Biga on the Banks
"It's Italian slang for a bread starter. You'd keep a biga around the house and use a chunk of it to start your bread dough." That's as close as Bruce Auden comes to explaining the name of his restaurant, Biga On The Banks on San Antonio's Riverwalk.
What Auden doesn't have to explain is the food, an eclectic mix of flavors from all over the map but firmly based in south Texas. "I cook in a style people would expect in this part of the country. A lot of our business is from out of town so I try to meet our customer's expectations. When people come to San Antonio they expect a certain mix of spices and flavors."
Auden grew up, barely, in north London. At only 17 he moved to America to join a management training program at the prestigious Northmoor Country Club in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago.
"I never meant to be a chef," he explains, wryly. "I started working in kitchens and I saw how much fun everyone was having. There was a lot of camaraderie. It was a fun place to be so I stayed. After a while I decided that's what I was meant to do."
Auden was also meant to join the staff at Chicago's award-winning Crickets restaurant in 1977. That's where, over the course of six years, he earned a reputation for consistently well-executed and innovative menus.
Recognized as one of the early pioneers of Southwestern cuisine, Auden moved to San Antonio in 1985 to open the Fairmont Hotel's Polo's restaurant. While there, Food and Wine Magazine named him one of 1988's "Ten Best New Chefs in America." He also put Polo's on Esquire Magazine's "Best Bars & Restaurants" list in 1991.
"When I left the Fairmont there weren't a lot of other jobs in San Antonio so I opened my own place. There are a lot of great restaurants in San Antonio but they're small. There are some wonderful mom and pop places. That's good for diners but not for chefs. There aren't a lot of openings. We lose a lot of great young chefs to other cities because we just don't have enough opportunities for them here."
Auden opened Biga in 1991 along with LocuStreet Bakery where he continued to develop his own style in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. The chef's reputation made Biga an instant success when it was named to Esquire's "Best Bars & Restaurants" list in its first year of operation. In 1996 Biga was named to "Nation's Restaurant News" Fine Dining Hall of Fame.
With such success comes growing pains. Biga outgrew its original location and Auden, along with his partners; Perny Shea, Pete Selig and Don Thomas, pulled up stakes in 2000. If, as some believe, a meal's ambiance is as important as its taste, then the partners took their enterprise to new heights in its present location. Overlooking San Antonio's famed Paseo Del Rio, Biga offers a treat for the eyes as well as the tastebuds.
Auden likes being his own boss. "As long as you keep paying the bills you get to be your own boss. I like that part of it. I have more control now. Sometimes it's hard for a chef to work in a corporate environment because cooking is really a form of art. Artists don't always get along with management."
The artist has had to give up some of his kitchen time to manage his busy restaurant. "I can cook when I want to," he says. "But I don't get to do as much of it as I used to. Everyone who's ever worked in a restaurant knows about long hours. You're working when everyone else is home with their family or socializing with their friends."
The chef socializes with his friends by eating in their restaurants. "I have lots of friends in the restaurant business. And there are lots of good restaurants in town. I don't get out much but when I do it's usually to one of my friend's restaurants. I don't really think too much about the food. I'm there to spend time with my friends." Auden had a ready answer when asked where he'd have dinner if he couldn't eat in his own restaurant. "We have four kids now that I don't get to see enough. My favorite restaurant is called, 'home'."
Nominated five times for the James Beard "Best Chef Southwest" Award, Auden keeps his cards close to his vest when talking about the future. "I've got plenty to do already. We're looking at some other options connected to the restaurant. If I were to decide to do something new it would have to be very close to what I'm already doing. It would have to be connected to Biga."
Thai Vegetable Salad Topped with Grilled SalmonRecipe by Bruce Auden
Sesame Ginger DressingRecipe by Bruce Auden
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