The first time Alexandra Gates visited Marfa—a small high-desert West Texas ranching village with an outsize reputation as an arts center—the California native had a surprisingly visceral reaction. “Marfa is surrounded by these beautiful ranching landscapes,” she recalls. “They may be complete opposites in so many ways, but I had the exact same reaction upon seeing New York for the first time: I have to live here.”
Gates’s mother is Swiss, and she grew up spending her summers with her grandparents in the foothills of Switzerland’s Alps. Her grandfather often went fishing in the early hours before work, and she would wake to find the bathtub filled with fish, which she and her grandmother would clean and cook. “Between that and having so many international friends from growing up in California,” she says, “I developed a very European perspective toward food.”
After stints in New York kitchens, Gates moved to the Lone Star State with her husband, a Texas native, and continued her eclectic culinary approach in Austin: She ran an acclaimed food trailer serving Spanish-inflected foods, and served as the executive chef for the boutique Hotel Saint Cecilia. She opened her Marfa restaurant, Cochineal, in a 1920 adobe building and promptly began melding her heritage of European cuisine with a full-throttle love of Texas. “I immediately fell in love with the wild-game scene,” she says, and the restaurant nearly always offers some brand of game, from nilgai antelope to elk and quail. And wild hog. “Sometimes they are very sweet, and sometimes really herbaceous,” she explains. “Are they eating acorns or prickly pear? They are a complete expression of their environment.”
This dish articulates Gates’s international influences. She first discovered meatballs in an almond sauce on a trip to Spain. “So I tried to Americanize that with the whiskey,” she says. And the addition of wild hog makes it a delicious love letter to her adopted Texas home.