Mashama Bailey is a household name in Savannah, where her restaurant, The Grey, attracts diners from around the world for inspired interpretations of classic Lowcountry cuisine, including za’atar-spiced quail and scallop crudo with pickled okra. But Bailey’s influence has spread far beyond the bounds of coastal Georgia. She’s charmed audiences on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. She’s co-written a book, Black, White, & the Grey, with her business partner John O. Morisano. And this summer, she made history as the first Black woman to win the coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef—an honor as well-deserved for her culinary excellence as it is for the tirelessly welcoming, warm atmosphere she fosters in her kitchens and dining rooms.
“We just really try to be genuine. We try to hire and work with like-minded people. We try to leave things better than we found them,” says Bailey of the culture they’ve built at the Savannah restaurant. “We try to really wear hospitality on our sleeve.”
As of March, Bailey and Morisano have extended that hospitality to Austin, Texas, where the newly opened Diner Bar and the Grey Market have opened for business in the Thompson Austin hotel.
“Austin’s got this youthful energy to it. The food scene is finding its voice, and it just struck me that there was a place for what we do,” says Morisano, who scoped out the location first. “We thought that if we did something in Austin, it could actually contribute to the conversation about food in that city. And that was our goal. If you can contribute to the conversation, you can start to find your place in the community.”
At the new restaurant, which recently started serving brunch, Bailey has worked with local staff to consider the seasonality and signature flavors of Texas’s capital city, but she didn’t leave Georgia behind entirely. On the menu at the Grey Market in Austin, you’ll find Bailey’s signature fish and grits—a staple that stems from one of her childhood favorites.
“I grew up eating fish and grits every Friday night,” she says, recalling days spent at her grandparents’ home in Waynesboro, Georgia. “My grandfather used to go fishing and my grandmother would clean the fish. We would sit around and watch Wheel of Fortune and eat fish, grits, and baked beans.” At the restaurant, Bailey offers two spins on the dish. One skips the fish for vegetarian-friendly greens and grits. The other uses redfish, a common catch in Texas. Here, she’s shared both recipes with a few key tips to keep in mind.
First, err on the side of under-cooking your fish: She recommends using a cake tester to pierce the center, then holding the tester to the inside of your wrist (or another sensitive area) to feel the heat. “You want it warm in the center, and the heat will carry over,” she says. “Usually if the fish is hot, you probably overcooked it.”
Her second tip is all about prep work. “Sometimes grits are coarse in the center, which makes you want to keep on cooking them and cooking them,” she warns. To skip the fuss, plan ahead. “Let them soak overnight, strain, and then follow the recipe as is and they will be a lot more tender.”