Here's who brought the heat at 2023's Austin Food & Wine Festival
If you've ever taken a bite of a dish at a restaurant and felt an overwhelming urge to applaud, there's a place for you.
Austin Food & Wine Festival is ostensibly about tasting food from around town, but in practice it's about a lot more — chief among those other reasons is to literally cheer on a chef among a half-drunk crowd of fervent fans.
For the uninitiated reader, this festival is split into a few parts: rows and rows of tents for local(ish) chefs and beverage producers to hand out samples, cooking demos, guided tastings, a barbecue pit with rotating snacks all day, and some after-hours festivities.
People do get loose with the unlimited pours (like having an open bar you've paid for with your ticket), but there really is plenty of opportunity to choose your own adventure — it's more than possible to enjoy the whole festival even if you're just there for the food or the drinks, independently.
Compared to other big festivals in Austin, the rules here are hilariously lax: You can't walk up at the end of an ACL Fest musical set and noodle on the keyboard, but anyone at Food & Wine who could find a clean spoon got a taste of Chef Graham Elliot's cheesy butternut squash risotto after his cooking demo. Hanging around the open barbecue pit at the end of the day and catching tastes of grilled squash and focaccia is still deeply different than being seated next to even the most open restaurant kitchen.
Chefs and foodies alike were in rare form over the weekend, getting each other hyped up about simple pleasures, espousing hot takes about what one should and should not do with garlic, and bonding in a way that just isn't possible during our day-to-day in restaurants.
Some other highlights from the Austin Food & Wine Festival:
- Laurel brought a delightful bite of strawberry, goat cheese, and pickled beets for both days of the festival. The sweetness of the strawberry mixed with the tanginess of the cheese complemented the earthy beets. The bite was topped with a balsamic glaze that tied it all together without overwhelming the other flavors. — Amber Heckler, Network Writer
- Chef Tim Love worked the crowd in more ways than one on Sunday, giving a demo on burnt foods (specifically charred steak, red onions, and glazed carrots), shouting out his Longhorns football-playing son, Tannahill Love, and then running off to the DJ booth to show off his skills on the turntable. Celebrity chef Anne Burrell had a laugh at his refusal to be held down, and decided to answer questions instead of cooking. Among her answers was her best advice for someone entering the industry: show up on time — show up at all — and leave your phone in your locker if you can. — Brianna Caleri, Austin Editor
- The Longhorns weren't the only ones that brought their A-game on Saturday. Bakery Lorraine baked not one, not two, but three flavors of french macarons for festival guests to enjoy. The Mexican hot chocolate had a rich, creamy filling with just a little heat, and the Mexican vanilla was the perfect opposite; It was much simpler and milder in flavor without being underwhelming, and was crisper in texture. But the churro flavored macaron was (by far) the star of the show. It was fully covered in cinnamon sugar and it effortlessly captured the essence of the classic Mexican dessert. — AH
- There's really no need to mess with most classics, which is perhaps why the leading, upscale restaurants successfully stuck to things like ravioli (Vespaio) and eggplant dip (Yamas). But it was humble Tacodeli that brought what I thought was the most surprising bite of the weekend: horchata-braised duBreton St. Louis rib tacos. These bizarre but creative morsels were a little sweet, very salty, and oozing cinnamon-pork drippings. It would be a little much for more than a couple of bites, but it got the I-didn't-know-this-was-possible gears turning. — BC
- Speaking of creative combos, Garrison served a smoked salmon everything bagel bite that was the best treat for someone arriving to the festival on an empty stomach at 1 pm. A teeny crunchy waffle cone held the salmon and cream cheese filling without getting soggy, and it was garnished with the everything bagel seasoning. It was the epitome of a delicious breakfast bite. — AH
- Every year there's a wave of raw, cured fish — usually in the form of ceviche — as an easy no-heat dish that really packs a flavorful punch. This year, Poke-Poke bested them all with tuna tossed in a strong sesame dressing, with cucumber, scallions, and diced jalapeños. The crunchy greens gave the combo an unexpected, lively texture that might even convert some poke naysayers. — BC
- If you didn't want to stand in a long line for barbecue at the fire pit, la Barbecue's booth was the place to be. They served a smoked pork loin with sea salt and pickled red onion. Although the table sign indicated there would be spiced applesauce, our servings didn't have any. It wasn't entirely necessary because the pork loin was not dry, and the acidity from the red onions provided a bright element to each bite. The seasoning on the pork loin created a mouth-watering and delicious crust on every slice. — AH
- There are, frankly, too many wines and too many individual palates to start making overarching recommendations in that category. If anything, the wine highlight is the luxury of talking to someone who really knows about the product — not just a working restaurant knowledge, but down to every last detail. The non-wine spirits were easier to tackle. Aviation Gin put together gin and tonics with a cinnamon stick for stirring, with a clean, simple taste — not too much juniper, which might appeal to those who can't get into the pine flavor. Tequila Aguasol brought three batched cocktails served in branded shot glasses: a classic lime and orange margarita, a golden carrot margaria, and a citrus-forward agua coco. — BC & AH
- In addition to the dozens of wineries at the festival, there were plenty of non-wine and alcohol-free beverages to be found. Nonalcoholic spirit company Seedlip brought a trio of signature spirits as an option for sober folks (and for those who needed a break from all the other alcoholic beverages out for sampling). — AH
As always, this festival is a shining example of a do-it-yourself festival, for everyone from the chefs to the tasters. There's something beautiful about a collaborative event that doesn't force the drama. It puts food on the table, wines in glasses, and lets Austin's food lovers handle the rest. See you next year — but we're not planning ahead.