Many of Austin’s food fans are looking forward to a flavorful weekend as the 2nd Annual Austin Food and Wine Festival pitches a park full of tents, fires up a wave of grills, and pours a steady flow of wine and beer over the next few days.
Some would say last year’s event was a trial by fire that wound up with a few kinks to straighten out — dusty grounds, confusing lines, a dearth of actual food to taste — but event organizers have taken the past year to evaluate feedback and measure topics of interest to offer up a more robust and savor-centric program for this year’s festival.
The main event has been moved from the dustier patches of Auditorium Shores to the grassy expanse of Butler Park, which will hopefully allay anyone’s concern about an added sprinkle of dust to their food or wine. (See official website for info on location and parking.) Beyond that, the official festival schedule features a wider range of offerings for guests during the day with tastings, demos and interactive seminars, and food lovers can also find other delectable events to take advantage of on the side.
Kicking things off
The weekend will kick off with Thursday evening’s Live Fire! event from the Austin Food and Wine Alliance at The Salt Lick Pavilion in Driftwood featuring more than a dozen Texas chefs and a wide range of wines and beers to enjoy along the serene Hill Country banks of Onion Creek.
Friday night will include a reprise of last year’s Taste of Texas event at Republic Square Park and is open to VIP (Savor) ticket holders as well as general (Taste) pass holders who opted to spring for an extra $150 ticket to attend. Leading up to performances from Delta Spirit and Whiskey Shivers, the evening will showcase a wide variety of Texas-inspired bites from some of the state’s most celebrated chefs including Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ, David Bull of Congress and Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo.
"I'm looking forward to cooking next to great local chefs and chefs from out of town on Friday night,” says Wiseheart. He adds that during the festival weekend he’ll “definitely hit up Marcus Samuelsson. I've seen him speak before and I really enjoyed it. I'm also looking forward to checking out the Fire Pit action on Saturday and Sunday."
The main event
The event really kicks into gear on Saturday, and there is a maze of seminars and tastings to navigate. A quick glance at the schedule may seem a bit overwhelming. Not only are there a wider variety of events to choose from, but there’s also a number of “side” events staged throughout the weekend affair.
Our top picks include Saturday’s "It’s Tailgate Time in Texas" with chef Tim Love, "Classic Desserts In A Modern Kitchen" with Austin’s own Philip Speer of Uchi/Uchiko and "Drinking Vinegars & Shrubs" with Bill Norris of Alamo Drafthouse.
"I really want to check out Charles Smith's ‘Charles and Charles Project' and Tony Abou Ganim's ‘Chasing Hemingway’ seminars on Saturday. They're both great personalities who know their stuff cold,” says Norris. And following his Sunday seminar on beer, he’ll be stopping in to Jonathan Waxman's "Lotta Lobster" seminar. “Who doesn't love lobster?"
On Sunday, we’re most looking forward to learning about French underdog wines with Food & Wine contributor Anthony Giglio as well as Marcus Samuelsson’s take on ramen and Andrew Zimmern’s session on cooking wild birds.
Grand Tasting Pavilion
Organizers of this year’s festival have promised a greatly expanded Grand Tasting area, complete with super fans for cooler comfort. As opposed to other grand tastings at similar festivals, this is not where you see top chefs handing out a small sample of their menu. After all, the more than 30 Texas chefs and accompanying dozen or so national chefs will be busy delivering tastes and tips during the actual festival. (Those looking for tastes from the festival’s top chefs should seek them from the seminar tents, Fire Pits and Tasting Room Sessions.)
The Grand Tasting Pavilion itself is primarily an outlet to taste a wider variety of food and drink products from both local and global producers. We’re most looking forward to sampling foods from Delysia Chocolatier, Coterie Market and Butterface Bake Shop. Simi Winery of California will have an executive winery chef on hand to sample bites paired with a few of their wines and among more well known global brands such as Penfold’s, Terlato Wines, Hahn Winery and Amici Cellars. Some of Texas’ top wines will be on hand including Pedernales Cellars, Duchman Family Winery, and Becker Vineyards.
There will be a special “Chef Showcase” during the Grand Tasting with Texas chefs demonstrating some of their tricks of the trade on both Saturday and Sunday including Shawn Cirkiel, Josh Watkins, Jeff Martinez, Sandi Reinlie, John Bates, Brandon Martinez and Janina O’Leary of Austin and Jesse Perez and Stefan Bowers from San Antonio.
