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The San Antonio Report: Culinaria Showcases A Food Scene On The Rise

[Images: Beth Thornton/EATX]

Last week, San Antonio's Culinaria organization threw their 15th annual festival. The five-day event included pairing dinners, food truck parties, a grand tasting, and a number of beverage classes and seminars, with all proceeds benefitting the San Antonio food community. Read on for the gossip and highlights from the festivities, which benefitted from both mild May weather and a burgeoning Alamo City food scene.

- Chef Jeff Balfour was chatting with guests at Saturday's event about his forthcoming brewpub project at The Pearl. Southerleigh will have a 15-barrel brewing system helmed by William Les Locke, formerly of Branchline Brewing. Balfour predicted a mid-fall opening for the project and mentioned that a California Common is slated to be one of the project's signature taps. San Antonio Magazine has more on the project.

- Jason Dady was ubiquitous at the festival, serving dishes from Umai Mi at Saturday's Grand Tasting, offering up stuffed jalapenos from Two Bros. BBQ at Sunday's Burgers, BBQ, and Beer event, and hosting the chef and VIP afterparty at Tre Downtown late on Saturday night. When asked about the party Sunday, Dady said: "The crowd was great! You never know at a food festival, but it was fun, mostly because the people that came were all ready to dance." Dady and his wife Crystal were on the makeshift dancefloor early and often at the event.

- Arcade's Jesse Perez expressed love and support for the Culinaria festival: "This festival has played an integral role in showcasing the talents of local and regional chefs with both novice and serious foodies. It removes San Antonio from the shadow of the predictable puffy taco and enchiladas!"

- Cured's Steve McHugh was serving slider-sized portions of his Blue Ribbon Burger (a bacon and beef blend with onion jam) Sunday, and also shared some details about new menu items in his kitchen. "We're buying whole cattle from Peeler Farms now!" said McHugh. "My kitchen gets annoyed because it takes up half the walk-in, but it's great. I think Larry McGuire and I are the only ones doing whole animals from them at the moment."

- The Brooklynite's Jeret Peña was easy to spot throughout the weekend, as he had a Travel Channel camera crew in tow. The channel had asked Peña to guide them on a "Top 10 Locals" tour for a forthcoming show. He was also excited about coming to Austin on the "Texas 35-10 Tour," which stops at Péché tonight from 5-8 p.m.

- Highlight dishes from Saturday night's Grand Tasting included a fantastic blood sausage dish from Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn. The sausage was paired with bok choy and a white wine vinegar, and was a consistent crowd favorite. Another top choice came from Geronimo Lopez at Nao, who served a slow-braised Caja China with yuca and plantain mofondo with garlic mojo.

- The burger dishes were strong at Sunday's Pearl event. Guest favorites included Arcade's Green Chile Chorizo Burger, Cured's "Blue Ribbon", and Q Restaurant's Smoked Brisket Burger with chipotle aioli.

- Former Contigo bartender Houston Eaves was serving up the Esquire Tavern's (Eaves' current gig) rock-solid Hudspeth River Ranch Lamb Slider with balsamic, caramelized onion, chevre, and hot Italian peppers to a lengthy line Sunday. To ease the pain of the queue, Eaves generously dispatched free cocktail cards for future Esquire visits.

- Saturday's wine selection at the grand tasting showed no shortage of big names. From the "Brangelina" Miraval Rosé to MacPhail's excellent "The Flyer" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, upscale selections were abundant. Some favorites from the evening also included a single vineyard Stonestreet Chardonnay from Jackson Family Wines and a Justin Isoceles Red.

- At Saturday's wine cocktails seminar, sommelier Steven Krueger and chef James Moore walked attendees through a progression of four cocktails utilizing Lillet, red wine, Moscato, and Port. The crowd's favorite was the "Sangiogria," a well-balanced mix of vodka, Duchman Sangiovese, Grand Marnier, lemon juice, and simple syrup.

- Other than some mild fussing about a craft beer shortage at Sunday's Pearl event, the crowds at Culinaria seemed very pleased with both the offerings and the atmosphere. The festival very much resembles the former Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, with a "pick what you like" list of single-ticket events and a mix of fancy and casual offerings. The Culinaria organization plans to use proceeds from the event for culinary scholarships, an upcoming urban farm project, and their "Chefs 4 Chefs" aid program.
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