If you are a local foodie, you have probably been to one of Austin Food & Wine Alliance’s events. Each year, the nonprofit dazzles with tasty parties like Wine & Swine, Live Fire, and Official Drink of Austin, not to mention its Wine & Dine dinner series, which brings celebrity chefs like Hugh Acheson, Lidia Bastianich, and Alon Shaya to town.
With such star power, it can be easy to forget that its all in service of sparking innovation in the Central Texas food and wine community. Over the course of six years, AFWA has given more than a quarter of a million dollar to chefs, artisans, farmers, and nonprofits that are leading the charge in the Austin area to create a more sustainable and equitable food scene.
At an awards ceremony held on December 5 at the Fairmont Hotel Austin, the organization honored its latest batch of culinary heroes. From a field of 40 applicants, an anonymous panel of industry leaders selected nine winners to receive $60,000 in grant funding — the largest amount given in the nonprofit’s history.
“We are continually amazed by the cool and outstanding projects that are happening in our community,” said Cathy Cochran-Lewis, grant chair and board vice president, in a release. “We are so fortunate to have the ingenuity, talent, and commitment of these individuals and organizations focused on the advancement of food, wine, and spirits in Central Texas. It’s an extraordinary honor to be able to help these projects come to fruition.”
The evening started by recognizing two worthy projects as honorable mentions. Although receiving no grant money, Texas boutique wine producer The Grower Project and agricultural program The Central Texas Farmers Cooperative were highlighted as initiatives worthy of support.
The big winner of the evening was Barton Spring’s Mill, Austin’s first flour mill since 1886. In receiving $15,000, the business earned AFWA’s highest single grant to date. Dai Due chef Jesse Griffiths was surprised as the winner of the first-ever Willie Nelson’s Luck Texas Grant for $5,000, a prize that honors a chef's contribution to American roots cooking.
Other grants included:
- $10,000 for the Multicultural Refugee Coalition, a paid apprenticeship program that trains refugees in organic and sustainable farming practices.
- $10,000 for farmstead cheese producer Bee Tree Farm.
- $7,500 for Foodways Texas to help in a project preserving Texas wine history.
- $5,000 for Lost Pines Yaupon Teas, a producer of teas made from the only native caffeine source in North America.
- $2,500 for Texas High School BBQ Cookers, an organization that supports education in live-fire cooking through high school barbecue competitions.
- $2,500 for Kerr County’s heritage pork producer Zanzenberg Farm.
- $2,500 for Urban Roots to help grow a new farming program for at-risk youth.
The alliance also took time to pay tribute to pioneering Austin chef Charles Mayes, who is hard at work completing upcoming restaurant project Cielo Bistro Mexico. After helping found the AFWA grant judging panel in 2012, he has retired and is finally able to reveal his identity.