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Austin Food & Wine Festival: Malarkey talks Searsucker, horse racing

Addie Broyles

Brian Malarkey might talk a mile a minute, but he has a lot to say.

During his cooking demonstration for “Unpretentious Dishes,” he rambled about everything from the importance of buying Gulf shrimp instead of those raised in cramped farms in Southeast Asia, why it’s OK to splurge on extra butter and cheese in your grits, and how his love of horse racing has influence his culinary style.

“Are you going to be able to keep up with me?” he said breathlessly to the sign language interpreter, who was as animated as he was.

The first part of the demo was focused on Searsucker, Malarkey’s popular restaurant concept that started in his home city of San Diego and will open in late May in the former home of Maria Maria in the Warehouse District downtown. He mentioned hiring Kenzie Allen, formerly of Asti, to help lead the kitchen.

His goal with the restaurant is to provide a place “for people who want more out of their meal than soup, salad dessert and then go home.” Expect lots of couches, bars and late night eats.

“I believe food is just a catalyst to good time, memories,” he says.

He poked fun at “Top Chef” for “ruining” cooking by turning it into a competition. “(The chef world) used to be a big fraternity of people who liked to eat and drink, and now it’s one big contest,” he said.

He said that line about the Bravo television show that launched him into national fame, but acknowledged that he is still in the business of reality food competitions. “I couldn’t win ‘Top Chef’ for the life of me,” Malarkey says, but “The Taste” — the ABC reality show that also starred Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson — was even more fun than he imagined. (The chef he mentored who went on to win the first season of the show is Charlie Sheen’s personal chef, and Malarkey says they’ll learn if the show gets renewed for a second season in May.)

We also found out that Malarkey is a huge horse racing fan, in part because his uncle is a photographer at one of the big Kentucky tracks, and spending time in that part of the country has put a Southern twist to his culinary style. (It is also where he developed an appreciation for seersucker suits. He spells the name of his restaurants with an “a” as a play on living by the sea, according to the restaurant’s rep.)

Malarkey told the crowd as he put a whole stick of butter in his grits that embraces the Julia Child approach to food: “Do not live without the fun and excess of life,” he said, encouraging attendees to eat — and then exercise, with a walk around Lady Bird Lake, perhaps — with gusto.