Star chefs, upscale mall food and ZZ Tapas: Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck festival returns in May

The second annual Hot Luck festival returns to Austin on May 24-27 with a dazzling array of regional and national culinary talent, quirky and engaging food programming and eclectic live music acts ranging from swamp funk to post-hardcore. 

Credit: Hot Luck

Any diner worth their Maldon salt will immediately recognize some of the biggest names attending the festival co-founded by barbecue wizard and James Beard winner and festival co-founder Aaron Franklin. Momofuku empire builder David Chang; Ashley Christensen of Poole’s in North Carolina; and James Beard winner and Seattle mainstay Renee Erickson are a few of the new out-of-town faces attending this year’s event that takes place at multiple bars, restaurants, event spaces and nontraditional venues around town. Returning talent from outside Texas includes ramen specialist Ivan Orkin, featured in Netflix’s “Chef’s Table”; Alex Stupak of Empellón in New York; Andy Ricker of Portland’s Pok Pok; and Peter Cho of Portland Korean restaurant Han Oak.

Joining the out-of-town guests are some of the best talents Texas has to offer, including James Beard award winners Chris Shepherd (Underbelly) and Justin Yu (Theodore Rex) of Houston; Diego Galicia and Rico Torres (Mixtli, San Antonio); John Tesar (Knife, Dallas); pastry star Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar (Houston); and Steve McHugh (Cured, San Antonio).

Hot Luck’s hometown will also be represented by a slew of award winners and standouts, with chefs from more than half of the Statesman’s Top 25 restaurants of 2017 appearing at the festival. That group includes Bryce Gilmore (Odd Duck, Barley Swine); Laura Sawicki (Launderette); Fiore Tedesco (L’Oca d’Oro); Jesse Griffiths (Dai Due); Kevin Fink (Emmer & Rye); Takuya Matsumoto and Tatsu Aikawa (Kemuri Tatsu-Ya);  Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie); Todd Duplechan (Lenoir); Tyson Cole (Uchi/Loro); Philip Speer (Bonhomie); and Yoshi Okai (Otoko).

Stradling the line of in-town and out-of-town chefs will be Kristen Kish, the recently announced executive chef at Arlo Grey at the forthcoming Line ATX Hotel. The fest will afford many attendees the first opportunity to taste Kish’s food and will also serve as a preview for forthcoming Austin projects from chefs Zach Hunter (Brewer’s Table), Erind Halilaj (Il Brutto) and Fermin Núñez (Suerte).

Hot Luck takes a different approach to its tasting events and parties than many other food and wine festivals. The centerpiece Saturday night event at the idyllic Wild Onion Ranch in South Austin plays like an oversize backyard cookout, with world-class chefs cooking over open flame, and the other events all have themes ranging from the irreverent to the inspired. There’s the Friday night Night Court at Fair Market, which will feature the chefs delivering takes on some of their nostalgic favorites from mall food courts of their youth. Ever wanted to try Franklin’s take on an Arby’s beef and cheddar? You might just be in luck. What happens when award-winning chefs get into a taco throwdown at a Tex-Mex institution? You’ll find out at Cisco’s Bakery and Restaurant one late night. And what happens when you mix hot rods and hot plates? ZZ Tapas.

Festival founders Franklin, Guerrilla Suit and Mohawk co-founder James Moody and Mike Thelin, co-founder of Feast food festival in Portland, created the festival to celebrate the worlds of food and music in a casual setting, complete with a DIY aesthetic and a choose-your-own adventure sense of programming. 

“We are thrilled to be bringing this back to Austin. Hot Luck isn’t a festival; it’s a party. These chefs and bands just want to do their thing with friends … where everyone is welcome to hang out and have a good time. That’s what Hot Luck has become, and we love it,” Moody said.

Supplementing the programing of food events stretched over four days is a slate of live music featuring a diverse cast of acts, ranging from Galactic to former Joy Division bassist Peter Hook & the Light and indie rock titans Okkervil River to the DJ stylings of Peanut Butter Wolf.

