Food Comes First at the Austin Food & Wine Festival

IMG_0169The talent line up for the third annual Austin FOOD & WINE Festival, April 25-27, 2014 was announced this week. It features a star-studded list of local and national culinary pros starting with the organizing chefs Tim Love (Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Woodshed Smokehouse, Queenie’s Steakhouse, Love Shack, White Elephant Saloon); Tyson Cole (Uchi & Uchiko); and restaurateur Jesse Herman (La Condesa & Sway). The importance placed on food and the excellent talent level mirror the up-and-coming culinary scene in Austin.

The Fest organizers held a preview lunch at Contigo to trot out some of the stellar talent and show off the food. This media event demonstrated just how important Food is to the Fest. All of the organizing chefs were on hand along with chefs serving up nibbles including Jason Dady (Jason Dady Restaurant Group), David Bull (Congress, Second Bar + Kitchen & Bar Congress), John Bates (Noble Sandwiches), Jack Gilmore (Jack Allen’s Kitchen), Mike Lata (FIG & The Ordinary), Chris Shepherd (Blue Ginger & Blue Dragon) and the Contigo host, Andrew Wiseheart who wowed the crowd by roasting a whole pig in the parking lot. The nibbles were fantastic.

Tim Love -Mike Lata- Andrew Wiseheart - Chris Shepherd

There will be more than 40 events at the fest, including hands-on grilling demonstrations, two interactive fire pits, panel discussions and of course the Grand Tasting tents. On top of that there will be food fiestas like Feast Under the Stars on Thursday night, the Taste of Texas on Friday and the Rock Your Taco competition on Saturday.

 

 

 

OK, what about the drinks?

Oh, and there are also a handful of excellent wine industry pros on the list too. The importance placed on wine in no way reflects the burgeoning wine scene in Austin. At this Fest Food is clearly first and Wine is there to wash it down. Foodies will rejoice. Winos may weep.

The good news is that there is top notch talent. The Fest brings back four fan favorites from the past two years: FOOD & WINE magazine’s executive wine editor Ray Isle, wine writer and TV personality, Mark Oldman and the two most handsome master sommeliers in Austin Devon Broglie and Craig Collins. The new talent this year includes Frontera Grill sommelier, Jill Gubesch, the gorgeous sommelier from the soon to open LaV, Vilma Mazaite and the cocktail master from La Condesa and Sway Nate Wales.

The bad news is that there won’t be nearly as many wine and beverage sessions as food. The full program won’t be announced until February 25, but all indications are that there will be some similar panels from previous years and some changes. There will be winners and losers.

  • Win: There is a Mixology session and a Texas Spirits session on the schedule. No word on the talent or providers yet, but these are bound to be excellent programs. We are fortunate to have many excellent bartenders and fantastic distillers in Austin to choose from to present at the Fest. Prediction — Tim Love will crash a session and do his Shot Roulette where he pours tequila shots for 9 blindfolded contestants and one shot of canola oil for the tenth unlucky bastard.
  •  Lose: Likely the first casualty will be the Texas wine panel. It’s been great to see our local wines on the big stage for the past two years, but change is inevitable. Prediction — a handful of Texas wine die-hards will bemoan the passing loudly and will boycott the Fest. I’ll make sure to hit up the Texas wines in the Grand Tasting tent.
  • Win: Broglie and Collins will likely scheme a new topic that appeals to broad audience of wine lovers and novices alike to replace the Texas wine panel. These guys are not only two of the most knowledgeable wine experts in the world, but they are great presenters. Something good will happen in their Sunday afternoon session. Prediction — one or both of them will wear colorful pants.
  • Lose: While Mark Oldman is highly entertaining, his sessions have been pretty light-weight the past two years. The Fest draws an educated crowd that deserves a presentation that goes far deeper than Oldman delivers. I bet he’s more than eye-candy and actually knows his stuff. But I also bet he underestimates his audience yet again. Prediction — Oldman reprises his “bring the audience member onto the stage to saber a bottle of Champagne” bit. Its great showmanship.
  • Win: There is a space on the schedule for a craft beer session again this year on Saturday, but no brewers or talent has been announced. Let’s hope it’s not a naval gazing session on the state of the craft beer industry, but instead something really fun like a food and beer pairing session put on by some of the gifted Austin brewmasters. Prediction — Chris Troutman, one of the founders of the fantastic Austin Beer Guide, will actually show up at an event that isn’t fully dedicated to beer just to see this one panel.
  • Lose: According to the current schedule there are not any sessions dedicated to showcasing great culinary talent and wine talent together. It’s as if the organizers believe people actually eat food without pairing the right wine with it. Prediction — hungry wine lovers will mob the fire pits between sessions and thirsty foodies will get smashed in the Grand Tasting tents between sessions. The vast majority of attendees that love both food and wine will be disappointed that the worlds are separate.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Fest? Tickets are on sale now. Prediction — I’ll take a ton of pictures, will attend every wine and beverage session held and will sadly miss the incredible cooking demonstrations yet again this year.

