In Forrest Gump, Bubba rattles off over 20 different ways to prepare shrimp. It turns out that beef is pretty damn versatile too. On a beautiful April night at the rustic Salt Lick Pavilion, roughly 550 people gathered to grub on beef prepared in creative ways by 16 chefs at Live Fire.
In its second year, the celebration of Texas cuisine hosted by the Austin Food & Wine Alliance hit its stride with hot chefs, inventive dishes, delicious drinks and entertainment; The Elana James Trio had people dancing to western-swing in the pavilion while fire dancers mesmerized the crowd on the lawn — even the bugs lit up in the waning light of dusk.
Alliance executive director, Mariam Parker says, “It’s a really fun event that lets people sample the great flavors of Texas and a twist of the red-hot culinary scene.”
Live Fire started as part of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival and continues as a legacy event held on the eve of the new Austin Food & Wine Festival. This year, chefs were given leeway to come up with their own recipes as long as they used beef as the main ingredient. After all, the Texas Beef Council was one of the primary sponsors.
While most of the participating chefs were from Austin, the event also drew chefs from culinary destinations like Portland and San Antonio, where commitment to local ingredients and innovative culinary trends is a shared passion.
The longest line at the event was unsurprisingly for Franklin Barbecue. People in Austin are accustomed to waiting for hours on end for a helping of the barbecue that Aaron Franklin serves at his East Side eatery.
Inspired by local cocktail scenester, David Alan, Franklin presented a sumptuous sandwich with chopped brisket and sausage, purple coleslaw and pickles spilling over a slider bun called the Tipsy Texan. Franklin explained why he participated in the event, “The people putting on Live Fire are so awesome. I can’t imagine not doing this event. It’s for a great cause.”
Not shying away from the exotic, Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo prepared cured beef heart with chicory salad. Why beef heart? Wiseheart quipped, “Because the lungs were already taken. That, and we wanted something unexpected that people would enjoy.”
I was instantly drawn to Beast for the name alone, but when I saw what chef Naomi Pomeroy created, I wanted to set up camp. A rare Texas waygu strip loin roast with wild ramp butter (ramps are in season in Oregon right now) was paired with bone marrow and caramelized tomato tarts. “Bone marrow is the foie gras of beef.”
Her sentiment was shared by meat aficionado and butcher blogger, Reece Lagunas of Whole Foods Market, who made barbacoa with bone marrow butter. “Barbacoa is a staple in Texas. What’s not to like about something that has twenty-five percent fat that cooks down. It’s bound to be good.” Sliced avocado slid over the top gave it extra silkiness.
In one of the most visually stunning displays, John Bullington of Alamo Drafthouse, roasted a 407 pound half cow over an open fire pit and served it with corn mescal pudding. The hulking beast cooked for 20 hours on a specially made rack before it was carved up and served to the crowd.
In his second year making the trip from Portland for Live Fire, Adam Sappington of The Country Cat, created grilled beef shanks tossed in roasted garlic and sherry vinegar with (again) bone marrow butter and Maker’s Mark sauce. “I love beef shank. We do all-around butchery at the restaurant, and I fell in love with the shank because it has a great gelatinous texture. It’s a hidden gem in the cow.”
Local tail-to-snout enthusiast, Ned Elliott of Foreign & Domestic, created a Reuben-like sandwich of beef tongue pastrami on rye with chicken liver mousse and Maker’s Mark onion jam. Maker’s Mark was a sponsor for a second year in a row, which explains why it shows up in multiple recipes.
Drawing on his Hawaiian and Californian roots, Jonathan Gelman of The Driskill served fire-grilled and smoked beef tri tip along with cast-iron cornbread puree. “Tri tip isn’t a very popular cut in Texas. I wanted to introduce it to a broader audience. It’s touchy to cook. If you over cook it, it gets tough. If you under cook it, it gets tough. I cooked this for 12 hours before the event and then finished it on the grill.”
Participants were able to choose their favorite dish in a text-vote. The winner of this year’s Greenling Fan Favorite was Josh Watkins of The Carillon. Watkins prepared two dishes, fried beef cheeks and beef ribs served with corn pudding and pickled vegetables. He braised the beef cheeks ahead of time and then fried them on-site to and served them with Brussels sprouts. The monstrous ribs, which Watkins called “brontosaurus ribs,” were smoked for 48 hours before the event.
There were plenty of good cocktails, local beer and fine wines to wash all of that cow down the gullet with 19 wine and spirit makers and four local craft breweries participating. Texas wine pioneers, Ed and Susan Auler, who were the original founders of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, were on hand to pour Fall Creek Vineyards wines. Always affable up-and-coming craft brewer, Josh Hare, had cans of his Hops and Grain brews at the ready. The Pale Dog ale went particularly well with Franklin Barbeque.
Proceeds from Live Fire will let Austin Food & Wine Alliance support the local culinary community through a vibrant Culinary Grant Program for chefs, farmers, artisan producers and nonprofits. The Alliance, which is dedicated to fostering awareness and innovation in the Central Texas food and beverage community, plans to raise enough money with Live Fire to award two to four grants of $5,000 each.
“A grant of that size makes an impact to the beneficiary, allowing them to do things like buy equipment,” says Parker.
Awards will likely be announced around the time of the Alliance’s next big event, a pig roast, in the fall. I may be hungry again by then.