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SXSW 2019: What You Missed From the Austin Festival

A stellar potluck hosted by David Chang, Milk Bar cookies everywhere, and a surprise fancy dinner from … HEB

Chef Diep Tran with David Chang at the Uber Eats potluck dinner
Chef Diep Tran with David Chang at the Uber Eats potluck dinner
Uber Eats [Official]

South by Southwest 2019 is now over, and while the festival still isn’t as all-out crazy as years before, this time, it felt manageable and spread out. Chefs and industry experts took the opportunity to address larger food world issues, like sustainability and food waste. And, because it’s SXSW, chefs, restaurants, and brands took the opportunity to promote themselves, whether it was announcing new openings (hello, Uchi in Miami), teasing a reveal through a mysterious fancy dinner, spreading the joy that is Milk Bar cookies, or stunts, like Torchy’s Tacos’ taco-drops.

This year, SXSW featured way more confluence between the conference’s different segments, like how food delivery service Uber Eats hosted concerts with food during the music portions (plus it even wrangled David Chang into throwing a fun potluck dinner with notable female chefs).

With that, here are Eater’s SXSW hangover observations for 2019. If you missed out on the festival’s food programming panels during the SouthBites track, Eater has it covered elsewhere.

— The mysterious ITK Restaurant Group hosted a dinner at the exclusive Hotel Saint Cecilia on the first night of SXSW. Guests were served elaborate courses like caramelized vegetable brodo and prime beef tenderloin. Before the dessert course, the hosts revealed that “ITK” stood for In the Kitchen, the cooking video series from Texas grocery store chain HEB, and all courses were prepared by HEB chefs.

— Chef David Chang hosted a surprise potluck dinner at SXSW as part of the Uber Eats house. The sit-down dinner incorporated both family-style dishes and stations (to encourage interaction with the chefs). On deck were North Carolina’s Ashley Christensen, Deb Keetch of Chang’s own Los Angeles restaurant Majordomo, Los Angeles chef Diep Tran (who shuttered her Vietnamese-American diner Good Girl Dinette last year), Chicago chef Iliana Regan, and Los Angeles chef Jessica Koslow of Sqirl. The all-female lineup wasn’t intentional, according to Chang.

“SXSW is one of my favorite events to do in the world,” Chang said as he introduced the dinner.

Dishes included hearty red-eye field peas from Christensen, short rib ssam carved on the spot from Keetch, caramelized catfish from Train, acorn gnocchi from Regan, and crispy rice salad from Koslow. The meal ended with scoops of Mexican vanilla ice cream from Austin frozen sweets company Amy’s.

Participating chefs of David Chang’s potluck dinner
Participating chefs of David Chang’s potluck dinner
Uber Eats [Official]
Making Deb Keetch’s short ribs
Making Deb Keetch’s short ribs
Uber Eats [Official]
Jessica Koslow’s wedge salad
Jessica Koslow’s wedge salad
Uber Eats [Official]

— One of the hottest invites of the week was to a private dinner at Franklin Barbecue featuring a discussion between Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole of Uchi/Hai Hospitality, led by Austin advertising agency T3 president Ben Gaddis. Before the feast, the chefs discussed the challenges of running a restaurant, broke news about a forthcoming Uchi set for Miami, and revealed their favorite dishes from the chefs’ collaborative Austin restaurant Loro (Franklin loves the chicken karaage and bavette steak, while Cole prefers the smoked salmon and rice bowls).

— Los Angeles chef Roy Choi talked about hip-hop and barbecue with writer Philip Weiss and surprise guest Franklin at Uber Eats’ space on West 4th Street.

Three Scandinavian chefs — Kamilla Seidler, Paul Svensson, and Atli Màr Yngvason — teamed up for a pop-up restaurant Lokal at downtown food hall Fareground. Swedish chef Svensson had the favorite dish of the night: a “Swedish Skog:” a dairy pine parfait with a birch granita, juniper meringue, and chestnut mushrooms.

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark with Danish chef  Kamilla Seidler
Crown Princess Mary of Denmark with Danish chef Kamilla Seidler
Nadia Chaudhury/EATX

— During a lunch event held with Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Danish chef Seidler announced that she is opening her own restaurant in Copenhagen called Lola, sometime this year.

Seidler left Bolivian restaurant Gusto (which she opened as part of a challenge from Noma co-founder Claus Meyer) last year. It was there that she was named Latin America’s Best Female Chef in 2016 by The World’s Best 50 Restaurants. Of that award, she said, “As long as we have to call an award a ‘female award,’ there’s already a problem.”

— The Barebones at Ardor Woods Farm was a favorite SouthBites event. The meal cooked by the husband-and-wife chef team Mona Johnson and Jaret Foster (the latter teared up when he talking about his wife) was a unique take on barbecue favorites, like a coleslaw with Napa cabbage and jicama, blue corn hominy grits, and barbacoa.