What are you drinking?

 

Fine time at Wine & Swine

Wine & SwineThis Sunday hundreds of people gathered in the sun to chow whole hog prepared in dozens of ways. The second annual Wine & Swine event hosted by the Austin Food & Wine Alliance pitted 17 chefs against each other in a competition of unrationed rashers. It was a truly Texan event with more roast meat than you can imagine and plenty to drink.

Many of the chefs stayed up all night roasting whole pigs in various ways. Of course the chefs needed high octane fuel to keep themselves awake. John Bates of Nobel Pig drank plenty of Jester King beer. Josh Watkins of the Carrilon listed a litany of drinks including tequila and vodka. Fortunately the event had plenty of drinks on hand for guests like me to enjoy.

Before we get to what I was drinking, congratulations to the chef’s who won the Greenling Fan Favorite Award. The Grand Champion went to chef Josh Watkins of The Carillon with his Cuban pork dish. In second place was chef Jason Dady of Bin 555 and Jason Dady Restaurants with his maple bourbon-glazed whole pig (I understand it was a very close finish) and third place went to Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo with his pork with smoke tomatoes and arugula.

OK, back to the drinks. I strolled about the grounds of Pioneer Farms slugging back cocktails made by David Allen, the Tipsy Texan, local beers from Hops & Grain and Jester King, cider from Argus Cidery, Texas wine from Pedarnales Cellars and rum from White Hat. Here are a few photos of the wonderful things I enjoyed while there.

This event was a hell of a lot of fun. If you missed it, make plans to go next year to pig out and drink your fill. Where else can you see well-dressed beautiful women sucking the meat off a rib bone without a care in the world?

What are you drinking?

 

“Brontosaurus ribs” by local chef win the Greenling Fan Favorite award at Live Fire! meat-cooking competition

In Forrest Gump, Bubba rattles off over 20 different ways to prepare shrimp. It turns out that beef is pretty damn versatile too. On a beautiful April night at the rustic Salt Lick Pavilion, roughly 550 people gathered to grub on beef prepared in creative ways by 16 chefs at Live Fire.Iron and fire and Live Fire

In its second year, the celebration of Texas cuisine hosted by the Austin Food & Wine Alliance hit its stride with hot chefs, inventive dishes, delicious drinks and entertainment; The Elana James Trio had people dancing to western-swing in the pavilion while fire dancers mesmerized the crowd on the lawn — even the bugs lit up in the waning light of dusk.

Alliance executive director, Mariam Parker says, “It’s a really fun event that lets people sample the great flavors of Texas and a twist of the red-hot culinary scene.”

Live Fire started as part of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival and continues as a legacy event held on the eve of the new Austin Food & Wine Festival. This year, chefs were given  leeway to come up with their own recipes as long as they used beef as the main ingredient. After all, the Texas Beef Council was one of the primary sponsors.

While most of the participating chefs were from Austin, the event also drew chefs from culinary destinations like Portland and San Antonio, where commitment to local ingredients and innovative culinary trends is a shared passion.

The longest line at the event was unsurprisingly for Franklin Barbecue. People in Austin are accustomed to waiting for hours on end for a helping of the barbecue that Aaron Franklin serves at his East Side eatery.

