The fifth installment of the Austin Food & Wine Festival kept attendees well fed and fueled by libations over three days. The weather gods smiled and the sold-out festival, which included a venue making its AFWF debut, seemed to run without any serious problems. We take a look at a few highlights, best bites and random notes from the festival.
Texas proud: The Lone Star Nights kickoff again once again showcased the amazing array of talent across the state and should serve as encouragement for diners to gas up their cars and road trip to restaurants outside of their hometowns. My highlights: Sonoran cascarelli with ricotta from Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye; beef cheek pastrami with Eagle Mountain pimento cheese from Matt Balke of Bolsa in Dallas; trout roe migas from Paul Qui’s Kuneho; and Northern Thai chicken salad from Thai Changthong of Thai Kun.
Taco king: Tyson Cole may operate some of the best sushi restaurants in Texas, but the man knows how to create a killer taco. The chef took home the Rock Your Taco title for the third time in five years on the strength of his smoked ocean trout taco that was tingly with pickled ramps, and bright with shiso.
National names: One of my favorite parts of the fest each year is getting to taste food from out-of-state chefs. I’ve dined at Ludo Lefebvre’s Peitt Trois in Los Angeles, so I was not surprised to see him create an excellent, though I was surprised to have such love for a taco with mashed potatoes in it. Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s imaginative taco made with a chorizo shell got me excited to visit the Purple Pig in Chicago again. Christina Tosi of Milk Bar in New York City proved why she is the most fun and talented pastry chefs in America with her corn cake taco with strawberries. And, I didn’t need another reason to head back to New Orleans, but Israeli-born Alon Shaya’s pastrami taco with preserved mango labneh, pickled cabbage and herbs certainly has added to the city’s appeal.
New kid on the block: The evening events were moved to Fair Market this year, and the event space in East Austin proved an ideal fit. The tasting stations and bar were located in the hangar-style indoor space and two outdoor spaces. The chambered spaces slowed the flow of traffic and kept people from eyeing something across the park and heading that direction. I didn’t experience any extended line waits, and hope to see the space utilized more by AFWF and other events.
Stellar bites: Olamaie’s other worldly biscuit and Texas staple brisket were combined for what was known as a “briscuit.” There were several heavy, smoky dishes during the Saturday daytime tastings, but Contigo was wise enliven their lamb shoulder with an electric chimichurri.
Rosé all day: Sure, there’s wine everywhere and it’s easy to get carried away with tastings. But the point of a festival like this shouldn’t be to get drunk; hopefully, it can be about discovery. Like most rosé lovers, I know about the easily drinkable Whispering Angel from Chateau d’Esclans, but I didn’t know about their Les Clans and Garrus rosés, the latter of which was brawny and beautiful with a long finish with notes of toasted oak. They were offering limited pours, and later in the day had the Garrus below the table. Pro tip: Always ask if they’re hiding something great out of sight.
Getting to know you: One upside from the cooking demos is that you don’t just learn how to make a dish, but you also hopefully find out a little bite about the person behind the name. Celebrated California chef Jonathan Waxman, the proud shedder of about 20 pounds in recent weeks, shared his recipe for vegan chili and also had the temerity to let people know he had cut alcohol from his diet. He also talked about how he loves a heavy skillet, and said that when he graduated from culinary school in France he received a set of Le Creuset cookware but he couldn’t afford to ship it home.
Live music. Because Austin: Tameca Jones’ soulful and powerful performance at Rock Your Taco reminded me that I should see her whenever I get the chance.
High-cholesterol David Blaine: Some friends and I were having dinner after the festival Sunday night when I was introduced to Josh Beckerman, the Foodie Magician. The charismatic magician worked his sorcery on me, pulling a card from his wallet with the name of my favorite restaurant and pulled some crazy slight of hand maneuvers that involved a friend’s cell phone and convincing a member of our party that he had touched specific parts of their body even though he never did. Then he disappeared. You never know whom you’ll meet at AFWF.
Socializing, not social media: Festival co-founder and master of the flame Tim Love appeared to be on mostly PG-13 behavior during his grilling demos, though he couldn’t help but let an F-bomb fly when calling out someone on her phone during his session. She told him she was updating social media. He conceded that the social media fix wasn’t a horrible sin, but added that the demo and festival were actual forms of socializing and not just social media. “We hardly ever interact anymore, and we’re forced to interact here,” Love said. “I (expletive) love it.”