By Andrea Frances & Hayden Walker

We came out of our food coma to recap Austin Food and Wine Festival…

After dozens of tastings and several thousand glorious calories consumed, we’ve managed to come out of our food coma to recap the 2014 Austin Food & Wine Festival. Mirroring Austin’s transitional culinary achievements, the festival showcases local talent with a blend of titillating celebrity chefs, and continues to grow in size and stature since its inception in 2012. Presented, by C3, AFWFest is a meat heavy, laid-back festival laced with Austin charm. While my waistline and sobriety certainly could not handle it, I wish that every weekend could be Austin Food and Wine Festival (or ACL Music Festival, but that’s a different story).

To be frank, rubbing elbows with food gods makes me giddy. Be they local or celebrity – they are the rock stars and reduce me into a babbling, star-struck mess. Can you blame me – most of these guys (and gals) have ‘James Beard’ in their introduction. Cheersing over good vintages and sharing in culinary genius is simply one of the fastest ways to send foodies into sheer euphoria. The food coma and constant buzz does only serves to enhance the euphoria. Luckily, because these guys are just so awesome at life – you don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy playing ping pong and have an impromptu dance party in the grand tasting tent.

 

Favorite Festival Moments

Chef Ming Tsai Photo: Hayden Walker

Chef Ming Tsai
Photo: Hayden Walker

Hanging out with Chefs Ming Tsai (Blue Ginger, Blue Dragon, Simply Ming) and Kent Rathburn (Abacus, Jasper’s, Blue Plate Kitchen)  – I thoroughly enjoyed meeting these incredibly talented celebrity chefs who have laid the foundations for Austin’s young crop of talent. Plus, they were just genuinely awesome people to chill with for a drink – or two…

Rock Your Taco:

Does a celebration of food without a glorification of the taco violate the Texas Constitution? Checking for accuracy on that; but, here is a fact – tacos in Texas are an art form. Here, one can’t have a food festival without a taco competition. Enter Rock Your Taco. 14 Tacos (and maybe an extra here or there) from ever-inventive chefs Our favorites were

Sea Bass Taco

Tyson Cole’s Sea Bass Taco

Bryce Gilmore's Goat Revolution Taco Photo By Nick Simonite

Bryce Gilmore’s Goat Revolution Taco
Photo By Nick Simonite

Bryce Gilmore’s (Odd Duck, Barley Swine) “Goat Revolution Taco” – THE TORTILLA WAS MADE WITH GOAT FAT. It might have been the perfect tortilla. It did not end there – the goat was succulent and plentiful, booming with flavor and a natural game courtesy of Windy Hills Farm.

Georgia Pelligrini

Georgia Pelligrini

Georgia Pellegrini (Girl Hunter, Modern Pioneering) Dough a Deer Taco – It’s no secret that Georgia Pellegrini is a modern day pioneer, with a welcomed increased ratio of hipster influences to prep. She can basically figure out how to do anything and makes pintrest posts all us wannabees can only hope to emulate. She is a beautiful, gun toting genius who can do…anything. Her “Dough a Deer Taco” boasted venison with a plantain tortilla that had a texture we went crazy for and her segments were original, just like her. Watermelon Kegs? Thank Georgia…this July 4th will be epic.

IMG_4276Kent Rathburn’s Pork Taco – this was one of the more traditional tacos that we sampled, but traditions exist for a reason. All flavors were on point in this taco and the texture was everything a seasoned taco lover cherishes.

 

 

Photo: Hayden Walker

Photo: Hayden Walker

David Bull’s (Congress) “Black Heart” morcilla double shelled taco, with pork blood and ground goat heart sausage in lamb casing.  It looked like a taco-dog or something you would have made in college on a tight budget, but it was so much more! Filled with perfect ingredients, the blood sausage taco included a light parsley salad and lemon crema inside of a double shell. It was the most unique creation of the evening.

