Sarah: There are definitely days where it’s just silence, ‘let’s just enjoy the quiet for right now’ but usually one of us will have an idea for a dish or will start talking about and the other one will be like “Hey, this would be awesome!” or “Why don’t you try this!”
Ainsley: So how does the process work? Do you guys imagine creating the flavors in your head and almost imagine creating it while talking about it?
Sarah: A lot of times it will come just from seeing something or we are always looking at the cookbooks- gosh right now… Which one did we just get?
Nathan: Eleven Madison Park
Ainsley: We like to look at Flavor Bible.
Sarah: Flavor Bible is a good crutch.
Nathan: The list of ingredients (in there) is good to make anything.
Sarah: It depends a lot on what we are going for at the time. If we need a vegetarian dish we’ll look at the Book of Greens or the Big Vegetable book. It just depends on what part of the menu we’re working on.
Ainsley: Do you feel like most of the time you don’t even need a recipe book, though?
Sarah: Yeah. Definitely.
Everybody’s like “What’s it like working with someone you’re dating also?” And it’s like, Well? I think I fell in love with him because we work so well together.
Ainsley: So, when it comes to your background where all did you work before here and who did you find was the most inspiring person?
Sarah: This guy! (Gesturing to Nathan)
Sarah: Yeah, that was a big turning point, but I worked in the Mansion for six years when I was younger, not culinary wise but management-wise the owner, Lisa Hiederman was a huge driving force in my life. To see her and what she was doing and how strong and put together she was was really big for me and we still stay in touch.
Ainsley: That’s awesome.
Sarah: She’s pretty awesome, still a huge part of my life still and then culinary wise, I went from there, worked at a couple of different wedding venues-
Ainsley: Like catering type of work?
Sarah: I did a lot of catering, so I went from the Mansion, which was mostly restaurant work, and then I went into catering but I landed at Parkside and we got hired at the same time.
Ainsley: So did you two find that you had very similar ideas? What made you two decide together to take on this place?
Sarah: For me, I think working with Nathan at Parkside- Everybody’s like “What’s it like working with someone you’re dating also?” And it’s like, Well? I think I fell in love with him because we work so well together. So it was the ‘chicken and the egg’ which one came first but as far as how we want to run things it’s usually really easy being on the same track.
Ainsley: So how do you guys accept that you’re good business partners when you deal with conflict? Do you deal with conflict very well together?
Sarah: We do.
Sarah: We hadn’t dealt with it much until the last couple of months.
Nathan: It’s usually when we’re both tired.
Sarah: I think it’s kind of like when you have a brother or sister and you fight with them and it’s like you get really mad and then all of sudden you’re laughing and it’s so stupid.
Ainsley: But you’re still mad in that moment, you’re like “Everything in me Grrr.”
Sarah: Yeah. (Chuckles)
It’s great to do it with somebody instead of doing it by yourself because that’s how it’s been for the last several years and it’s good to have someone to talk to about anything, bounce ideas off each other
Ainsley: Especially if you see each other so constantly. Do you guys ever go “I need alone time?”
Sarah: We’re never apart anymore. We went from never seeing other because I worked mornings starting at 5 AM and he was working nights. So we went from never seeing each other to working, literally together, twenty-four hours a day except for when I have to go to the grocery store.
Ainsley: Do you almost feel like at some point you guys are becoming the same person?
(Sarah and Nathan both Chuckle)
Sarah: I mean…. I don’t know.
Jason: Do you have kids?
Nathan: She has a five-year-old daughter.
Ainsley: That’s insane you guys keep it all together. You guys are a power couple. Do you ever break free of all of it, do things together to bring that sparkle again?
Nathan: We’ve been going to Justine’s on Friday night for our be “normal” kind of days and be a normal couple.
Ainsley: Do you ever feel that grind, where you just create this fuel together that’s going and going and going?
Nathan: It’s great to do it with somebody instead of doing it by yourself because that’s how it’s been for the last several years and it’s good to have someone to talk to about anything, bounce ideas off each other like, it really helps and then we can split up responsibilities. She’s good at some things, I’m good at other things.