Inspired by local cocktail scenester, David Alan, Franklin presented a sumptuous sandwich with chopped brisket and sausage, purple coleslaw and pickles spilling over a slider bun called the Tipsy Texan. Franklin explained why he participated in the event, “The people putting on Live Fire are so awesome. I can’t imagine not doing this event. It’s for a great cause.”

Not shying away from the exotic, Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo prepared cured beef heart with chicory salad. Why beef heart? Wiseheart quipped, “Because the lungs were already taken. That, and we wanted something unexpected that people would enjoy.”

I was instantly drawn to Beast for the name alone, but when I saw what chef Naomi Pomeroy created, I wanted to set up camp. A rare Texas waygu strip loin roast with wild ramp butter (ramps are in season in Oregon right now) was paired with bone marrow and caramelized tomato tarts. “Bone marrow is the foie gras of beef.”

Her sentiment was shared by meat aficionado and butcher blogger, Reece Lagunas of Whole Foods Market, who made barbacoa with bone marrow butter. “Barbacoa is a staple in Texas. What’s not to like about something that has twenty-five percent fat that cooks down. It’s bound to be good.” Sliced avocado slid over the top gave it extra silkiness.

In one of the most visually stunning displays, John Bullington of Alamo Drafthouse, roasted a 407 pound half cow over an open fire pit and served it with corn mescal pudding. The hulking beast cooked for 20 hours on a specially made rack before it was carved up and served to the crowd.

In his second year making the trip from Portland for Live Fire, Adam Sappington of The Country Cat, created grilled beef shanks tossed in roasted garlic and sherry vinegar with (again) bone marrow butter and Maker’s Mark sauce. “I love beef shank. We do all-around butchery at the restaurant, and I fell in love with the shank because it has a great gelatinous texture. It’s a hidden gem in the cow.”

Local tail-to-snout enthusiast, Ned Elliott of Foreign & Domestic, created a Reuben-like sandwich of beef tongue pastrami on rye with chicken liver mousse and Maker’s Mark onion jam. Maker’s Mark was a sponsor for a second year in a row, which explains why it shows up in multiple recipes.

Drawing on his Hawaiian and Californian roots, Jonathan Gelman of The Driskill served fire-grilled and smoked beef tri tip along with cast-iron cornbread puree. “Tri tip isn’t a very popular cut in Texas. I wanted to introduce it to a broader audience. It’s touchy to cook. If you over cook it, it gets tough. If you under cook it, it gets tough. I cooked this for 12 hours before the event and then finished it on the grill.”

Participants were able to choose their favorite dish in a text-vote. The winner of this year’s Greenling Fan Favorite was Josh Watkins of The Carillon. Watkins prepared two dishes, fried beef cheeks and beef ribs served with corn pudding and pickled vegetables. He braised the beef cheeks ahead of time and then fried them on-site to and served them with Brussels sprouts. The monstrous ribs, which Watkins called “brontosaurus ribs,” were smoked for 48 hours before the event.

There were plenty of good cocktails, local beer and fine wines to wash all of that cow down the gullet with 19 wine and spirit makers and four local craft breweries participating. Texas wine pioneers, Ed and Susan Auler, who were the original founders of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, were on hand to pour Fall Creek Vineyards wines. Always affable up-and-coming craft brewer, Josh Hare, had cans of his Hops and Grain brews at the ready. The Pale Dog ale went particularly well with Franklin Barbeque. April Collins poured a selection from wines from her portfolio flanked by her hubby, Master Sommelier, Craig Collins.

Proceeds from Live Fire will let Austin Food & Wine Alliance support the local culinary community through a vibrant Culinary Grant Program for chefs, farmers, artisan producers and nonprofits. The Alliance, which is dedicated to fostering awareness and innovation in the Central Texas food and beverage community, plans to raise enough money with Live Fire to award two to four grants of $5,000 each.

“A grant of that size makes an impact to the beneficiary, allowing them to do things like buy equipment,” says Parker.

Awards will likely be announced around the time of the Alliance’s next big event, a pig roast, in the fall. I may be hungry again by then.

This story was first published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?