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Photo by Hunter Townsend

If you think Austin doesn’t have a most-anticipated celebration of beef, think again. That’s the title Live Fire (stylized Live Fire!) claims while announcing its return on April 6 to Camp Mabry, the Austin military base hosting star chefs for an evening of cooking over an open flame. This is the best kind of bonfire: one catered by James Beard nominees, Top Chef contestants, and more Central Texas favorites.

Aside from celebrating beef, this event by the Texas Food and Wine Alliance (TWFA) raises funds for its culinary grant program, which supports Texans in many subsets of the culinary industry including farmers, chefs, winemakers, and more, as long as their projects benefit their surrounding communities. By 2022, the grant had awarded $532,500 to stoke the flames of these initiatives.

The event will spotlight food as well as wine, beer, and cocktails. This may sound familiar to people who visited the Austin Food + Wine Festival in the fall, which annually benefits the same organization.

Chefs are bringing the heat from across the state (and a couple even farther beyond) for this evening of collaborative outdoor cooking. More will be announced soon.

The first round of Live Fire chefs includes:

  • Damien Brockway — Distant Relatives (2020 TFWA Grant Winner, Austin)
  • Marlon Rison — Community Vegan (2022 TFWA Grant Winner, Austin)
  • Jakub Czyszczon — Garrison (Austin)
  • Aaron Franklin & Rene Garza — Uptown Sports Club (Austin)
  • Kareem El-Ghayesh — KG BBQ (Austin)
  • Robert Hale — Texas Beef Council (Austin)
  • Jess Pryles – Hardcore Carnivore (Austin)
  • Anne Ng & Jeremy Mandrell — Bakery Lorraine (Austin & San Antonio)
  • Tiffany Derry — Roots Southern Table (Farmers Branch)
  • Jennifer Hwa Dobbertin — Best Quality Daughter (San Antonio)
  • Max Frisbie — Mill Scale Metal Works (Lockhart)
  • Evelyn Garcia & Henry Lu — By Kin (Houston)
  • Elvia Huerta & Alex Garcia — Evil Cooks (Los Angeles)
  • Olivia Lopez & Jonathan Percival — Molino Olōyō (Dallas)
  • Serigne Mbaye — Dakar (New Orleans)
  • Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman — José (Dallas)

"This year’s Live Fire! lineup features some of the most electrifying chefs in America," said TFWA executive director Erika White in a press release, "We’re fired up to show Austin everything they have to offer.”

A VIP experience will expand the tasting event to a “midcentury supper club,” featuring cocktail carts, flaming desserts, and, presumably, more beef and seafood, simply referred to as “surf” and “turf” separately. Houston heads with experience with the input of three chefs: Aaron Bludorn of Navy Blue, Drake Leonards of Eunice, and Becky Masson of Fluff Bake Bar.

Live Fire will be held on March 6, from 6:30-9 pm. Tickets ($125 general admission, $175 VIP) are available now on Eventbrite. All proceeds benefit the culinary grant program by the Texas Food and Wine Alliance.

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5 tips to build stunning sand sculptures from 2023 Texas SandFest winners

Fun at the beach

As summer fast approaches, sandy vacations to coastal destinations are on the horizon for many travelers. For those with kids in tow, sandcastle-making might top the list of beach trip must-dos.

But “playing” in the sand isn’t just an activity for children, as proven by the 22 professional sand sculptors from around the world who recently competed in the 26th annual Texas SandFest, held in Port Aransas in April. The internationally recognized event, started by Port A locals in 1997, is the largest native-sand sculptor competition in the nation; nearly 70,000 people attended this year.

Competition entries featured everything from mermaids to the Grim Reaper, all intricately carved, brushed, and chiseled from sand, ocean water, and perhaps a little diluted spray glue that sculptors say helps maintain detail. The competitors work on their masterpieces during the event, allowing spectators to witness their progress from start to finish.

“I do around five international sand sculpting competitions per year. It’s always a great challenge to compete a high level,” says Benoit Dutherage, a competitive sculptor from France who also creates snow sculptures in the French Alps during the winter.