— Each of the James Beard Foundation/SouthBites dinners at Austin farm and restaurant Eden East incorporated different themes. During the “Waste Not Dinner,” host chef Sonya Cote concocted baby artichokes topped with creamed spinach, wild onion seeds, dill, and toasted pecans. Guests were encouraged to discard the hard petals into the chicken coops. Houston chef Justin Yu used whey from the dessert-course ricotta for his Carolina gold rice dish, which also included crispy chicken skins and tails. Olamaie chef Michael Fojtasek gathered pork chop and country ham trimmings from the restaurant for his pork sausage.

The filled-baby artichokes from Sonya Cote at one of the James Beard/SouthBites dinners
The filled-baby artichokes from Sonya Cote at one of the James Beard/SouthBites dinners
Nadia Chaudhury/EATX

— During Suerte owner Sam Hellman-Mass’ panel on how to convince people to care about restaurants, MasterChef winner Christine Ha asked for advice on opening a restaurant, which she is, in Houston. She also had reservations at the Mexican-inspired restaurant that evening.

— The reason pitmaster Franklin moved to the city was because he went to a concert at famed music venue Liberty Lunch and strangers offered him both marijuana and a beer run, which he thought was very nice. (He did not partake.)

— Shortly after Franklin opened Franklin Barbecue, the late essential food writer Virginia Wood, who was the food editor of the Chronicle, wrote him to say that restaurant, which had no sign and a chain link fence, needed improvement.

A cookie from Milk Bar during SXSW
A cookie from Milk Bar during SXSW
Nadia Chaudhury/EATX

Milk Bar cookies were everywhere this SXSW: Christina Tosi offered the sweets during her SXSW panel, there were cookies and a cookie vending machine at the Fast Company Grill, and sweets (including birthday cake and chocolate malt truffles) at one of the Uber Eats shows.

— Certain audience members who happened at the screening of work-in-progress film Stuber with actor Kumail Nanjiani and professional wrestler Dave Bautista were gifted free movie snacks (the movie involves an Uber driver).

Rachael Ray’s Feedback was crowded as usual, though there was a brief period of time where there was no line to get into the Stubb’s space. The breakfast tacos were actually good too.

— Uber Eats set up a to-go food window on East 6th Street during the festival, where rotating Austin restaurants offered up set dishes. Those participants had to churn out 1,000 orders of their dishes, like Peached Tortilla’s pad Thai tacos and dan dan noodles and Tamale House East’s migas tacos.

— Wisconsin Cheese put on another fantastic cheese-filled exhibit, with over 3,000 pounds of cheese, a woman in a champagne dress and hat made of real cheese, and tiny backpacks filled with to-go cheese.

The Ferris wheel of cheese at Cheeselandia
The Ferris wheel of cheese at Cheeselandia
Courtney Pierce/EATX
So much cheese at Cheeselandia
So much cheese at Cheeselandia
Courtney Pierce/EATX

— Fader Fort offered up alcohol-free CBD drinks. The beverages were made with flavored CBD drops from Select. The lavender CBD drop was paired with Vitamin and the lemon-ginger one with ginger ale soda.

— Celebrity sightings: Padma Lakshmi at Pueblo Viejo and Arlo Grey (since, ya know, the Top Chef connection); Dominique Crenn at Uchi; CNN anchor Jake Tapper at Franklin Barbecue (though he did get the name of the restaurant wrong); Nick Kroll and Seth Rogen at Veracruz All Natural; David Byrne at Veracruz All Natural; Kroll, Natasha Lyonne, and Alexi Pappas at La Barbecue; founder of American rock band MC5 Wayne Kramer at Via 313; Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer at Hotel Saint Cecilia; Andrew Zimmern and Phil Rosenthal at Uchiko; Roy Choi and hip-hop producer Dan the Automator at Wu Chow.

— Austin-based chain Torchy’s Tacos literally dropped tacos from buildings throughout Austin on Monday, using, yes, food parachutes from a floating-food company (such a thing actually exists) Jafflechutes. When asked about leftover tacos on the ground, a rep said that they didn’t find any.

Torchy’s Tacos’ taco drops
Torchy’s Tacos’ taco drops
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Torchy’s Tacos

DoorDash’s SXSW event with Torchy’s Tacos proved popular, as each attendee received two full tacos, plus chips and queso. Singer Cee Lo Green was a surprise musical guest one evening

— When asked about family meals at their restaurants during a panel with Austin chefs at the Copernicus Project, Bryce Gilmore said that “it’s all the cooks on their phones,” while Fojtasek said that they “don’t talk about work.”

— During the same panel, Fojtasek and Laura Sawicki said that their mothers send feedback to them after dining at their respective restaurants (Olamaie, Launderette) and whether “it lives up to their expectations.”

— Callie Speer, the chef behind Austin restaurant Holy Roller, baked a birthday cake for Houston rapper Bun B, which he received during a SXSW show.