Tickets can be purchased to all the food events, with prices ranging from $70 for the taco party at Cisco’s to $195 for access to Saturday night’s Al Fuego main event. Hot Luck also sells a Whole Enchilada package for $550, which allows attendees to hit all five of the food events, every music show, special parties and more. Tickets for the music shows will also be sold individually, with prices ranging from $15 to $35.

A portion of the proceeds from Hot Luck will benefit SAFE Alliance, a merger of Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace, both long-standing and respected human service agencies in Austin serving the survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence.

For more programming information and to purchase tickets, visit


Chefs participating in Hot Luck 2018

AFAR: Abraham Conlon & Adrienne Lo, Fat Rice (Chicago); Alex Stupak, Empellón (New York); Andy Ricker, Pok Pok (Portland); Ashley Christensen, Poole’s (Raleigh); Bill Durney, Hometown Barbecue (New York); David Chang, Momofuku (New York); David McMillan and Frédéric Morin, Joe Beef (Montreal); Elias Cairo, Olympia Provisions (Portland); Ivan Orkin, Ivan Ramen (New York); Joshua McFadden, Ava Gene’s (Portland); Peter Cho, Han Oak (Portland); Renee Erickson, Sea Creatures (Seattle); Riad Nasr, Frenchette (New York); Sam Jones, Sam Jones BBQ Restaurant (North Carolina).

TEXAS: Chris Shepherd, Underbelly (Houston); Diego Galicia & Rico Torres, Mixtli (San Antonio); John Tesar, Knife (Dallas); Justin Yu, Theodore Rex (Houston); Rebecca Masson, Fluff Bake Bar (Houston); Steve McHugh, Cured (San Antonio).

AUSTIN: Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue; Andrew Wiseheart, Contigo/Chicon; Bryce Gilmore, Odd Duck; Callie Speer, Holy Roller; Casey Wilcox, Central Standard; Chad Dolezal, Hightower; Damien Brockway, P6 at the Line ATX Hotel; David Norman, Easy Tiger Erind Halilaj, Il Brutto; Fermin Núñez, Suerte; Fiore Tedesco, L’Oca d’Oro; Jason Stude, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill; Jesse Griffiths, Dai Due; Kevin Fink, Emmer & Rye; Kristen Kish, Arlo Grey at the Line ATX Hotel; Laura Sawicki, Launderette; Michael Fojtasek, Olamaie; Miguel Vidal, Valentina’s Tex Mex; Philip Speer, Bonhomie; Sarah McIntosh, Epicerie; Takuya Matsumoto & Tatsu Aikawa, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya; Todd Duplechan, Lenoir; Tyson Cole, Hai Hospitality/Loro; Yoshi Okai, Otoko;  Zach Hunter, The Brewer’s Table.

Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck adds Ivan Ramen’s Ivan Orkin, Mixtli chefs and more

The Hot Luck food and music festival today announced that newly minted James Beard award winners Greg and Gabi Denton of Portland’s Ox will participate in the fest, along with Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen, Diego Galicia and Rico Torres of Mixtli and more. Galicia and Torres were recently named Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine and will be joined at the festival by other honorees Peter Cho of Han Oak (Portland) and Sara Kramer of Kismet (Los Angeles), who will cook at the kickoff event “Hi, How Are You?”

Food & Wine Best New Chefs Rico Torres (left) and Diego Galicia (right) of Mixtli in San Antonio are two of the new names added to Hot Luck.

The festival has already announced a slew of events, including a night of chefs cooking the foods that inspired them, a tiki party pig roast and more

Tickets and more information and the food and music events of the festival the takes place May 18-21 can be found at

Exclusive: Aaron Franklin and partners bringing Hot Luck food and music festival to Austin in May

The founders of the forthcoming Hot Luck festival plan to blend world-class culinary talent, live music and a DIY Austin aesthetic for an extended weekend of serious fun and eats from people who don’t want anybody taking themselves too seriously.

