Honing the senses: Buda’s ViUDA Bistro staff shares uncommon similarity
by WES FERGUSON
The footsteps of harried chefs squeaked across the kitchen floor of Buda’s
newest bistro last Thursday. Grills sizzled and steam whooshed. In the
dining room, forks and knives clinked like tiny music against the china.
The faint sounds of cooking and eating, lost in the din of many busy
restaurants, were magnified at ViUDA Bistro in downtown Buda. Most of the
patrons were too busy eating to talk.
The others talked with their hands, using sign language.
“The deaf community is very small,” said General Manager Paul Rutowski, who
opened ViUDA four weekends ago with executive chef Kurt Ramborger. “We are
like a big family, so once we informed those folks of the bistro, they all
came in flocks.”
Like Rutowski, Ramborger is also deaf. So are the sous chef, line cook and
even a dishwasher. Rutowski, who is the president of the Texas Association
of the Deaf, waits tables seated with deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons.
While deaf friends have provided steady business in the bistro’s first few
weeks of operation, Rutowski said ViUDA’s real market is local folks from
Buda and Kyle.
The bistro is steeped in Buda history. The restaurant’s name derives from
the Spanish word viuda – meaning “widow” – which English-speakers pronounced
as Buda. According to the common explanation of the city’s origins, the
viudas were a pair of widows who cooked at the Carrington Hotel in the
On ViUDA’s menu, the prime rib dish is called The Carrington. The nightly
special is called The Corruption, for the anglicized corruption of the word
viuda. The Corruption last week was yak meat, of all things, served with
decadent yam chips and piquant slaw.
Rutowski and Ramborger also have a catering business, though ViUDA has
quickly become their primary focus. Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday
evenings, the bistro shares a space with Casa Alde, a local establishment
that serves breakfast and lunch.
Casa Alde general manager René Alcala had been looking for a way to utilize
the location in the evenings when his restaurant was closed. Then he met
Rutowski at a local gym.
“I saw he had a catering business and a lawn service as well, and I was
impressed with his get-up-and-go,” Alcala said.
As for the executive chef, Ramborger, he is a red-bearded Irishman who goes
by the name “the Irish chef.”
Rambor-ger responded to questions via email:
You’ve been a chef for many years, so you must have spent a lot of time in
kitchens where the staff didn’t understand sign language. How does that
compare to working in the ViUDA kitchen?
“Well, fer my 17 years in the restaurant industry, Latinos predominate in
the kitchen all over America. Since I am second-generation deaf and American
Sign Language is my primary language, I’ve always had an easy tyme
gesturin’ with Latino workers.
“We don’t ever really need to write broken English or speak their language.
Most of the time, when I started working in a new restaurant, them white
arses didn’t really know how to be workin’ with a deaf person. I always
taught them how to harmonize with me by gesture and a few small food
“I’m always very determined in the kitchen where I end up emerging to be a
chef. Not many deaf are professional chefs in the predominately hearing
world. They always struggle to be ladderin’ up. We need to do somethin’
“So there’s a win-win situation for me to be able to be trainin’ a few deaf
to be professional chefs. Not just that but an easy convention fer me to
communicate with them on my standards of the dishes to serve.”
“Jacquelyn Doudt is my sous chef. She is still a student at Le Cordon Bleu.
I have seen my youth year in her desire to become a professional chef. Since
I have already been lucky enough to be an apprentice under three chefs, ‘tis
tyme fer me to teach a new apprentice to be another professional deaf
“I’m always sayin’ to many doubtful patrons, you don’t need ears to cook
What’s the philosophy behind your menu?
“Since my years of journey in the restaurant industry, I have always wanted
to open a bistro where I can put my talent of creatin’ and innovatin’ dishes
with local foods. Paul and I wanted to have a comfy-with-old-charm style
where we can be servin’ moderately priced, simple gourmet meals.”
“Bistros are defined mostly by the foods they serve – local foods
incorporated into robust, earthy dishes and slow-cooked foods. At ViUDA
Bistro, we have an interchangeable menu by the season of local foods. Not
like any corporate jack-ass with their same menu fer many years.”
Your “Corruption” special the other night was yak, the long-haired Himalayan
bovine. What does yak taste like?
“Truth be told, I like to be a daring chef cookin’ with different food. I
never had yak meat before. They are a ‘new’ meat which not many people have
tasted or know much of.”
“Found out we have a yak ranch up in Weatherford, Texas. After my research
of yak meat, I decided to order one for our Corruption dish. There were two
different specials. One ‘twas yak burger, and the second was yak cutlet with
yucca root masher and sauteed zucchini, topped off with pepitas pesto.”
“Yak has very dark red meat. It’s the leanest meat, over angus, longhorns,
bison, elk and venison.”
Interview has been edited and condensed.