The Austin Food & Wine Festival returns to Butler Park and Republic Square Park from April 25 to 27 with another roster of culinary stars and a few changes.
The third annual festival presented by C3 Presents, Food & Wine publisher Christina Grdovic, chefs Tim Love (Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth), Tyson Cole (Uchi) and Jesse Herman (La Condesa) will feature more than 40 events over three days. The festival will welcome familiar faces, such as Paul Qui and Andrew Zimmern, as well as 27 new chefs, including Atlanta’s Richard Blais and Sandi Reinlie of Vespaio, one of 15 Austin chefs participating for the first time. Badges and individual tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
After a first year marked with growing pains, the festival hit its stride last year on the verdant grounds of Butler Park, which played host to the Grand Tasting on Saturday and Sunday.
“Our biggest success is really just listening to the fans and adapting and making things better,” Love said. “And this year it’s going to be even better.”
Changes this year include a Thursday night pre-festival event that will be open to non-badge holders. Butler Park will host Feast Under the Stars, a family-style dinner with food from five Texas chefs – Love, Cole, Kent Rathbun (Abacus of Dallas), Chris Shepherd of Houston’s Underbelly and pastry chef Jodi Elliot (Bribery). The night will offer “a chance for people to dip their big toe in” to the festival experience, Love says. Tickets for the Thursday pre-fest event cost $185, including wine pairings and parking, and festival organizers expect the approximately 100 seats to sell fast. (The Austin Food and Wine Alliance’s Live Fire event, which has been held the Thursday before the food & wine fest the past two years, moves to April 17 this year.)
“It just feels so Austin, Texas, to me,” Love said of the new addition. “Great food with great people cooking over an open fire.”
The fest festivities officially kick-off Friday night at Republic Square Park with the Taste of Texas event, featuring wine and small plates from an all-star lineup of Texas chefs. Culinary talent will include Alexis Chong (Sway); Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher (Lenoir); Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner (the Pass & Provisions of Houston); Wayne Mueller (Louie Mueller Barbecue of Taylor); Andre Natera (Toko V of Dallas); Hugo Ortega (Hugo’s Restaurant in Houston); Jesse Perez (Arcade Kitchen in San Antonio); and Justin Yu (Oxheart in Houston). As in years past, the evening will be back-dropped by live music, with New York City dance band Escort performing. The event is open to Savor badge holders ($850), with individual tickets sold to Taste badge holders for $150.
Saturday and Sunday afternoons will feature the Grand Tasting and Chefs Showcase at Butler Park, with food and drink from an array of talent, including John Bates and Brandon Martinez (Noble Sandwiches); Shawn Cirkiel (Parkside); Larry Kocurek (Trace); Sarah McIntosh (Epicerie Café & Grocery); and Josh Watkins (the Carillon). The weekend’s events at Butler Park include panel discussions, wine and cocktail tastings, book signings and hands-on demonstrations, the centerpiece of which is always Love’s popular and rowdy grilling demo.
“It’s everything I aspire to be – great food, great fun, around great people,” Love said of the booze-fueled cooking party. “It’s really cool. The energy is so great, and I think people feed off that energy.”
The charismatic chef, who works the crowd into a frenzy each year, says he will put a small twist on his demo this year, grilling fish and vegetables in addition to beef. Love says fest attendees can also expect a few new hands-on demonstrations. While he wanted them to remain a surprise, he did hint at a pasta-making session.
Other small changes at this year’s festival include additional pits (which should temper the lines) for the interactive fire pits sessions helmed by renowned chefs like Tim Byres of Smoke in Dallas; Ned Elliott of Foreign & Domestic; Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue); Barley Swine’s Bryce Gilmore; Qui (Qui); and Andrew Wiseheart (Contigo).
“You get a chance to talk to them and ask how they built their rigs and why they use that type of wood,” Love said of the interactive sessions. “For me, open-fire cooking is a huge passion, so having that as part of our festival is a big deal to me.”
The proceedings return to Republic Square Park on Saturday evening for the third annual Rock Your Taco event, where two-time champion Tyson Cole of Uchi will attempt to defend his crown against a talented group of chefs that includes Chicago’s Rick Bayless; David Bull (Congress); “Top Chef” alumnus Blais (Juniper & Ivy); and Houston’s Monica Pope (Sparrow & Beaver’s). Chicago band JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound will provide the tunes for the night.
Taste badge ($250) holders will have access to the demos, hands-on experiences, seminars and tastings, and daily Grand Tasting events at Butler Park. Savor badge ($850) holders will have priority access to all demos, tastings and hands-on experiences, private Grand Tastings on Saturday and Sunday; access to a VIP lounge with a bar and additional tastings; and access to both the Taste of Texas and Rock Your Taco evening events.
The complete list of programming, including panel discussions, cooking demonstrations and more, will be announced on Feb. 25. Go to AustinFoodAndWineFestival.com for tickets and more information.