The fifth Austin Food & Wine Festival came and went last weekend, while the rain and storms thankfully stayed away. Headlining chefs like Aaron Sanchez, Christina Tosi, Ming Tsai, Alon Shaya, the Bannos family, Amanda Freitag, Hugh Acheson, Ford Fry, Jonathan Waxman, and more flocked to the city, cooking, eating, and drinking alongsidealongside locally-loved chefs like Bryce Gilmore, Sonya Cote, Thai Changthong, Andrew Wiseheart, and many others.
The main event set up shop at Auditorium Shores, full of cooking demonstrations, small bites, great people-watching, and plentiful booze. The fire pits focused on Texas chefs. Bryce Gilmore and the Barley Swine/Odd Duck gang set up a fire pit playground of sorts. Turkeys were smoked via swings and the subsequent turkey sliders were presented on a plastic slide. Olamaie mashed up Austin’s two favorite items with miniature brisket biscuit sandwiches. Sonya Cote of Eden East filled wonton tacos with roasted pork and Andrew Wiseheart smoked up lambs.
Grand Taste dishes of note were from Amanda Rockman, who smartly served up fruity paletas on the muggy Saturday, the crab salad and cheese shortbread from San Antonio’s Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery, Vox Table, which dished out Cuban rolls, Peached Tortilla’s Sichuan noodles with crispy chicken skin, and quenching raspas from La Condesa. There were continuous long lines for The Blenditarian Grill, which served up larger-than-the-average-festival-bite mushroom-based burger burgers from Oasthouse Kitchen + Bar chef Amir Hajimaleki.
Bryce Gilmore’s turkey swing; Olamaie’s brisket biscuit sandwich; Andrew Wiseheart checking on those lamb legs. All photos by Robert J. Lerma/EATX
Chicago-based chef (James Beard nominee and Top Chef judge) Graham Elliot confessed to taking off his signature white framed glasses when he’s in airports, so he can indulge in some of his guilty pleasures (namely tacos, burgers, or grilled cheese sandwiches). Once he’s done, he joked that he puts them back on and grabs a green juice.
There was nearly a Ghost reenactment when celebrity potter, designer, and culinary collaborator Keith Kreeger taught Atlanta-based chef and restaurateur Ford Fry how to throw a bowl. Uchi/Uchiko’s Tyson Cole watched with amusement.
Milk Bar pastry genius Christina Tosi confessed it took two years to perfect the bakery’s signature vanilla birthday cake icing. She also dreams of someday breaking wrestler and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s no-dessert diet.
Tosi happens to be a big fan of Snow’s Barbecue. “There is something about the pursuit of barbecue in the middle of nowhere at eight o’clock in the morning,” she said of its Saturday hours. Whenever she’s in Lexington, she geeks out over pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz: “I totally fangirl out on her and he is probably like, who is this crazy girl drinking soda, eating barbecue, and watching me.”
Elsewhere, the rest of Texas discovered what Austin knew already: Salt & Time's Bryan Butler was named the best butcher of the state after a butchering competition hosted by Beef Loving Texans.
Los Angeles French chef Ludo Lefebvre demonstrated his crepe preparation, and then decided to make an omelette. He messed up that up because he was making a masturbation joke. He also signed someone’s jean-clad rear end, because why not?
New Orleans chef Alon Shaya described tahini as the “peanut butter of the Middle East.” The food festival afforded him his first proper Austin visit, so of course he had to hit up Franklin Barbecue, which he loved. “When you dig in and see what goes on behind getting it to the platter,” he explained, “you can tell that it is a special thing.”
Johnny Sánchez chef and future Masterchef judge Aarón Sánchez named New Orleans the best food city in America, “because everybody’s mama is a good cook.” He added, “From a foundational level, you’re always surrounded by tasty, delicious food, you go out to seek that.” He is a fan of Austin, because it’s “a great barometer of new talent” by “bring[ing] up new chefs and highlight[ing] their skills.”