— Rapper/singer/songwriter Lizzo posted a video of herself dancing in the parking lot of Tex-Mex restaurant chain Chuy’s.

— Overheard at Uber Eats/vegan eatery By Chloe/pop and R&B singer Billie Eilish concert: “I think I’m vegan now.”

— Actor Eric Wareheim showed off his array of juicy Las Jaras wines paired with a menu of heavenly burgers and fries served with caviar from KronnerBurger chef Chris Kronner. Among those in attendance were Gelateria Gemelli’s Andrew Sabola, Taylor Chambers of Justine’s, and Franklin. The dinner took place at local cookware company Made In’s east Austin office, but the afterparty was at Eater Austin’s restaurant of the year Better Half.

— Chef/television host/restaurateur Andrew Zimmern hosted a private dinner with the James Beard Foundation and SouthBites focused on aquaculture, which he talked about during a SXSW session. Also featured were Austin chefs Sonya Cote (it was also held at Eden East), Rene Ortiz (Launderette), Cole, Nicholas Yanes (Juniper), and Philip Speer (forthcoming Comedor), as well as Portland’s Jenn Louis and Milwaukee’s Paul Bartolotta. One of the attendees included Franklin.

— On Thursday at Willie Nelson’s festival-outside-the-festival Luck Reunion, the Austin Food & Wine Alliance curated a food court of area favorites. Pieous, The Switch, Second Bar + Kitchen, LeRoy & Lewis, Garbo’s, and Kebabalicious were among the local offerings. Pieous went with its classic pizzas and pastrami, while the Switch opted for specials of brisket and sausage gumbo on a bed of potato salad, and Second Bar + Kitchen did heavy appetizer portions like guacamole nachos and its stalwart blistered shishito peppers. LeRoy and Lewis did a chili frito pie and local Wagyu brisket. Austin Eastciders also joined the event with free cans of cider for concertgoers.

— Also at Luck, Austin icon Willie Nelson unveiled Willie’s Remedy, a new whole bean coffee infused with Colorado hemp extract. The brand’s marketing materials promise “a balancing effect to coffee’s natural lift.” The coffee itself is a medium-dark roast from Colombia’s Santuario region.

— Tosi was actually inspired by Central Market’s baking classes to start her own classes at Milk Bar. She noted in her panel: “I’m obsessed with HEB.”

— During Beastie Boys’ members Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond’s SXSW keynote, the topic of food came up quite a bit. When asked for an Austin memory, they recalled a 2006 trip where Ad Rock made a long drive out to get barbecue, but didn’t really enjoy it. (The restaurant was left unnamed.) The band also dined at Lucy’s Fried Chicken on Thursday evening, which they endorsed, and mentioned snapping a number of photos with fans after their meal.

— At East Austin bar Last Straw on Tuesday, Santa Barbara winemaker Dave Potter poured his Muni and Potek wines on the patio for festival-goers, having sent an email out the weekend to friends and fans in the area. “I liked the idea of coming to Austin for all the SX talks, but the lines and number of people were a surprise.”

— Another food company that was everywhere: Austin’s very own Juice Society, from sample-size bottles from short video media app TikTok to bottles at Lululemon’s Rainey Street setup.

— The afterparty for film Extra Ordinary, staring Will Forte and Maeve Higgins featured realistic detached finger cookies from Austin custom cookie shop Kellie’s Baking Co. with Fons PR.

The finger cookies for Extra Ordinary from Kellie’s Bakery
The finger cookies for Extra Ordinary from Kellie’s Bakery
Courtney Pierce/EATX

— South Lamar spot Carpenter’s Hotel and Bon Appetit held a free pizza party to celebrate the publication’s upcoming television series, Making Perfect. The magazine’s deputy editor Julia Kramer hosted a panel with the Test Kitchen hosts on recipe development. BA’s Carla Lalli Music said, “I got local food recommendations from almost everyone I talked to, which I appreciated, since the one thing you can’t get in New York City is good Tex-Mex.”

— Events seemed to have embraced the ease of serving Frito pie in said-bags of chips, from Capital One to Snapchat.

— The Australia House on Rainey Street offered both sausages wrapped in sliced bread and chef Dominique Crenn’s only outside-of-SXSW-proper appearance, during a panel with Somebody Feed Phil host Phil Rosenthal and Australian chef Jock Zonfrillo. Plus there were jars filled with packages of Australian chocolate biscuit Tim Tams.

— Colombian reggaeton singer J. Balvin created his own cocktail as part of his performance at the Native Hostel as part of the Uforia House. The drink, called La Familia, was made with 12-year-old whiskey, guava and lemon juices, simple syrup, sparkling wine or soda, and cubed ice, garnish with either guava and/or a slice of lemon.

With additional reporting by Tom Thornton, Dan Gentile, and Nathan Mattise.

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