Ainsley: Do you guys have a curing area?
Nathan: No, the health department does not like any of that kind of stuff, it’s kind of a nightmare doing it but we live way far (laughs) so we can do a lot of what we want out there.
Jason: What’s the best thing you have?
Nathan: I like the pork shoulder a lot. Simple slow-cooked pork.
Jason: (to Sarah) How do you balance being a Mom and handling a restaurant?
Sarah: It’s not much balancing. It’s a lot of fumbling and dropping and forgetting things. She is luckily easy going with me and I have the most awesome mom in the world and she watches my daughter for me right now five days a week.
Ainsley: That’s awesome. I feel like other cultures are way more into that. They’re more like “We have a whole family here.”
Sarah: I think it’s great. People have said, “Why don’t you move closer?” And I’m like “Well, I want to live close to my mom so that after I pick my daughter up I can just go home after a long drive.” and then people are like “Well, why don’t you just put her in daycare? Or why don’t you do this?” I, for one, trust my Mom more than anyone I don’t know and for two there aren’t any daycares I know that aren’t sketchy that go ‘till 2 in the morning and daycare would not pick her up from the school either.
Ainsley: She’s probably getting to know her grandma and forming a relationship that lasts forever.
Sarah: I liked the way I turned out so if anyone else is going to raise my daughter I’d want it to be my Mom.
“I’m going to be more macho and more disgusting and more of a man than they are.” But it didn’t change anything, it just got me through it.
Jason: What advice would you give somebody who wants to be a chef who is a female? I talked to a lot of female chefs and cooks here in Austin and a lot of them say it’s really hard to get the respect to do anything.
Sarah: It is but I think a lot of girls think that when they start getting it, when it’s hard and when it starts coming at them, it’s easier to be goofy and silly and be like, accepting of it and think “It’s fine, I’ve got a tough spin” but you can’t do that and I’m not going to say anything because I did that too. I was seventeen and I was just like “I’m going to be more macho and more disgusting and more of a man than they are.” But it didn’t change anything, it just got me through it.
I’m kind of mentoring a girl in town right now and she’s nineteen and she’s a girl and it’s- almost every time we sit down and talk it’s “Ok what happened? How did you handle it? How do you think I should have handled it?” I don’t want her to lash out about or get pissed off about it. It is something you just have to deal with but at the same time shouldn’t be accepting of it.
Ainsley: Do you think in the future, like, right now it seems like emotions are a bad thing to have. Do you think in the future people will start to respect those who see it as something to use?
Sarah: I think it is coming about. I’m definitely seeing it more. I know Daniella is leading that. I think she might take it a little overboard. The hugging and kissing on the cheek and that kind of stuff but we keep a pretty balanced kitchen and I’m like “I know you’re having a hard day but I’m going to need you to just focus right now.”
Ainsley: But there’s still an understanding, like, saying gender to gender there’s a huge difference but I think in a lot of ways females are more emotionally capable of seeing things very quickly like noticing why someone’s feeling emotional and emotions go into food so much. It could be this tool?
Sarah: What I’ve noticed which has been one of the more frustrating things for me is that people expect me to be more emotional towards them. So, if they come in and are having a bad day they’re not going to go to Nathan and be like “You’ll never guess what happened. My boyfriend dumped me or my girlfriend dumped me or this happened or that happened.”
Nathan: (Chuckles) Yeah, it sucks.
Sarah: People just emotionally dump on me and if I so much as say “I don’t have time for this right now, we have things to do.” They get pissed at me and they would never do that to Nathan but it’s because I’m a girl and a Mom and so they just think “Well, it’s Ok”.
Ainsley: I feel so frustrated for you.
Sarah: It is! It’s been like that, I think, throughout my entire career. People are much more apt to come to me even without me asking “Hey, how’s your day going?” I’ll just get that a lot.
Ainsley: In a way, females in that environment they just gravitate to female wisdom.
Ainsley: Thanks, guys!
Jason: Thank you so much!