The Austin Food & Wine Festival came and went this past weekend (Sunday to Saturday, April 27 to 28) for the eighth time, bringing food, drinks, cooking demonstrations, and tacos from some of the country’s and Texas’s best chefs to Auditorium Shores. There was Los Angeles chef Nancy Silverton, Chicago chef Sarah Grueneberg, and New Orleans chef Aarón Sánchez, along with local names like Contigo’s Andrew Wiseheart, Dee Dee’s Lakana Sopajan-Trubiana, Suerte’s Fermín Núñez, and Eden East’s Sonya Cote, among others.
This year’s festival didn’t have any big restaurant announcements (last year, San Antonio chef Jason Dady revealed his first Austin restaurant). Restaurants and chefs took it easier, talking and hanging out while experimenting with dishes.
Austin restaurant Contigo’s catering branch ran this year’s fire pits, which remained in a centralized location with all sorts of grills and smokers and a DJ. Along with showcasing rotating bites from chef Andrew Wiseheart, executive chef Freddy Diaz, and sous chef Joseph Sukhendra, the restaurant wrangled a team of all-star Austin restaurants as well.
Saturday’s fire pit included Better Half chef Rich Reimbolt, which grilled up skewers of royal trumpet mushrooms, chicken thighs, pearl onions, and five-spice veal taré. Then there was Davis Turner of catering company Huckleberry Hospitality, who made a seafood paella.
People actually came into the fire pits to pick off meat from the fish on the grill with their bare hands, which they weren’t allowed to do.
The Contigo Catering serving staff were in great spirits, dancing as they were prepping and plating bites.
Also seen around the firepits on Sunday was former football player-turned-cook Kasey Studdard, who had been with barbecue truck Whitfield’s which seemed to have shuttered without any real notice. He was dubbed as a special guest of the fire pit, along with Coach Hand.
Someone wandering around in the the fire pit area asked another person whether that was a pig splayed out on one of the grills (it obviously was).
Forthcoming East Austin restaurant Nixta Taqueria was overheard telling visitors the new place should open in June. Chef Edgar Rico’s taco, which was filled with black bean cooked with duck fat and anejo enchilado queso, was popular with attendees.
Lenoir’s Thomas Calhoun and Todd Duplechan presumably previewed a bite from the forthcoming Portuguese-Goan restaurant Vixen’s Wedding at the Arrive Hotel. The result was an excellent pani puri (crisp puff) filled with Goan pork vindaloo, coriander chutney, and herbs.
Best bites at the festival: Dee Dee’s simple the pad kaprow nua, with top sirloin and holy basil sauteed in chili paste atop rice, Fixe’s chilled pea salad with duck confit and burrata, Botika’s scallop cebiche with sweet potato puree, San Antonio brewery and restaurant Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery’s crawfish rolls with spicy butter dipping sauces, Hopfields’ escargot dumplings,
Chinese restaurant Lin Asian Bar went all out by offering three bites: crispy potato shrimp balls, beef with foie gras, and the sweet honeycomb cheesecake.
Overheard on the Lin Asian line: “I didn’t see the soup dumplings, but this is the place that does the soup dumplings.”
Overheard on the Southerleigh line: Person one: “I’ve never had crawfish before;” person two: “I guess it’s a Southern thing?”
On Sunday, Apis ran out of its dish, buttermilk biscuits topped with wild pig salumi gravy and fermented radish slaw, within two hours of opening.
Lots of vendors were wearing flower crowns designed on-the-spot by Austin shop Gypsy Floral (including Diane Valera of Tamale House East).
The chefs at Tamale House East made sure to tell people to take the husk off the chicken mole tamale.
Long lines: LeRoy & Lewis, Southerleigh, Chispas, Lin Asian Bar, Louis Mueller Barbecue, Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, Lenoir, Easy Tiger, Botika, Emojis Grilled Cheese Bar. The fire pit lines were consistently long throughout the weekend, even though people didn’t necessarily know what dish they were waiting for.
When asked whether San Antonio or Austin had better tacos, celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez said he liked San Antonio’s puffy tacos, but that “Austin has some badass chefs,” calling out Franklin Barbecue and Valentine’s Tex Mex BBQ. He also mentioned he and his team are studying the Austin market.
During a seminar on non-Champagne sparkling wines Sunday, guests gave master sommelier June Rodil a (good-natured) ribbing about decamping to Houston for her new role with Goodnight Hospitality. She took it in stride, mentioning her continued stake in June’s All Day and waving her iPhone, saying “this stays 512 always,” referring to Austin’s area code.
Noble Sandwich Co.’s John Bates reported robust early business for his new barbecue restaurant Interstellar BBQ (which took over the Ranch Road 620 location formerly occupied by his Noble Sandwich) and his lamb dish served at the festival was a sneak preview of a forthcoming once-a-week weekend special.
Celebrity chef Carla Hall attended the festival as part of beauty brand Hair Food, where she created chai banana pudding with vanilla shortbread, inspired by ingredients from the company’s shampoos, conditioners, etc. She took many photos with fans.
Foreign & Domestic chef Sarah Heard offered a similar bite to last year’s because she wanted to make something quick, easy, and simple since it’s a food festival. She went with a pork rillette with pickled mustard seed on focaccia.
The larger wine seminars remain a popular favorite, to the point that festival organizers handed out cards to those waiting in line to prevent last-minute line cuts.
Lick Ice Cream paired up with Guinness to make beer floats (available with vanilla and Guinness ice cream).
Gati, the upcoming vegan ice cream shop from Thai Fresh owner Jam Santichat previewed some of its coconut milk-based frozen sweets — pandan, Thai coffee, and lavender lemonade — as well as was selling retail pints of said ice creams for those who were presumably going home ASAP after the festival since it was hot out. The shop is pegged to open in the summer.
The winner of the annual evening Rock Your Taco competition was chef Andrew Zimmern, who put cured salmon onto Native American staple frybread and doused it in wild paddlefish caviar sourced from Oklahoma.
Other notable tacos included scallop ceviche tostada from Nancy Silverton, pork belly and crispy rice tacos from Chris Shepherd and Nick Wong of Houston restaurant UB Preserv, curry barbacoa tacos on Oaxacan green tortillas from Kemuri Tatsu-ya/Domo Alley-Gato, and short rib carnitas from Suerte.
Catherine Stiles of Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew and Bloody Mary mix company Barbecue Wife whipped up the brunch staple on Sunday, garnished with pepperoni pizza sausage slices from the Switch pitmaster Christopher McGhee and spicy green beans from condiment company Willigan’s Island pickled spicy green beans.
Austin-based master sommelier Craig Collins threw some very pricy gems into his Saturday seminar on the wines of Bolgheri, pouring both Ornellaia Le Serre Nuove and Gaja Ca Marcanda Magari during a session featuring fellow master sommelier Drew Hendricks and ELM Restaurant Group chef Drew Curren as guests.
The showing of Texas spirits was stronger this year, with showings from Desert Door, Tito’s, Treaty Oak Distilling, Nine Banded Whiskey, to others. Alas, the wine selection didn’t really feature any Texas wineries, though the Republic National Distributing Company’s tent did have Texas wines during a single class.
The event’s traditional closing pop and hip-hop set from DJ Mel started unconventionally with several rock songs from Metallica, Queen, and Journey, prompting some potential dance partiers to head out a bit early.
Oddly enough, there were not one but two shoe brands on display at the festival grounds.
Many people were talking about Game of Thrones and planning to watch said-show while full and/or drunk that Sunday evening.