The Homesick Texan

By Kristi Willis, Photos by Lisa Fain

Lisa Fain keynotes the inaugural Austin Food Blogger conference.

When Houstonian Lisa Fain fulfilled her lifelong dream to move to New York City, she didn’t realize how much she would miss the flavors of Texas or how hard it would be to find some of her favorite dishes and ingredients. In typical Lone Star fashion, Fain took matters into her own hands and started cooking and writing about the Texan and Tex-Mex dishes she loved, on her blog, Homesick Texan. Fain quickly connected with other Texas expats who pined for queso, refried beans, fried okra and chicken fried steak— true Texas spirits who understand that chili doesn’t have beans. She wasn’t trying to build an audience, but her love of her home state quickly resulted in a devoted readership.

“Blogging has changed so much since I started, but still, the most important thing is to feel passionate about what you are talking about,” Fain says. “I feel like that really leaps off the page in your content. People can sense when you don’t have passion in your writing.”

Nine years later, her appetite for Texas cuisine has earned her a James Beard Award for her popular site and resulted in two cookbooks, The Homesick Texan Cookbook and The Homesick Texan’s Family Table: Lone Star Cooking from My Kitchen to Yours. Fain will share some of her wisdom this month as the keynote speaker at Byte of Texas, the inaugural conference organized by the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. Fain learned early in her writing career to be generous in helping other bloggers and gracious with others.

“Elyse [Bauer] of Simply Recipes has always been very generous in helping others and kindly offered advice whenever I needed [it],” Fain says. “And she’s always very gracious. There can be a down side to the online world, people with negative attitudes who leave ugly comments on blogs. She taught me how to focus on the positive and let the negative go.”

Focusing on the positive has definitely paid off, winning Fain acclaim from some of the most prestigious culinary corners in the country. After winning the James Beard Award, Fain was surprised to be recognized by a cashier when she handed over her credit card.

“It’s a nice reminder that I’ve accomplished something,” Fain says.

Accolades aside, she’s still the same self-effacing, cowboy-boot-wearing Texan at heart, always in search of great Lone Star cuisine. During her visit to Austin, Fain will be certain to get her fill at to one of her regular haunts, Matt’s El Rancho, and satisfy her barbecue cravings at Freedmen’s, one of the few barbecue joints she hasn’t yet tried. She’s also eager to try Qui. After all, a girl has to eat something besides queso and brisket every now and then. One thing is certain: As Fain promotes her second book and ponders a third, she will stay focused on the words she chose to close her acceptance speech at the James Beard Award ceremony, “Texas forever.”

Byte of Texas Conference

Sept. 27 and 28 Bullock Texas State History Museum

Tickets are $199 for the full conference, $149 for members of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. $20 tickets are available for Fain’s keynote conversation on Sept. 27 at 3 p.m. The Byte of Texas Book Fair, featuring books on Texas food and culture, on Sept. 27 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., is free and open to the public. Some authors will be available for book signings.

Other don’t-miss sessions:

  • Jeanine Donofrio of the blog Love and Lemons, SAVEUR Best of Food Blogs Readers’ Choice Award for Best Cooking Blog, will discuss photography as branding with Elizabeth Van Huffel of Local Savour.
  • Local photographer Melissa Skorpil will discuss the ins and outs of food photography.
  • New York Times best-selling author Andy Sernovitz will discuss word-of-mouth marketing as part of a panel on Social Media Ethics.
  • Noted author Rachel Laudan and Southern Foodways Alliance oral historian Amy Evans will discuss writing and blogging about Texas food culture.