Dutherage took first place in the Duo Masters category, along with his sand sculpting partner Sue McGrew, for their work called “Wish You Were Here.” Comprised of two loving faces (one mystically cut in half), the sculpture was a tribute to Pink Floyd.

“We like to reflect human emotions in our sculptures,” he says. “It is never easy to pick an idea among the thousands of ideas we have.”

Florida resident Thomas Koet, whose sculpture called “The Prospector” won first place in the People’s Choice category, intended to create something with horses and a cowboy as an homage to Mustang Island, where the competition took place. High tides just before the event thwarted his plans.

“The high tide washed away so much of the sand, I had only enough left for a mule or a foal,” he says. “So I decided to make an old prospector with a mule.”

Thinking out of the box when it comes to carving sand is just one of several suggestions Koet has for recreational sand sculptors. (“Who says it has to be a castle?” he says.) He and other winners from the 2023 Texas SandFest say they are always happy to see novices get creative.

Here are five of the pros' top tips for producing a beachfront masterpiece.

1. Think beyond the standard sandcastle
“Design and sculpt outside of your comfort zone,” says Abe Waterman, a sculptor from Prince Edward Island, Canada, who took first place in the Solo Masters division with his sculpture, “Sleeps with Angels.” The mega sculpture featured four angels at four corners holding a blanket carrying a sleeping woman. “While this may not lead to the best sculpture results, one will improve faster by doing this.”

Waterman noted that there are different types of sand depending on location. Some are better suited for detailed work while others work well for verticality. “But something can always be sculpted regardless of the sand quality, the design just may need to be altered,” he says.

Koet recommends picking something that will fit your attention span. “You can make anything you want,” he says. “You can make a cat, a shark, a monster truck, your high school mascot, a sneaker, or a shark eating an ice cream cone.”

2. Use the right tools
Forgo the cheap tourist shop plastic bucket and shovel set. “You definitely need proper tools to get a good result: A solid shovel, a few trowels – not too big – and a wall painting brush to clean your sculpture,” says Dutherage. “You’ll also need buckets.”

Think big painter’s buckets, he says, used to make what’s essentially “sand mud” consisting of lots of water and sand. Which leads to the next tip ...

3. Create a form mold
Consider this the secret to head-turning sand sculptures. Whether it’s a 10-foot-tall wooden box with sides that come off, or a plastic bucket with the bottom cut out, a “form mold” is an open-top vessel used to hold packed sand and water to create a carve-able structure.

“It’s a very useful thing to have in order to get a solid block, and to go high,” says Dutherage. “If you are a handyman, you can build your own forms. But a quick solution is to take a bucket, no matter what size, and cut out the bottom. Then put that bucket upside down on the sand. Add a few inches of sand, some water, mix with your trowel and compact that layer. Repeat until the bucket is full. Then gently pull the bucket up and surprise! You will get a nice block of sand ready for a sandcastle full of windows, arches, and gates.”

The compacted layers of sand and water almost act as cement, creating a sturdy base for carving. Dutherage says folks can easily repeat the form mold process to create multiple bases, either side by side or stacked.

4. Use plenty of water, for the sculpture and yourself
Benoit recommends adding even more water during the sculpting process.

“Bring a plant sprayer,” he says. “Sand needs to be wet to be sculptable.”

Even rain during sand sculpture building isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “One of the biggest misconceptions is that rain will destroy a sand sculpture,” says Waterman. “While this is possible, most often it just textures the surface.”

Water is also essential for the sculptor, as staying hydrated is key during the process, Waterman adds.

Texas SandFest

Texas SandFest

"The Prospector" took first place in the 2023 Texas SandFest People's Choice category

5. Practice, Practice, Practice
“The biggest misconception is that I do anything different than anybody who does it only for the first time,” says Koet, who’s been sculpting sand for 25 years. “Sure, I bring more and bigger tools and I spend much more time shoveling the sand high and mixing it with water. But there is no magic other than years of practice.”

Waterman, who admits sand sculpting has taken over his life, competes in up to 10 contests a year and also creates sculptures for exhibits and corporate commissions.

