Dan Nelson sat contentedly reading a book on a quiet Friday evening as he waited for his order at ViUDA Bistro in Buda — the chef’s special “The Corruption,” a pan-seared pork loin over celery root potatoes with sweet pepper garnish and au jus. Executive chef Kurt Ramborger brought his food out personally, as Nelson is a favorite regular of the restaurant.
Nelson attempted to thank Ramborger, but some of the conversation got lost in translation. Ramborger, along with the other cooks and the manager of ViUDA Bistro, is deaf.
Nelson, who now works in food distribution, has worked in the restaurant industry since he was a teenager. He first worked in a kitchen with a deaf chef when he was 18 years-old, but also experienced restaurants that refused to hire deaf chefs because they thought it would slow the kitchen down; a head chef could be yelling directions to his staff but then have to stop and sign the same thing.
Nelson said that often, people don’t want to try and take that extra step.
“[At ViUDA Bistro], it’s very inspiring what they do for the deaf community,” Nelson said. “They have great food and give jobs to people who don’t normally get these opportunities.”
Nelson says he learned a few kitchen words in American Sign Language, but that is the extent of his knowledge of the language. However, this does not stop him from attempting a conversation with ViUDA Bistro’s manager, Paul Rutowski, about the book he was reading over dinner.
“We are like any other business,” Rutowski said. “We don’t have [communication] challenges. We have pagers, video relay and interpreters.”
Some of the staff, like ViUDA Bistro’s head waiter, are hearing and fluent in ASL and often help customers talk with Rutowski, who constantly roams the restaurant making everyone comfortable and ensuring things run smoothly.
According to Rutowski, Buda and Austin both have large deaf communities, and he says deaf people come from both cities to eat at ViUDA Bistro. He hosts some events, like The Super Bowl, that bring in a lot of deaf customers.
However, he estimated that more than half his customers are not deaf. Rutowski insists that it is the food, like “The Corruption,” that keeps people coming back. They try to buy as many local ingredients as possible, and have even named a dish on the menu after “Farmer Billy,” who supplies them with food from his farm.
The menu is extensive, with entrees ranging from the decadent “Corruption” to a German wurst dish, to a yak and yam entree. There are also a variety of burgers and pizzas for those not so adventurous with their food, although the multiple cheese and topping choices offered could give even the burgers and pizzas a unique flavor.
Very few items on the menu cost more than $15, and many of the lighter options like salads, starters, pizza and burgers cost under $10.
Ramborger said he enjoys experimenting with flavors and different foods. In February, Ramborger was voted “America’s Hottest Chef” by Eater National. He also made it through many tryout rounds for the TV show “Hell’s Kitchen” before being cut in the last round of interviews.
“I’ve never had a special that wasn’t great,” Nelson said. “Kurt is good at finding unusual flavor combinations that are very palate challenging.”
“The Irish Chef” Ramborger has been cooking for 20 years. He first became a chef in Seattle, then started his own catering company, Mos Deux (meaning “two deaf”), in Los Angeles and started working at ViUDA Bistro eight months ago when the restaurant opened.
Ramborger and Rutowski know each other from when they both attended Gallaudet University about 20 years ago. Ramborger wanted to open a restaurant himself, but he liked the people and the atmosphere at the restaurant and decided to take the role as the executive chef.
“Paul [Rutowski] handles the business and is the ‘mind,’ and I handle the food and am more like the ‘heart’ of the business,” Ramborger said.
Printed on Monday, April 30, 2012 as: Deaf chef, staff offer flavorful entrees