Vegetables take center stage on the menu at Gardner, a new Austin restaurant opening by early November, from Contigo’s chef Andrew Wiseheart, but don’t worry, meat still has a place at the table. Read on for more about why this Texas chef is scaling down meat but not eliminating it entirely, and why he thinks vegetables are like wine.

Even though Gardner isn’t a strictly vegetarian restaurant, will the dishes be created to appeal to both vegetarians and meat-eaters?

Absolutely. We’ll have things like a parsnip and smoked mushroom dish, a charred beets and pine nut composed dish, a fermented mushroom broth with root vegetables and purslane, and also crispy onions sous-vide that’ll be on the bar snacks menu. The bar menu will have five items to choose from when you’re waiting for your table.

How will you source ingredients for Gardner’s menu?

We look for quality—the highest quality ingredients that we can find. With Contigo we’ve been able to find that level of quality for our ingredients in and around Austin. For Gardner, we have the same philosophy.

Would you call it “farm-to-table” style?

No. We talk about the quality of our ingredients. We don’t put any farmers’ names on our menu but once you taste the food, you know that there was thought put into it and you know it was high quality.

What’s the biggest obstacle a restaurant might face when trying to use high-quality, locally-sourced meat and produce?

Finding like-minded farmers who want to produce something other than the highest yield crop and who are farming because they love to farm.

Weather also plays a part in sourcing these ingredients. We have a fairly good climate here around Austin, but it still gets hot as shit and that limits the number of items that can be produced. It’s very different from California where you always have lots of great options available.

The Austin Chronicle described Contigo’s offerings as “ranch-inspired cooking.” Is Gardner’s menu similarly ranch-inspired?

No, I wouldn’t say that. Gardner is a different style of dining. It mostly has to do with the setting. 90 percent of our seating at Contigo is outside—so weather is taken in account as much as anything else when creating a dish. For a hot night, something refreshing. On a cold day, we’ll beef it up a little bit.

With Gardner it’s going to be a more refined style of dining. All of the tables will be inside and there’ll be a covered area outside for cocktails and drinking and having snacks but the food will be more refined.

You spent some time working at La Toque and Angèle in Napa. Are there any techniques or philosophies that you continue to draw upon from your time there?

Yeah, absolutely. I feel like this restaurant is going to be a collaboration of techniques and philosophies. The whole concept is a culmination of all of my experiences. Those were two very good experiences but so were all of my other experiences.

As a cook and a chef it has been a gradual growth process—each step was a step in the right direction. I’ve done a lot of traveling and staging. I’m always trying to learn more, see new techniques, and get new insights into other people’s philosophies.

How would you describe your own cooking style?

I don’t think I would, haha. I don’t know. I’ve never been able to answer that question.

Americans eat twice the protein that we actually need and there are companies currently developing new meat-free alternatives to appeal to vegetarians and others who want to lower their meat consumption for a variety of reasons. Do you think meat can be part of a low-impact, healthy and environmentally conscious lifestyle?

Yes, absolutely. For me personally, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that I have to be more aware of what I’m putting in my body. I don’t think there’s anything that I can’t eat, but I can’t eat like I did when I was 20.

Why did you decide to name the restaurant Gardner?

That’s my dad’s name. Gardner. Both of my parents have been a huge support and I was a handful growing up. They supported me through my cooking and travels. My dad loves to cook, too, and it helped grow our relationship. They’re both role models and I thought it would be fitting.

Do you have a favorite vegetable?

No, I don’t think so. It depends on the situation, like wine.

So, which fall ingredients are you most excited about?

Pumpkin and anything green. We have a dish with pumpkin and brewster oats. It’ll be a savory dish.

Interview by Sara Bloomberg