James Beard Award winner Aaron Franklin, Fun Fun Fun Fest co-founder James Moody and Mike Thelin, co-founder of the food festival Feast Portland, have wedded their particular areas of expertise in food, music and production to form the event that will take place May 18-21 in Austin.

While it would be fair to call Hot Luck a festival, Moody uses lingo that resonates closely with many Texans to describe the multi-day event.

“It’s certainly going to be a big ol’ get-together. This is going to feel like the best-run tailgate you’ve ever been to. It’s going to be super organized behind the curtain, but it doesn’t feel that way. And it’s definitely ‘all are welcome,’” Moody said of the vibe, referencing the motto of the Mohawk, a bar and live music venue he co-founded in Austin 11 years ago.

Franklin Barbecue's Aaron Franklin (left) and Mohawk co-owner James Moody (right) are teaming up with Mike Thelin of Feast Portland to bring Hot Luck to Austin. (Credit: Matthew Odam)
Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin (left) and Mohawk co-owner James Moody (right) are teaming up with Mike Thelin of Feast Portland to bring Hot Luck to Austin. (Credit: Matthew Odam)

Hot Luck, its name evoking a potluck dinner and the heat that fuels Franklin’s trademark barbecue, as well as a subtle nod to legendary Texan Willie Nelson’s stomping grounds, will center around a main event featuring live-fire cooking. But the central activity is just the hub of a wheel that will spin off into multiple overlapping food and music events throughout the day and night, featuring about 35 chefs and friends of Franklin from Texas and across the country (and maybe a couple of international names) at 8 to 10 venues around town.

The founders want Hot Luck to mirror Feast in that there will be a sort of choose-your-own adventure nature to the fest, with people able to select activities a la carte throughout the weekend instead of being offered only one or two major attractions each day.

“A la carte ticketing allows an event to be engaged with by a wider and more diverse audience,” Thelin said. “If you want to buy an all-in pass to every Hot Luck event, there will be that option. But if you want to go to just one or two things, and spend the rest of your time enjoying the city, the region and all of the amazing restaurants, you can do that too.”

The one thing all of the Hot Luck events will have in common? A laid-back vibe and very little pomp and ceremony.

“The thing that is going to be super memorable about it is having amazing, world-class food on a paper plate,” Moody said. “And these chefs want to have a good time. They want to be around their peers and relax.”

“It’s meant to be kind of how we roll here in Austin …. Just hanging out drinking beers,” Franklin added.

And just because the man most synonymous with smoked meat in Central Texas is one of the founders, don’t expect Hot Luck to be a barbecue festival. Franklin said there may only be one barbecue cook on the invite list.

“I want to get people a little bit out of their comfort zones, but I really just want people to have fun and be able to be creative,” said Franklin, who will weld some custom cookery for the event. “People won’t feel pinned into a six-foot table and tasting portions. This is interactive.”

Moody and Franklin, who was the drummer in the visceral rock band Those Peabodys before being anointed the king of Central Texas barbecue, will curate the live music together, and they intend to program a schedule of shows that will have a little something for all musical tastes.

“We want the curation of music to be as thoughtful as the curation of the chefs,” Moody said.

Tickets for Hot Luck are slated to go on sale at the end of February. Pricing and specifics have not been finalized, but organizers said there will be a weekend package sold, as well as a la carte ticketing options. While some of the details around programming remain fluid, the founders, who have discussed creating such an event for years, are in tune with their guiding ethos.

“It’s much like when Franklin Barbecue started. That was super DIY. We made that place exactly how we wanted it; didn’t ask anyone. Don’t care, we’re doing what we want to do. You stand in line, you make friends, you drink some beers, you take your family there, you hang out, and you have a great time. And the hospitality level is hopefully off the charts,” Franklin said. “It’s not just about food; it’s about that whole experience.”

Which Austin chefs are headed to Feast in Portland?

Pok Pok chef-owner Andy Ricker at the inaugural Feast in 2012. (Credit: Addie Broyles)
Pok Pok chef-owner Andy Ricker at the inaugural Feast in 2012. (Credit: Addie Broyles)

One of the best food festivals in America will once again have an Austin contingency on hand, as several local chefs will participate at Feast in Portland this summer.