“Tricks and tips will only get a person so far,” he says. “But ultimately practice and putting the time in will get them a whole lot further.”

Benoit agrees. “Making a sand sculpture requires a lot of work and the more you practice, the better you will get,” he says. “But first of all, you have to enjoy the fun of it.”

New Hill Country farmers market debuts in Bee Cave this month

MARKET BUZZ

Over 40 local farmers and makers will bring their goods to the Hill Country Galleria on Sunday, June 4 for the launch of the new Bee Cave Farmers Market. Visitors can shop at the Central Plaza Lawn from 10 am to 2 pm.

Locally-grown, fresh produce will be sold by Farmer Dave's, Citizen Mushroom, Pedernales River Farm, Persnickety Gardens, and Smyrna Farms. Gift and creative vendors include Auntie Gigi's Dog Treats, Austin Fine Jewelry, B&G Artisan Gifts, Herbal Root Collective, Luminosa Vida, Plant Lady ATX, and many more.

The farmers market doesn't just provide opportunities to shop local: Nonprofits that would like to spread the word about their cause can also find a place at the market with their free booth application.

Organizers have also dedicated an entire row of booths to young entrepreneurs looking to start their own small business, and provide any planning or decorating assistance as necessary, free of charge.

The market will also feature plenty of live music and family-friendly activities. Local bands will perform from 11 am to 2 pm every week in June. The Hens are scheduled to perform during the market's debut on June 4, and Rent Party will perform on June 11. Honeybee Jazz will bring their sultry vocals to the stage on June 18, and The Boss Jaguars will close out the month on June 25.

More information about the Bee Cave Farmer's Market can be found on their website.

Heartless Bastards to play two nights at Antone's, plus more Austin music picks for early June

Music Notes

School’s out for summer, so now you've got plenty of time to take in the many great local shows that are coming up. Recommendations for the first half of June can be found here.

Beat 4 Beat at the Belmont – Thursday, June 1
Beat 4 Beat, which provides free after-school music classes for Austin-area school districts and private schools, is holding a fundraising show this Thursday, June 1 at the Belmont. Latin funk vets Grupo Fantasma will headline, and Jaime Ospina (of Superfónicos) will open the show. There are two ticket options: $30 for GA, $60 for VIP.

Rickshaw Billie’s Big Dumb Fest at the Mohawk – Sunday, June 4
Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol have put together what they’re calling the Big Dumb Fest, and it's this Sunday, June 4 at the Mohawk. Aside from the buzzy rockers, the lineup includes Gus Baldwin & the Sketch, Tia Carrera, Eagle Claw, Billy Glitter, Buzz Electro, and Pinko, plus you can expect eats by Chilly’s Philly’s, Bad Larry Burger Club, Jim Jams Biscuits, and Chef’s Kiss. Tickets for the event are just $20.

Britt Daniel at C-Boys Heart & Soul – Wednesday, June 7
Spoon frontman Britt Daniel has a solo gig lined up for Wednesday, June 7 at C-Boys Heart & Soul. Jo Alice will join him for the set, and you can also expect performances from Alicia Gail and Shooks. Tickets for the show are $12.

Sir Woman at the Parish – Friday, June 9
Soul pop act Sir Woman (Kelsey Wilson of Wild Child) has a new song on the way and a show on the books for Friday, June 9 at the Parish. Cat Clemons, Motenko, and Sketch round out the rest of the bill. Tickets are $22 each.

Heartless Bastards at Antone’s – June 9 & 10
Heartless Bastards have two shows coming up at Antone’s – Friday, June 9 and Saturday, June 10. The rock act, which features the big-voiced Erika Wennerstrom, will be joined by Jon Muq on the first night and Tele Novella on the second. Tickets for each show are $30.

Being Dead at Hotel Vegas – Friday, June 16
Get yourself to Hotel Vegas on Friday, June 16. Not only will Being Dead be celebrating the release of a new single off their anticipated album, When Horses Would Run, but the rest of the bill also features some noteworthy up and comers, including Die Spitz, Font, and je'Texas. Tickets can be had for just $10.