Highlights from Austin Food & Wine Festival


What a difference a year can make.

The Austin Food & Wine Festival launched in 2012 with some hiccups, including a crowded grand tasting and sparse daytime programming, but organizers C3 Presents and Food & Wine magazine worked out most of the kinks for the second annual event, the bulk of which took place this year at Butler Park instead of Auditorium Shores.

Even though several pockets of the park remained open, including Doug Sahm Hill and the Liz Carpenter Fountain, several Austinites who live in the neighborhood contacted me over the weekend to express concern about the weeklong closure of Butler. C3 Presents co-owner Charlie Jones told me that it’s too soon to say whether the festival will return to that park or Auditorium Shores in 2014.

We had a team of writers covering the festival, and here are some of the highlights (see more at Austin360.com):

Live Fire! at Salt Lick Pavilion

Thursday’s unofficial kickoff to the Austin Food & Wine Festival was all about the meat.

Beef and fire were the theme of Live Fire!, an annual event from the Austin Food & Wine Alliance, the beneficiary of the Austin Food & Wine Festival.

Pitmaster Aaron Franklin’s line was rivaled only by the queue for beef ramen from Tatsu Aikawa of Ramen Tatsu-Ya, whose beef tongue chashu in a rich beef broth was one of the most tender bites of the night.

Austin chefs Kristine Kittrell, Jeff Martinez and Josh Watkins also served some of the best dishes of the night. Kittrell, who has settled in nicely at Mulberry, served a coconut beef that had been braised, seared on a grill and then topped with a salad of blistered green beans and thinly sliced shallots. The Carillon’s Watkins served a crispy beef cheek as well as a melt-in-your mouth beef rib that he paired with a strawberry gastrique. Martinez, who returned to El Chile Cafe y Cantina earlier this year, served a taco made with beef tongue and a mango pico de gallo.

— Addie Broyles

Taste of Texas at Republic Square Park

The rains stayed away and San Diego rockers Delta Spirit delivered a thunderous set at Friday night’s Taste of Texas kickoff event at Republic Square Park, as some of Texas’ best chefs served small bites to the VIP crowd.

My favorite dishes of the night came from Houston (Danny Trace at Brennan’s), San Antonio (Jason Dady) and Austin (Contigo and Olivia). Brennan’s served up a sweet and spicy friend shrimp with Crystal hot sauce. The affable Dady featured a playful take on the Mexican street food elotes, serving cotija cheese and corn pudding atop a half of lime.

Olivia and Contigo scored in different ways, with Olivia’s James Holmes playing to a familiar strength and the ranch-style Contigo going a bit against type. Holmes served a smoked oyster topped with a rich bacon jam, tangy housemade mustard, creme fraiche and, maybe the night’s most imaginative touch, a “blood pearl,” a small teardrop of duck blood and blood orange. There’s a lot going on there, but all of the flavors blended into one sensuous bite.

Contigo makes one of the best takes on beef tongue in the city, but Friday night they surprised with their deft touch on a light and refreshing dish. They offered a puffed rice chip topped with fresh shaved fennel from Austin’s Johnson Backyard Garden, pine nuts, and a complex, Thai-inspired vinaigrette of coconut water, ginger, fish sauce, kaffir lime juice and mint.

— Matthew Odam

Susan Feniger talks street food

Wearing her signature dyed apron and brightly colored headband and chef’s coat, Susan Feniger took the stage Saturday at 10 a.m. with champagne in hand and swearing she never drinks before 11 a.m. The enthused crowd burst into applause as the first full day of the festival started.

Feniger introduced the audience to the essence of street food from around the world. After all, that’s what her Los Angeles restaurant, Street, is all about. Feniger’s back-and-forth banter with fellow “Top Chef Masters” contestant and emcee of the session, Tony Mantuano, of Chicago’s Spiaggia, was a great complement to the food Feniger serves — lively and inspired.

Before Feniger began working on the basics of an Egyptian street food dish made with rice, pasta and lentils (or “Egyptian bus stop food” as she calls it), she created a Canton Ginger Cocktail using ginger simple syrup, ginger vodka and muddled lemon.