As per usual, Texas chef Tim Love taught two lively profanity-laden grilling class while taking non-stop swigs from bottles of tequila and wine. Each day’s lessons finished with a game of shot roulette. He kept crashing other people’s demos, and, as is his Austin Food & Wine tradition, he danced, signed people’s arms, and poured booze into people’s cups and mouths at the end of each day.
Amanda Freitag; the line for Sonya Cote’s fire pit; attendees eating; Easy Tiger’s raisin rolls. All photos by Robert J. Lerma/EATX
This year featured a new location for the noted evening events. The renamed Lone Star Nights, and the ever-popular Rock Your Taco competition both moved to Fair Market on the East Side, and it didn’t feel as crowded as years before. Lines never got impossibly long and everyone came away with food.
The former featured many Texas-forever chefs with bites like the ricotta cascarelli from Kevin Fink (Emmer & Rye), the refreshing layered ceviche with a mini-pipette of leche de tigre from Diego Galicia and Rico Torres (Mixtli), and the tender honey jalapeno lamp pops from Louie Mueller BBQ. Notably, there weren’t any dessert offerings available.
Saturday’s Rock Your Taco crowd seemed larger that Friday night’s event. The judging panel consisted of Elliot, Nilou Motamed (editor-in-chief of Food & Wine), musician Shakey Graves (he crashed Sanchez’s demo the following day), and a random woman who won the opportunity to judge in a festival contest. Austin’s own Cole was named the winner with his crispy taco filled with smoked masu, Asian pear, yuzo kosho (a Japanese seasoning), and ramp. He has won the taco competition three times so far now.
Other tacos included Lefebvre’s Tacodeli-inspired one filled with mashed potatoes. Tosi did up a dessert taco with all sorts of textures: a corn take “tortilla” topped with strawberries, hazelnut crunch, strawberry whipped cream, and freeze dried corn kernels. Shaya’s taco came with pastrami and preserved mango labneh. Boston chef Ming Tsai decided to not make a taco, and instead whipped up nachos.
Georgia chef Hugh Acheson was envious of Austinites, calling us “spoiled rotten” because of the bounty of great restaurants in the city.
Lone Star Nights: Mixtli’s ceviche; the scene outside Fair Market; Ford Fry’s bite with octopus; so much food. All photos by Roger Ho.
Rock Your Taco: People posing with Jonathan Waxman at Rock Your Taco; Christina Tosi’s cake “taco;” Ludo Lefebvre’s Tacodeli-inspired taco, Lefebvre slicing his taco in half;. All photos by Charles Reagan except Lefebvre slicing taco by Nadia Chaudhury/EATX and Cole by Roger Ho.
Aarón Sánchez was actually going to open a restaurant in Austin, as part of Urban Outfitters' Space 24 Twenty on the Drag — “we were very close” — but it didn’t work out. (Marc Vetri’s pizza spot Pizzeria Vetri ended up going into the space, but it closed suddenly earlier this year). He does want to open an Austin location eventually. “I think my food would be really well-received here,” he said, “it is just timing and location and making sure I can dedicate enough time to being here.”
Christina Tosi is seriously looking at an Austin location of Milk Bar. She already has an affinity for the city and actually looked at properties around town for a potential location. “We believe in dessert for the people,” she said, “and the more we can do that in towns and cities we want to hang out in, also the better,” with Austin being one of those places. “It isn’t a pipe dream, it is just a matter of when.”
Where the Chefs Ate in Austin
Aaron Sanchez: Kuneho
Alon Shaya: La Condesa, Uchiko, Emmer & Rye, Franklin Barbecue (see his description above), Justine’s Brasserie
Amanda Freitag: Justine’s Brasserie
Christina Tosi: Snow’s Barbecue (see her description above), Micklethwait Craft Meats
Ford Fry: Kemuri Tatsu-ya
Hugh Acheson: Uchiko, Houndstooth, Veracruz All Natural, La Barbecue
Jonathan Waxman: Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon, June’s
Matt Bolus: Terry Black’s Barbecue, Emmer & Rye, La Barbecue
Ming Tsai: Clark’s Oyster Bar, Kemuri Tatsu-ya (with Ludo Lefebvre)