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Austin F&W Fest: Sure Didn't Feel Like Its First Rodeo

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Top Chef Texas and Uchiko chef darling Paul Qui
Top Chef Texas and Uchiko chef darling Paul Qui

Watch out SXSW: There’s a new kid in town, and it’s named the Austin Food & Wine Festival. Chefs, celebrities, and food lovers alike swarmed the city this past weekend, hungry for three days of demonstrations, parties, and outstanding cuisine. The showdown started on Friday night with the New Taste of Texas kickoff event, featuring the best of the best Austin chefs as well as national chefs thrown into the mix. Lucinda Williams rocked the stage Texas-style while Paul Qui served up “strawberry fields” (fresh strawberries over an Asian-inspired spice mix) and Congress’ David Bull plated a French-style rabbit stew with peas and carrots, topped with a farm-fresh egg. “It’s high end, but it’s comfort food,” Bull said. Gabe Thompson of New York’s L’Artusi served pancetta with pickled vegetables and “a side of wind.” Meanwhile Tim Byers from Dallas’ Smoke impressed with whole smoked pigs. He chatted with us about his forthcoming cookbook and how he wants to “demystify the process of things people think they can’t do,” like smoking meat and jamming fruit.

Those in the know hit the road to Malverde for a margarita-filled afterparty from Food Republic. But the highlight of the night was the exclusive after-afterparty at Hotel St. Cecilia, where chefs like Sam Mason of WD-50 and Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar displayed bacon cakes and cake truffles under twinkling chandeliers hanging from tree branches. Andrew Zimmern’s smile was infectious as he gathered us to try Uchi’s molecular gastronomy–inspired dessert: a liquid graham cracker encased in chocolate, then dipped in liquid ice cream, served on a stick. “Fast, you have to eat it fast!” he cried as we popped them in our mouths.

But where were the hot spots for the unofficial Austin food tour? Uchiko and East Side King, of course, which were packed each night with chefs, editors, and fans.

Saturday and Sunday were filled with demonstrations from chefs like Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster Harlem and Christina Tosi (“Milk powder is the MSG of the baking world,” she told the crowd at her dessert demo) and a Texas-size grill-for-all from Lonesome Dove’s Tim Love, as well as a dangerously crowded grand tasting tent/farmers’ market. Salt & Time’s Bryan Butler was busy brûléeing lardo with Szechuan peppercorns. “You haven’t lived until you’ve tried back fat,” he said, detailing how the omega ratio in correctly raised pork is similar to that of salmon. Salt & Time’s charcuterie and butcher shop will open this summer, and they plan to have extended hours with small plates for dinner by the end of the year.

It was hard to beat Saturday evening’s Rock Your Taco Celebrity Chef Showdown, with Iron chef Masaharu Morimoto’s ahi tuna and guacamole “taco”; James Beard Award–winner Michelle Bernstein’s veal sweetbreads with cotija taco; and an ouzo-fired shrimp-and-potato taco from Top Chef Texas’ Sarah Grueneberg and Spiaggia’s Tony Mantuano. But whose was the best? Laymen and judges Zimmern, Gail Simmons, and Christina Grdovic agreed it was Tyson Cole’s pork jowl taco in a Mu-Shu “tortilla.”

Sunday wrapped up with more demonstrations and a few off-the-cuff tunes from Morimoto as he showed the audience how to prepare a whole red snapper and a host of other fish for sashimi, as well as how to shave both a radish and cucumber for garnish. Lessons from the masters as well as a Japanese song or two? I’d say that that’s a success.

· Austin Food & Wine Festival [Official]
· All Austin Food & Wine Festival Coverage on Eater [-EATX-]
· All Hangover Observations Coverage on Eater [-EATX-]

[Photos: Eric McGregor/EATX]

East Side King

1618 1/2 East 6th Street, Austin, TX 78702

Uchiko

4200 North Lamar Boulevard, , TX 78756 (512) 916-4808 Visit Website

Uchi

904 Westheimer Road, , TX 77006 (713) 522-4808 Visit Website

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