From celebrities to celebrations, cuisine to libations, Austin hosted the best of the best from around the city, world and nation.
By Molly McManus
Saturday, April 28:
The day began bright and early at Auditorium Shores with Tim Love’s hands-on grilling demonstration. I happened to be in the Alder Tent, admiring Top Chef judge Gail Simmons’ cooking lesson on easy food to prepare in the home. While Iron Chef and sushi master Masaharu Morimoto drew laughs, hoots and hollerin’ from the tent next door, Simmons catered her seminar to the mostly Texan audience. My mouth began to water (I hadn’t eaten yet) at the sight and smell of her steamed mussels. To complement, Simmons concocted Texas-size biscuits. As she added the ingredients one by one (chives, cheddar), she began to mix in the most important component: bacon. With desperate cries from the audience of, “More! More!” Simmons looked up.
“Wow,” she exclaimed. “You guys are feisty in the morning!”
Welcome to Texas.
For our lunch break, the Grand Tasting consisted of three large tents with more than 100 vendors, the food provided by all local establishments. My favorites? The organic tamales from the Gardener’s Feast, Henri’s artisan cheese, Cornucopia’s flavored popcorn, Terlato Wines’ white blend, Evolution and Alexander Valley’s Cyrus Bordeaux blend. And Zilk’s bacon-flavored hummus? Yes, please! I’ll also never forget Aurelia’s Spanish chorizo, which sent my mouth in to heavenly bliss.
Filled to the brim, the afternoon continued with scorching sun and windy weather, creating some difficulties for my next seminar on the allure of rosé with author and wine writer Mark Oldman. While the wine might have been a little warm and a bit dusty, I was still able to enjoy the experience.
“Pink doesn’t get enough respect,” explained Oldman, as we all sat with five different glasses of rosé in front of us.
He’s right. Rosé has gotten a bad rap and he was there to set the record straight. The first glass we tried was from a $70 bottle of Perrier-Jouët, a Champagne rosé that was by far my favorite. Oldman shared with us this helpful hint: The finer the bubble, the better the Champagne. The Perrier-Jouët was no exception to this rule. Oldman also provided us with some important food-pairing tips for rosé.
“There’s hardly a food that does not go with a rosé,” he clarified, a huge reason as to why it’s his favorite. However, he did have one suggestion: barbeque. He proposed bringing a chilled bottle of rosé on your next visit to the Salt Lick.
Feeling a little buzzed, I headed over to hear mixologists Jim Meehan and Nate Wales give a presentation on how to pair the right tequila with the right salt. The duo explained their shared desire to bring “a culinary style of drink to customers.” We tried a shot of tequila paired with a salted sangrita, which is a chaser consisting of citrus, spice, tomato and lime. We also tasted a to-die-for version of a Paloma salted with a Hawaiian pink rim.
“A cocktail is only as good as its weakest ingredient,” Meehan advised.
Basically, don’t use a sub-par liqueur if you are using top-shelf liquor; it ruins the drink.
With the heat of the day behind us, the Rock Your Taco Celebrity Chef Showdown was a night to remember. Held at Republic Square Park, nine of the nation’s top chefs competed with their variations of the taco. Tyson Cole, Masaharu Morimoto, Marcus Samuelsson, Jonathan Waxman, Tim Love, Tony Mantuano, Michelle Bernstein, Elizabeth Karmel and Christina Tosi all participated, making it entirely too difficult for me to decide. With each taco, I would exclaim, “This one’s the best!” Luckily, I wasn’t making the decision. So when Uchi’s Tyson Cole won with his pork jowl with grilled corn and cilantro taco, I was filled with Austin pride.
To cap off the evening, the soulful Mayer Hawthorne and The County performed an outstanding set, giving attendees a chance to dance off some of those taco calories. I left feeling alive and well, if not slightly weighed down.
Sunday, April 29:
TV personality, food writer and chef Andrew Zimmern gave a morning talk on global street food. He taught a Moroccan cooking lesson, creating a goat taco. See a trend here? A Cordon Bleu student assisted as Zimmern did some prepping.
“Beautiful!” he shouted as she rolled out some dough.
God, it’s great to see a chef all fired up about flour. When he gave the taco out to a lucky audience member, the man ate in silence. When Zimmern asked if he liked it, the man nodded.
Zimmern motioned to his own bald head, “Huge ego, low self-esteem. I’m on TV. You could be a little more excited,” he joked.
At one point during the talk, Zimmern mentioned he didn’t like walnuts. When asked why (after all, the man makes a living off of eating weird food) he responded, “I’m allowed to not like things, right? I mean, I like fermented raccoon anus.”
I guess you can’t argue with personal preferences.
That afternoon, Chef Michelle Bernstein made Spanish tapas. The hilarious Bernstein had nothing but compliments for Austin.
“You are the nicest, most jubilant people I’ve come across,” she said.
The Miami resident and restaurant owner admitted to Austin having a better culinary scene, gushing about all the food she had tried while visiting.
Bernstein made a lemon calamari and squid tapa placed on a bed of black rice, its color coming from octopus ink, which is actually quite flavorful. She gave different nutritional tips along the way, explaining, “I studied nutrition before I got [to be a chef], but then I tried foie gras.” (Foie gras is the fattened liver of a waterfowl.)
When Bernstein’s talk finished, I made my way to the Grand Tasting only to be reminded of the ridiculously good food and beverages that awaited me. Judge’s Hill’s braised pork, queso fresco and roasted corn dish was delightful, while Ranch 616’s Frito pie took me back to late nights at 7-Eleven. In a good way. My favorite was Beanito’s chips, which are made from actual beans. They also happened to be topped with mouth-watering pulled pork. Majestic Fine Wines had a chilled pinot noir that was incredible, and I received a lesson on different types of eggs from Vital Farms. Did you know that if an egg carton is labeled “cage-free/free-range,” the birds are actually completely overcrowded and indoors?
All in all, the Austin Food and Wine Festival was a complete blastorama. Besides the five pounds added to my midline and the excruciating sunburn on my back, I left the festival with a ton of new knowledge, ideas for cooking at home, wine I need to purchase and restaurants to try, feeling more connected than ever to the culinary community of Austin.