After a few misty, gray days in Central Texas, the rain cleared Saturday in time for the first full day of the Austin Food & Wine Festival, which this year moved from its first-year home at Auditorium Shores across Riverside Drive to Butler Park.
Guests who experienced the dusty inaugural event were pleased with the condition of Butler Park, a city park rarely used as an event space. More than a dozen tents were set up next to the Long Center. (The evening events — Friday night’s Taste of Texas and Saturday’s Rock Your Taco — are at Republic Square Park downtown.)
Around midday Saturday, C3 Presents co-owner Charlie Jones said that he’d been getting great feedback from both chefs and attendees, especially those who had attended last year.
“Part of it is the grounds, but we fixed a lot of the programming,” Jones said, citing awkward gaps between classes and tastings last year that led to a lot of attendees having to sit around and wait for the next event to get started.
One of the most popular additions to the schedule was a fit pit in the middle of the park, helmed on Saturday by chefs Jason Dady and Tim Byres, who were giving out samples of their grilled pork and chicken throughout the day.
Jones said it was too early to say whether the move to Butler Park would be permanent. “We’ll see how the construction next door (at Auditorium Shores) takes place,” he said. “Those plans (in conjunction with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department) are being formalized as we speak.”
Last year, Fort Worth chef Tim Love’s hands-on grilling classes were among the most popular, so festival organizers added a Saturday afternoon class with “Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern.
Not everyone who wanted into Love’s morning class could get in, which helped fill the other tastings and demonstrations, including one with San Diego chef Brian Malarkey and another on Texas wines that featured a panel of local sommeliers including June Rodil, Devon Broglie and Craig Collins.
Austinite Aaron Hix, who attended the festival with his father, paid $500 for two Taste badges and didn’t get into the grilling demonstration. Hix said that he was told when he purchased the badges that he should get there early for the demonstration.
After waiting for more than an hour in line, Hix said he watched the class fill up with people who had paid $850 for a Savor badge.
“Maybe 10 people in the regular line got in,” he said, leaving hundreds of other $250 badgeholders the option of going to the grand tasting tent or one of the eight afternoon demos or classes that started at 2 p.m. or later.
A festival representative said that the policy for all the demonstrations and classes is that people waiting in the Savor line are allowed entry first, and then, after that line dissipates, the $250 badgeholders can get in.
While standing in line for that afternoon grilling demonstration, Brett Sinta of Fort Worth said the grilling demonstrations were definitely one of the festival’s big draws.
Both sessions on Saturday filled up before Sinta and his friend Rachel Pauley could get in, but they had been enjoying several other classes, as well as the grand tasting, which featured dozens of wineries and even more restaurants and food companies, who were handing out samples.
When asked if he thought the badge was a good deal, Sinta hesitated and then said it was a stretch. “It’s a once-a-year kind of event,” he said. “It’s challenging to pay this much and have to always wait in a line, but I know that’s part of the thing.”
Sinta said that he knew that if C3 Presents and Food & Wine magazine, which produce the event, lowered the price to get in, the lines would be even longer.
“But if you want to engage with the chefs, it’s like watching live food TV,” he said. “You actually have Smell-O-Vision.”