Those looking for the best secrets on outdoor grilling should stop by the chef-hosted Fire Pits. On Saturday, chefs Jason Dady of San Antonio and Tim Byres of Dallas man the pits, and on Sunday Rene Ortiz of La Condesa/Sway and father/son duo Jack and Bryce Gilmore of Jack Allen’s Kitchen and Barley Swine take the reigns.
“I've been traveling all month away from my kitchen, and I’m looking forward to two full days of non-stop cooking,” says Tim Byres. “I’m looking forward to meeting the crowds and hearing their stories over the Fire Pit sessions. It will be food, fire and glory for Austin!”
In addition to the formal schedule of tent seminars and demonstrations, a separate area will be designated for the Tasting Room Sessions with a variety of topics from food and drink experts. Leading our list of sessions to visit are the “Apple Revolution,” a discussion on the growing hard cider trend led by Argus Cidery founder Wes Mickel and “Urban Farming Grows Up,” a look at how urban farms are on the rise led by David and Katie Kraemer Pitre of Tecolote Farm.
Saturday night selections
Those with a ticket to Saturday night’s “Rock Your Taco” event at Republic Square Park can expect a varied approach to tacos from festival chefs including Barley Swine’s Bryce Gilmore, La Condesa and Sway’s Laura Sawicki and returning taco champion Tyson Cole, Uchi/Uchiko, who will compete for the title of Best Taco for the evening.
"Rock Your Taco is at the top of my list,” says returning Rock Your Taco judge Andrew Zimmern. “It’s always a blast to taste the wild tortilla-wrapped combinations. When you have chefs such as Marcus Samuelsson, Susan Feniger, Tim Love, Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook competing for the win, you can expect some fantastic tacos. Last year Tyson Cole knocked it out of the park."
Following the event, The W Hotel’s TRACE restaurant is hosting a special dinner bringing the sights, sounds and tastes of France to downtown with its special culinary event, “Sel et Gras.” The restaurant will feature an array of flavorful sweet and savory bites as well as classic French wines and cocktails from 9 p.m. to midnight. Tickets are $75 for general admission and $60 for AF&WF badge holders and include food, beverages and gratuity.
If you’d like a little taste of New Orleans, head over to the downtown Whole Foods where celebrated Chef John Besh's restaurant, Lüke on the River Walk (San Antonio), will host a special NOLA Takeover Dinner featuring a taste of NOLA-by-way-of-Texas food and drink, with a variety of stations set up with signature dishes from Lüke’s chef John Russ. Guests can enjoy beer from Ranger Creek, St. Arnold and Alamo breweries as well as live music from Urban Achievers Brass Band. The event runs from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. and tickets are $45 with proceeds benefiting the John Besh Foundation.
Beyond the grounds
The weekend may celebrate Austin as a food destination at the festival itself, but it’s also a time to enjoy the bounty of restaurants the city has to offer — especially if you’re not from around here. Presenting out-of-town chef Jonathan Waxman of New York’s Barbuto will be carving out time for one of Central Texas’ claims to fame.
“What am I looking forward to when I return to Austin this weekend? Eating some Texas barbecue,” says Waxman. “Franklin, John Mueller — thank God he is back in business — and The Salt Lick. I want it all! And, the fact that The Salt Lick is at the Austin airport means that I can leave with a smile on my kisser!”
Famed New York chef and cookbook author Marcus Samuelsson will enjoy the good eats, but has a few other stops to make. “In addition to seeing all my buddies and chef friends, I'm most looking forward to checking out what new vintage stores may have opened and what sort of band is going to be the next big thing."
At the W Hotel on Friday, New York food website Food Republic will host a special Interview Lounge from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. featuring live interviews with top-name chefs and comedians in town for both the Austin Food and Wine Festival as well as the weekend’s Moontower Comedy Festival. The hotel's craft bartender Joyce Garrison will be on hand throughout the event mixing up complimentary craft cocktails for interviewees and event guests. There is limited seating available, so attendees are advised to arrive early.
Whether attending the entire festival, or simply popping in for some of the external festivities, there's no doubt you'll find a food-loving vibe throughout the city this weekend.