Feniger packed in more dishes during her 45-minute demo than most of the chefs at the festival, showcasing a puffed millet dessert from India, which she likened to Rice Krispies treats, chicken kabobs marinated in a red pepper puree, a salsa and her famous Malaysian black pepper clams.

— Courtney Sebesta

Texas wines ready for the main stage

If the sparse crowd Saturday morning was any indication, 10 a.m. might be too early for most people to start a wine tasting. But people steadily trickled in to fill the tent for Texas Wine: Ready for the Main Stage as the tasting progressed, and by the end, almost all the glasses were claimed.

Local sommeliers June Rodil, Craig Collins and Devon Broglie, as well as author Russell Kane and Food & Wine wine editor Ray Isle, talked about the state of Texas wines and offered six of the state’s most promising wines.

“We have areas that are equivalent to the south of France and Spain, all the way to conditions needed to grow grapes for Riesling, that would typically be from northern European countries,” Kane said. For this reason, wines like viognier can be produced at a quality level that is equal to that of the same grape grown in some European countries. The Pedernales 2012 100 percent viognier, for example, has won a handful of awards statewide and scored a double gold medal at the Leon competition in France — a high honor, considering Pedernales is the only American winery to win the award.

As wine producers start to pay attention to the variety of Texas’ micro-climates, they’re branching out beyond the standard Mediterranean-style grapes to other grapes that were once considered impossible to foster here.

We tasted Brennan Vineyards 2011 Lily, the Pedernales Cellars 2012 viognier, Llano Estacado’s tempranillo, the Kiepersol Estates 2010 cabernet, a 2010 tannat from Bending Branch and Messina Hof’s Father and Son Cuvee, a Riesling from one of the state’s longest-running wineries.

— Emma Janzen

Tyson Cole wins Rock Your Taco

Tyson Cole conquered the Rock Your Taco contest for the second year in a row. Cole wowed the judges (and crowd) at one of the signature events of the festival with his Uchi-inspired interpretation of a taco: hamachi, roe, apple and chopped Marcona almonds folded in a thin sheet of dried yuca. The defending champ had the longest line of the night, by far, but he and pastry chef Philip Speer handed out tacos — and graciously posed for photos with fans — for most of the 2 1/2 hour event.

Cole’s taco won over the judges, which this year included TV personality and chef Andrew Zimmern and special guest Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, but from the chatter in the crowd, it seems several other chefs’ tacos must have been in contention for the win.

Congress chef/owner David Bull unofficially won presentation of the night with his banh mi taco served in a lime with a wedge cut out of it, while Marc Murphy, a “Chopped” judge and chef behind Benchmarc, brought a taste of New York with his pastrami taco. Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine was the only chef offering a vegetarian option: a lightly dried slice of beet served as a shell around a filling made with goat cheese and crisped rice.

My favorite taco of the night was probably from Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal and Son of a Gun in Los Angeles, who turned a top-selling dish at the restaurant — a hamachi tostada — into a hamachi and avocado taco, topped with a hefty cabbage slaw, Thai basil and fish-sauce vinaigrette.

— Addie Broyles

Grilling demo with Tim Love

Bloody Marys, tequila and cold wine. What more could you want from an 11 a.m. grilling session during Sunday brunch?

After an hourlong wait, we were expecting a show from chef Tim Love, and boy, did we get one.

Love demonstrated his mastery of the grill with ease and, of course, alcohol. The Fort Worth-based chef wanted his attendees to have fun while grilling, and he didn’t hold back. We were welcomed with Bloody Marys before the demonstration, and two bottles of wine waiting at the cooking stations proved why he is a crowd favorite.

Prepping a perfect pork chop and beautiful New York strip steak was easy when following Love’s instructions. Basic pork chop seasonings (peanut oil and a cayenne, rosemary, sugar, salt mixture) and New York strip (a generous amount of salt, pepper and peanut oil) were easily manageable in between sips of white wine. The ease of placing the meat on the grill, flipping and prepping vegetables were evident in the final presentation of the meat.

Depending on how hot your charcoal grill was, most attendees ended up with the perfect steak and slightly pink pork chop. Vegetables are evidently not Love’s specialty, but the heavily seasoned cauliflower and asparagus were a hit among the crowd. The amount of food attendees walked away with was well worth the wait in line.

— Courtney Sebesta


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