10 tasty takeaways from the 2017 Austin Food & Wine Festival

Chef Tyson Cole hands out tacos and receives compliments from Donna and Ed King as the country’s best chefs compete with their own versions of taco dishes in the Rock Your Taco showdown during the Austin Food and Wine Festival at Fair Market April 29. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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.

Beef cheek from Matt Balke of Bolsa in Dallas. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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.

Chef Tyson Cole created a smoked masu taco with Asian pear, yuzu kosho and ramps to win his third Rock Your Taco crown. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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.

Chef Alon Shaya created a pastrami taco with preserved mango labneh, pickled cabbage and herbs for the Rock Your Taco event. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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.

Fair Market was a hit at this year’s Austin Food & Wine Festival. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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.

The briscuit from Olamaie. (Contributed by Olamaie)

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.

Keep your eyes open and you might find a new favorite wine. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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.

Jonathan Waxman at Rock Your Taco. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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.  

Tameca Jones performs at the Austin Food and Wine Festival. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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.

The Foodie Magician blew our minds at dinner Sunday. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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.

Chef Tim Love is the straw that stirs the drink at Austin Food & Wine Festival. (Tom McCarthy FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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.”

Author: Matthew Odam

Restaurant critic & features writer at Austin American @Statesman and @Austin360. Austin-born 6th generation Texan. Left-handed.

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