Austin

Hot Luck Fest’s First Hmong Chef Puts a Spotlight on Southeast Asian Cuisine

James Beard–nominated pastry chef Diane Moua comes bearing passion and passionfruit.

Photo by Gemma Weston Photography, courtesy of Kayla Hui
Photo by Gemma Weston Photography, courtesy of Kayla Hui
Photo by Gemma Weston Photography, courtesy of Kayla Hui

Brown sugar boba tortes, cupcakes with Thai tea buttercream-pastry chef Diane Moua’s Instagram displays a drool-worthy grid of desserts. Rhode Island-born but Wisconsin-raised, Diane Moua is a Hmong chef who has contributed to Minnesota’s culinary scene for the past 21 years through her mouthwatering pastries. She’s on a mission to do more than just bake. She’s trailblazing a path for Hmong chefs while sharing the vibrant flavors of Southeast Asia at this year’s Hot Luck Fest (May 25–28).Founded by Aaron Franklin, James Moody, and Mike Thelin, Hot Luck Fest is a food and music festival which takes place annually in Austin. Additionally, it hosts pop-ups in various cities. This year’s fest will again showcase the best of the nation’s culinary talent. And Moua will be the first Hmong chef to participate in the festival, confirms Hot Luck Fest.

Photo by Anne Ousey, courtesy of Hot Luck Festival
Photo by Anne Ousey, courtesy of Hot Luck Festival
Photo by Anne Ousey, courtesy of Hot Luck Festival

Although there are approximately 327,000 Hmong people in the United States, Hmong and Asian people are still underrepresented in the culinary scene. So, “to be a part of Hot Luck Fest is a huge honor,” Moua tells Thrillist.

Moua didn’t get to Hot Luck Fest overnight. Her journey began over two decades ago in the kitchen of Tim McKee, the Midwest’s first James Beard Award–winning chef, where she interned for him for 12 years. Afterward, Moua trained with Gavin Kaysen in 2014, helping to develop pastry programs for his restaurants: Spoon and Stable and, later, for Bellecour and Demi in Minneapolis. Moua ascended to an executive pastry chef position in 2020.

Moua has been nominated for an impressive five James Beard Awards, twice as a finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. She hopes to open her own bakery in the Twin Cities soon.

Photo by Emma Weston Photography, courtesy of Kayla Hui
Photo by Emma Weston Photography, courtesy of Kayla Hui
Photo by Emma Weston Photography, courtesy of Kayla Hui

The camaraderie and teamwork of the culinary scene are what initially drew Moua to the kitchen, but it was the opportunity to share the vibrant tastes of her culture that captivated her. Growing up on her family’s farm in Wisconsin, and in the presence of her mom’s home cooking, Moua was constantly surrounded by passion fruit, tapioca, coconut, and sesame, all of which are widely used in Laos and Thailand. “My mom made a lot of sesame balls because she worked a lot, so she would make it, freeze it, and deep fry it when we wanted them,” says Moua.

Moua showcases these flavors today in her elevated desserts and pastries, adding her own twist. Among her creations are her crepe cakes, a fusion of French crepes, cream, and the tantalizing flavors of coconut, strawberry, and lemon. Additionally, Moua crafts pavlovas-which are filled with passion fruit (one of her mom’s favorite fruits) custard and topped with strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries.

Get a taste of Moua’s dessert at this year’s Hot Luck Fest (tickets here): passion fruit sesame meringue, a dessert that takes two days to meticulously prepare. The process involves crafting the passion fruit curd, toasting sesame seeds, preparing the shortbread, and allowing the curd to rest. “There’s just something about letting the curd sit for 24 hours before you mix it; it gives it [the curd] a velvety texture,” says Moua.

The choice of sesame and passion fruit in Moua’s creations is far from coincidental; it pays homage to her upbringing and the Southeast Asian flavors that shaped her culinary journey. “It’s a representation of what I’ve known,” says Moua. “I learned techniques and apply flavors that go back to my roots.”Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Kayla Hui is a contributor for Thrillist.

Austin

Get Lucky at These Irish Bars in Austin

Drink a green pint on St Patrick's Day at these Irish bars in Austin.

Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel

In the midst of all the SXSW chaos, it helps to remember that there’s a rainbow at the festival’s end-that is, the hangover-blessing we’ve been granted of having St. Patrick’s Day 2023 fall on a Friday. Whether you attribute this small win to the Gregorian calendar or the luck of the Irish, it’s sure to amp up the already liver-damaging activities associated with this cultural celebration. However, Éire is more than just leprechauns and Colin Farrell-it’s a breathtaking land full of warm, welcoming, and good-hearted people. Fortunately, there’s a way you can get a taste of the Republic’s spirit, and a dark stout, at the same time by hitting up one of Austin’s various Irish pubs. From cozy, intimate spaces decked out like small taverns in Cobh, to modern dives with all the party energy of Temple Bar, our list has the best spots in the city to “erin go bragh” all out on March 17.

Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys
Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys
Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys

B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub at Mueller

Mueller
With a giant model of a beer tap literally decorating their front door, you can’t miss B.D Riley’s, nor doubt that this East Austin hang is a spot to down some serious brewskis. And its name, and perfect pours of Guinness, aren’t the only aspects they draw from the Emerald Isle-the entire pub itself was actually designed and built in Dundalk, Ireland, and shipped over for assembly in Bat City. Such authentic decor calls for equally authentic sounds, therefore, on St. Patrick’s Day, B.D. Riley’s will feature an all-day, four-artist bill of live, trad-inspired music. So, while you may not start the day knowing all the words to “The Galway Girl,” you are bound to sing along by last call.

Kelly’s Irish Pub

Bouldin Creek
Having only opened this past December, Kelly’s is the new kid with a brogue on the block. Occupying the space which formerly housed tapas restaurant Winebelly, this pub had big shoes to fill for South Austin barflies, but quickly won them over with an impressive whiskey selection and friendly atmosphere. A big reason behind the real deal Éire vibes can, most likely, be chalked up to the fact that one of Kelly’s owners was actually born and bred in Ireland-and the dedication to delivering a true-to-life experience is evident in everything from the shepherd’s pie to the witty bartenders. For St. Patrick’s Day, they are getting the party started early with live music and an opening time of 8 am.

Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger's
Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger’s
Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger’s

Jack & Ginger’s

The Domain
While The Domain may boast more bars than you can shake a shamrock at, there’s only one spot in the North Austin entertainment behemoth that can be properly called an Irish pub: Jack & Ginger’s. Start off the night with selecting a tasting flight from their over 82 beers on tap, then, move onto shots poured straight from their Irish Whiskey Tours-after loosening up with a round or two, you might just find yourself with the gift of gab. And, before snapping a selfie over Jack & Ginger’s see-through glass floor, balance out that buzz with food offerings like a giant soft pretzel or a round of fried pickles.

Photo courtesy of Foxy's Proper Pub
Photo courtesy of Foxy’s Proper Pub
Photo courtesy of Foxy’s Proper Pub

Foxy’s Proper Pub

Downtown
Here’s a spot that visibly radiates with Irish pride-at Foxy’s, the glow of green beams out from the bar’s lighted panels, and across their chandelier made of Jameson bottles. When it comes to cups and chow, their commitment to the theme continues-the use of the word,”proper,” in the pub’s name alone indicates you’re in for a heavy pour of the standards. Consequently, the taps are abundant with essential Irish sips, including Guinness, Magners, and Smithwick’s. With Lone Star on draft, there’s also a nod to Texas tradition as well. But don’t fear if you’re bored of beer-Foxy’s variety of whiskey-based cocktails will let you switch it up (and still keep it Celtic). March 17 will find them celebrating with live music, whiskey tastings, and swag giveaways.

Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel

Cork & Barrel Craft Kitchen + Microbrewery

Round Rock
Compared to a flight to Dublin, the 30-minute drive to Round Rock’s Cork & Barrel is much more convenient-not to mention, won’t require waiting in a TSA line. A mix between a modern Austin beer garden and a historical Irish pub, this spot’s spacious interior and expansive outdoor patio guarantees there will be enough room for the whole crew to cheer “sláinte.” And, their microbrewery’s signature beers are the ideal drinks to do such a toast with. The menu of specially crafted drafts includes a blueberry wheat, an Irish red ale, and a vanilla stout. This St. Patrick’s Day also marks Cork & Barrel’s two-year anniversary, and they are throwing down for the double-celebration with live music, yard games, Irish food specials, and plentiful amounts of green beer and Irish Car Bombs.

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Molly Moltzen is a Thrillist contributor.

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