The multi-venue festival in Portland presented by Bon Appétit celebrates its fifth year in September and will welcome Austin chefs Rene Ortiz (Launderette), Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas (Olamaie) and Aaron Franklin. Tickets go on sale at 11 a.m. today.

Other visiting chefs include Hugh Acheson of 5&10 (Athens, GA), Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark of Parachute Restaurant (Chicago), Kotaro Asakura of Kirakutei (Tokyo), Alex Barkley of Manolin (Seattle) and Nina Compton of Compère Lapin (New Orleans). Portland chefs will also be heavily represented, obviously, by chefs like Elias Cairo of Olympia Provisions, Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton of OX Restaurant, Tommy Habetz and Nick Wood of Bunk Sandwiches, Jin Soo Yang of Bamboo Sushi and many more.

“Our fifth year is here and we are ready to up the festival ante once again,” festival co-founders Mike Thelin and Carrie Welch said. “Our goal is to continue to best ourselves every year. Our fifth anniversary is a no-rerun year – everything is new and fun!”

The festival, which runs from September 15-18,  features more than 40 events, tastings, panels, parties and more spread across downtown and East Portland. To see the full roster of talent and events, and to buy tickets, visit

Free tacos at El Chilito tomorrow for Fun Fun Fun Fest announcement

The taco cannon makes a brief appearance after The Julie Ruin's set at the Orange Stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest at Auditorium Shores on Sunday, November 10, 2013. (Tina Phan AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
The taco cannon makes a brief appearance after The Julie Ruin’s set at the Orange Stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest at Auditorium Shores on Sunday, November 10, 2013. (Tina Phan AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

There’s a new taco sheriff at this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest. The festival’s famous taco cannon will be stuffed with tacos from El Chilito. The move represents a changing of the guard, as Tamale House East was the taco of choice last year.

Fun Fun Fun Fest will announce the food, retail, and nonprofit vendors for the annual fest tomorrow at the 1623 E. Seventh St. location of El Chilito tomorrow at noon. To celebrate the announcement, El Chilito will give away one free taco to the first 100 people at the noon event. Something tells me the line will start well before noon. Follow @funfunfunfest on Twitter for more information.

Fun Fun Fun Fest takes place November 6-8 at Auditorium Shores.

As for the change in tacos, a FFF rep responded: “We like to mix things up every now and then with our festival vendors. El Chile group is doing exciting things with Mexican cuisine in Austin, and we frequent El Chilito often, so it was a natural fit. We’re excited to be working with them this year.” 

Aaron Franklin and partners to launch new food festival in Austin

Aaron Franklin at a barbecue pop-up in Chicago on the Fourth of July. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Aaron Franklin at a barbecue pop-up in Chicago on the Fourth of July. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Barbecue wizard Aaron Franklin and partners James Moody (CEO of creative agency Guerilla Suit) and Mike Thelin (co-founder of Feast in Portland) will launch a new food festival in Austin in the spring.

The Franklin Barbecue owner says the weekend-long festival, which has yet to announce an official name or festival dates, is going to be a small festival with a DIY mentality, one that captures the creative and industrious spirit of Austin.

“If you want to make something cool in Austin, well gosh darn it, you can do it,” Franklin said. “We’re going to keep it super real and invite people we’re friends with and respect in the food world.”

Franklin has not announced participants and says he wants to invite potential cooks and chefs in person.

Details are sparse, but an excited Franklin said, “It’s gonna be flippin’ awesome.”

While there is no specific theme for the festival, Franklin says, “Based on the stuff that I do, there’s going to be a lot of fire. And we do have a welding shop, so no cooking apparatus is out of reach.”

More details will be released in the coming months, but an excited Franklin says people shouldn’t expect the festival to grow outside of Austin.

“Our idea is to have an Austin festival that’s just awesome,” Franklin said. “We’re not building it with the intention to grow it.”