Hot Luck Festival, the food and music extravaganza from pitmaster Aaron Franklin, Mohawk’s James Moody, and Feast Portland’s Mike Thelin, took place for the second time ever in Austin this Memorial Weekend. The giant party brought together big national chefs (Sam Jones, Ashley Christensen, Ivan Orkin), gathered the best of local chefs (Tyson Cole, Sarah McIntosh, Callie Speer, Andrew Wiseheart) for an all-out actually fun food, drink, and music party, despite the hot, hot weather.
Unofficially kicking off the festival was a dinner with Toronto chef Matty Matheson, host chef Wiseheart, and Franklin at Contigo on Wednesday evening. On deck was lamb doner from Matheson, brisket/sausage from Franklin (served by the pitmaster himself), along with chicken, sides, and strawberry shortcake from Contigo.
A dinner guest recounted her first Franklin Barbecue visit during its trailer days, and, instead of getting brisket, she chose a Frito pie.
During the Franklin Barbecue backyard party, Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn whipped up smoked and grilled pork steak sandwiches topped with dill pickle and onion jelly from Confituras and buns from Easy Tiger.
Franklin’s in-laws kindly shared a beef rib they snagged. When asked if they had to wait in line, his father-in-law said, When Aaron’s with your daughter, “you don’t have to wait in line.”
The chefs cooking up at Night Court took the 1980s mall food court theme to heart. One of the most popular dishes was Dallas chef John Tesar’s Ozersky burger, his food tribute to the late food writer Josh Ozersky, made with 120-day dry-aged meat.
Chefs dressed up for the occasion. Boiler Nine’s Jason Stude donned a bandana and dangly earring, Launderette’s Laura Sawicki was decked out in a movie theater outfit, and a staffer at Theodore Rex chef Justin Yu’s stall went all out in an actual hot dog costume.
Legendary political haunt Cisco’s turned into a late night taco party with bites from New York taco chef Alex Stupak and taco expert Alejandro Escalante. The La Tacopedia author served up very popular tostadas with crispy grasshoppers and guacamole, along with asado de puerco. The Empellon chef took a meatier approach with his tacos, dishing out very thick bacon ones and pastrami ones.
Working the tortilla stations was the team behind Austin Mexican restaurant Suerte, including owner Sam Hellman-Mass.
Trying to get into the Cisco’s party was a man wearing a particularly gaudy red-and-white jacket with President Donald Trump’s face on it. He did not make it inside, but an attendee joked about passing him a grasshopper tostada.
The sun was in full blast during what is considered Hot Luck’s marquee event, the Al Fuego.
Major food winners: Hometown Bar-B-Que Billy Durney’s smoked spam burgers with cheese, mustard, and pickles; North Carolina chef Ashley Christensen’s smoked pork puffy taco with pimento cheese queso and pickled collard and field pea pico; Walrus & Carpenter chef Renee Erickson’s Seattle beef hot dog topped with cream cheese and ikura; Suerte chef Fermin Nunez’s goat carnitas tacos; L’Oca d’Oro Fiore Tedesco’s porchetta sandwich; and the particularly refreshing bite from Uchi’s Tyson Cole: tuna with watermelon.
Another spot with long lines was for grilled oysters from Central Standard chef Casey Wilcox. He welded his own grill that holds up to 100 oysters at once.
Multiple people agreed that the brunch-centric Coupe de Grill event on Sunday had the best food of the weekend.
Since the event took place at the Austin Speed Shop, which meant attendees were surrounded by classic cars. Franklin even brought along and posed with his vintage Ford truck, which is getting its engine rebuilt at the shop.
Portland chef Peter Cho got hurt during a golf cart accident during Al Fuego, so he wasn’t able to cook at the brunch event on Sunday. Mixtli chefs Rico Torres and Diego Galicia paid tribute to him with their Peter Cho-laquiles, made with Korean-braised short ribs. The sign noted the hashtags #WheresPeter and #Ouch.
Emmer & Rye’s Kevin Fink made killer migas tacos, but when he ran out of tortillas, he pivoted to migas nachos.
Olamaie’s Michael Fojtasek made cinnamon rolls cinnamon rolls made with biscuit dough. Olympia Provisions included a charcuterie spread meant to be wrapped up in brat and cornmeal crepes.
Little Brother, the forthcoming Rainey Street coffee shop and bar from the Wright Bros. Brew & Brew/Better Half team, brewed up coffee during Al Fuego and Coupe de Grille. Those who could best the baristas at a game of dice were able to receive a shot of whiskey too.
Among the closing concerts of the weekend was musician/producer/food enthusiast Questlove’s DJ set. The show snacks were courtesy of chef Kristen Kish, who previewed hot chicken steamed buns from her soon-to-open restaurant Arlo Grey (as part of the Line ATX Hotel’s lineup).
Upstairs, modern Chinese restaurant Wu Chow served up food to Hot Luck attendees, which included soup dumplings.
Many chefs, including Erickson and Mattheson stopped by Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ’s Manchaca, Texas trailer for breakfast.