|Suckling pig from Jack and Bryce Gilmore|
The editors of Food & Wine Magazine set eyes on Austin a few years ago, bestowing awards and nominations to a growing number of talented chefs. Encouraged by the attention, restaurateurs Tim Love (The Lonesome Dove Western Bistro / The Love Shack, Fort Worth), Tyson Cole (Uchi / Uchiko, Austin) and Jesse Herman (La Condesa, Austin / Napa), alongside Austin-based mega-producer C3 Presents (Lollapalooza / Austin City Limits Music Festival), approached the magazine with the idea of a large-scale festival.
“We have 17 annual events across the country,” said the magazine’s Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle, “but we didn’t have a single one in the Southwest. With Austin’s dining scene exploding - not just in fine dining, but with things like its insanely cool food trucks - a festival here made sense. It was just the perfect storm that set things in motion.”
As the Austin Food & Wine Festival was born, the long-standing Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival was absorbed by the new event, transforming into the Austin Food & Wine Alliance, a non-profit that will receive a portion of the proceeds of the festival to foster awareness and innovation in the Central Texas food and wine community through grants, educational programming and events. The first such event, Live Fire, took place on the Thursday evening on the grounds of the famed Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, featuring 14 chefs preparing meat-centric dishes.
Some favorites: Texas waygu strip loin roast with wild ramp butter, with bone marrow & caramelized tomato tarts by Naomi Pomeroy from Beast in Portland; chicken-fried beef cheeks with tiny crisp Brussels sprouts from Josh Watkins, The Carillon, Austin; cured beef heart with chicory salad from Andrew Wiseheart, Contigo, Austin; and a whole cow roasted over a wood fire by John Bullington and the Alamo Drafthouse team. Libations flowed freely as fire twirlers danced to live country swing tunes. Yee-haw!
The official AFW Fest kicked off with the New Taste of Texas event at Republic Square in downtown Austin, available only to $850 VIP ticket holders and featuring a live performance by Lucinda Williams. High points: Paul Qui’s “strawberry garden”; local mushroom dumplings with Bosque Blue cheese sauce from Monica Pope (T’afia, Houston); and roast suckling pig tacos by Tim Bryes from Smoke in Dallas. Best in show: mini deconstructed bahn mi with Florida pink shrimp, foie toast, ginger aioli, Sriracha foam and Thai micro herbs by San Antonio’s Jason Dady. Low point: grocery store wines are not great when it comes to pairings.
On Saturday and Sunday the party moved to Auditorium Shores, on the bank of Lady Bird Lake. Attendees strolled around the grand tasting tents sampling noshes and libations from local and national vendors, alternating with a Food Network-heavy line-up of celebrities presenting a variety of seminars. Marcus Samuelsson prepared exotic “green eggs and ham,” Morimoto had them oooohing with his mad knife skills, and Andrew Zimmern entertained with globetrotting stories. In the VIP lounge, the father and son duo of Jack and Bryce Gilmore delighted with a whole grilled suckling pig and crispy shrimp head lettuce wraps.
Unfortunately, gusty winds created a constant dust storm that was a serious nuisance to partygoers and vendors alike, especially to those attending Tim Love’s hands-on grilling demo out in the open. Dirt in our glass was definitely not the terroir we expected but even so we're excited to head back to the Southwestern fest next year. Austin represent!