The Austin Food & Wine Festival took place again the weekend of April 28 for the seventh time, bringing some of the country’s best chefs — like Lidia Bastianich, Stephanie Izard, and Rodney Scott — alongside beloved local names like Andrew Wiseheart, Evan LeRoy, and Sonya Cote, to Auditorium Shores for food, drink, and general festivities.
People agreed that the food festival seemed quieter this year. There was a nice emphasis on female chefs at the cooking demo tents (Lidia Bastianich, Cassidee Dabney, Stephanie Izard, Nyesha Arrington). Missing elsewhere were the usual chefs, like Graham Elliott and Jonathan Waxman.
Of the auxiliary events, Tim Love’s giant grilling party was pulled out of the regular festival schedule and took place the day before instead. Gone was the Lone Star Nights event (which focused on Texas fare), but the Rock Your Taco competition remained.
A big complaint: there wasn’t enough food. The chefs and restaurants participating in the Grand Taste were split up by day, which means there were only 20 vendors per day. People estimated that it was something around 20 percent food, 80 percent liquor and wine. On Saturday, most stalls ran out of food by 1:30 p.m.
The fire pits took on a new layout this year as well. Instead of spread throughout the festival grounds, all fire pit chefs cooked in one centralized location, making use of various flame-focused equipment. Guests were able to grab their bites from the day’s chefs from one stall. People were treated to unlisted treats from unexpected chefs, like Jamie Bissonnette’s paella. Contigo smoked up sausages but noted that the two chickens on its rack weren’t theirs. They think they were placed for decoration.
The entry line at 11 a.m. on Saturday was quite long. While waiting, one man was overheard saying to his friends, “I think most people come to see the Food Network demonstrations, and then there are people like us that come to get fucked up.” They proceeded to run the math on how much they needed to drink to make tickets worth it ($250 for just the food festival).
Chefs generally seemed quite thoughtful about cooking light at the fest: ceviches, crudos, gazpachos, and grain salads were all popular choices for the Grand Taste.
San Antonio chef Jason Dady announced his first Austin restaurant, Chispas. The casual bar focused on tacos, margaritas, and other drinks and snacks will take over Fado’s old space on West 4th Street. It’s set to open sometime in the fall.
Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew previewed its gumbo during the Grand Taste, alongside slices of brisket. At some point, it ran out of barbecue sauce, so pitmaster Lance Kirkpatrick and chef Barclay Stratton decided to pour gumbo on top of the brisket.
Noted vegan bakery Skull and Cakebones showcased a notably savory dish of cornmeal grits and vegan bacon on top of sourdough bread.
Building on the success of Barbecue Wife Bloody Mary mix, Catherine Stiles (of Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew) debuted a Smoked Honey Margarita mix that drew some long lines. The mix should arrive in stores early this summer. She garnished Bloody Marys with smoked pickled sausages from pitmaster Christopher McGee who’ll round out the team at Stiles’ forthcoming restaurant The Switch.
Former ELM beverage director Craig Collins hosted a morning champagne seminar to his own fan club: Drew and Mary Catherine Curren (ELM Restaurant Group), Mark Sayre (McGuire Moorman Hospitality), and Devon Broglie (Whole Foods) all tasted along with Collins, who poured spendy selections like Champagne Philipponnat Brut Rosé, Gosset Champagne Celebris 2002, and Bollinger La Grande Annee 2007 for the audience.
Among many brand activations in the park, one stood out: blended Scotch Monkey Shoulder brought a modified cement mixer that was used as an enormous cocktail shaker. It was, predictably, a popular photo op for guests. Plus there were pina coladas.
Paso Robles winemaker Austin Hope and his wife Celeste celebrated recent 97-point Wine Enthusiast accolades for its Cabernet Sauvignon by pouring generously from magnums of the wine for guests in the tents.
As part of an ongoing Austin campaign, Washington Wines were quite present at the festival, with higher-end bottlings from Sixto, DeLille, and Novelty Hill standing out amongst the selections.
Master sommelier and Whole Foods Market’s global beverage buyer Devon Broglie showed up to his breakfast wine panel seemingly straight out of bed wearing a robe. His partner questioned his choice to not shave, and he replied, “I’m going to a panel on day drinking. I think it’s okay.”
Broglie: “What do I eat when I’m drinking Lambrusco in the morning? Donuts! I love coffee and donuts but I really love Lambrusco and donuts.”
Broglie: “I call riesling ‘sommelier Gatorade.’”
One breakfast wine attendee came into the tasting tent, drank all of the wines in 30 minutes, and promptly left.
Actor Scott Eastwood was spotted at the festival grounds on Saturday, as well as Rock Your Taco.
Saturday evening, Fair Market was host to Rock Your Taco, where participating chefs whipped up their best tacos for the competition. The lines for chef Nyesha Arrington’s tacos (braised lamb belly) were very long (the chef and her staff could be seen dancing along to Snoop Dog’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which was playing in their prep area).
While Tyson Cole didn’t win Rock Your Taco again (it would’ve been his fourth; he offered brisket from his other restaurant Loro). The Austin chef was dethroned by Bissonette’s Thai pork sausage one.
Overheard at the Rock Your Taco competition: “Way too many tacos. Way too many,” presumably said by a quitter.
Other fun tacos included Kemuri/Ramen Tatsu-ya’s tako taco with ground octopus chorizo in a crispy corn shell (chef Tatsu Aikawa said he has a soft spot for “crappy” hard tacos). Mixtli’s smoked swordfish was placed on a slice of jicama which served as the taco. Dady’s carne asada tacos contained cheese enchiladas.
On why there weren’t any full-bodied red wines at Helen Johannesen’s wine tasting: “It’s goddamn 80 degrees outside, you gotta be strategic.” (She’s the owner of wine shop Helen’s Wines in Los Angeles, wine director and partner of Los Angeles restaurants John & Vinny’s)
She also offered this gem at her panel, Biodynamic Pony Ride: “Today, I wore my Adidas sandals, I was wearing heels yesterday, but I was like, ‘I want to prance like the pony I am.’”
Where the chefs ate: New York pitmaster Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que went on a Texas barbecue tour, hitting up Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, LeRoy & Lewis, Franklin Barbecue, Louie Mueller Barbecue, and Snow’s BBQ. Bissonnette hit up Launderette and Olamaie. Ray Garcia visited Fairmont’s Garrison. Mixtli’s pop-up dinner at Emmer & Rye hosted a bunch of Austin Food & Wine chefs, including Bissonette and Amanda Freitag. While not for food, Freitag also visited Hausbar Urban Farm.