Photo: Andi Haughton

Photo: Andi Haughton

Ming Tsai’s (Blue Ginger, Blue Dragon, Simply Ming) Duck Taco –  There are moments when “I love you” comes out of your mouth to complete strangers. This was one of them. I was too star-struck to pay attention to what I was eating, I only knew that Ming Tsai handed it to me and I was eating it. Eventually, I noticed, with glee, the familiar mango salsa on top of a perfectly mini crispy shell. I later found out (thank you instagram) that it was a duck taco. It was delicious. The salsa was perfectly and simply Ming. I love him

The Festival Experience:

Paul Qui Photo: Andy Haughton

Paul Qui’s Tongue – Yes, we are all in love with Paul Qui (East Side King, Qui). Why? The man has the magical touch with tongue. ‘Nuff said.

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Justin Yu – We still love kale. Sorry, not sorry. We aren’t over kale yet and the Oxheart Chef’s Kale and Root Veggie Fritters were delicious little veggie nom bombs, in addition to being on of the few vegetarian friendly options of the festival.

 

andrew and ben

We also loved Andrew Wiseheart’s squash and shroom that precedes his much-anticipated Gardener opening.

The Fire Pit

Fire Pit – Jack Gilmore’s (Jack Allen’s Kitchen) fire truck rotisserie palace a full-size fire engine that has recently been outfitted as a rotisserie grill and dispenses Fireman’s 4 ale, was the focal point of the Butler Park – and not just because of the beautiful pig roasting a top. The pig was not to be outdone by the goat, which was equally succulent. The showcase featured some of the best meat workers in the state and was a place for locals and local purveyors to shine. Jack and Bryce Gilmore delivered delightful dishes from the truck’s raised rotisserie and could often be found hanging on top or tailgating behind the big truck. Cheers to being awesome, guys.

 

Taste of Texas:

Friday Night's "Taste of Texas" Photo: Hayden Walker

Friday Night’s “Taste of Texas”
Photo: Hayden Walker

Included in Savor passes ($150 add on to wristband passes), the Taste of Texas kick-off takes over the home of downtown’s farmer’s market in Republic Square. Foodie’s and vinos alike sampled Francis Coppola vintages while noshing small noms from 16 Texas restaurants. My favorite of the evening was Alexis Chong’s (Sway Thai) inventive Ma Hor-inspired offering. In an original twist, Chong used pork threads and dried shrimps in a palm sugar fish caramel sauce atop a betel leaf in place of traditional ground meat. Toasted pecan, shallot, coconut and jasmine rice powder all contributed to make this little nom one of the most lingering – and complex – bites I have had in a while. Other favorites included Jason Dady’s (Umai Mi/Tre Trattoria/Two Bros BBQ/The Duk Truck) crab and crispy rice salad, Justin Yu’s kale and root veggie fritter and The Pass & Provisions fried lamb rib.

 

Andrew Zimern's "Big Balls" Photo: Hayden Walker

Andrew Zimern’s “Big Balls”
Photo: Hayden Walker

Big Balls – Andrew Zimmern hosted a segment entitled “Big Balls.” Then he made jokes about balls, whilst wearing a shirt that stated ‘I Love Balls.’ As if that wasn’t glorious enough, then he made duck meatballs. On Sunday Chef Ming Tsai and John Currence (City Grocery Restaurant Group) joined him for his egg segment. Yes, we are currently envisioning the awesomeness of a duck meatball-meets-egg segment with a Currence and Tsai twist. We can wait for this sequel.

Chef Showcase – A welcomed addition to the Grand Tasting tent and a place for locals culinary gods to shine. Along with everyone else, we are still drooling over LaV’s Allison Jenkins (sea bass tartare w/ eggplant) and Josh Watkins’ (The Carillion) Thai Pork Ribs.

 

Photo: Hayden Walker

Tiny Pies – I love miniature things (so really all the bites at the fest were up my alley) and dislikes desserts. One of her festival favorites: Tiny Pies Pecan Pie – not very sweet, perfectly savory all in a golden, buttery, flaky crust. I know where next Thanksgiving’s pies will be coming from – all 20 tiny bites.
Photo: Hayden Walker

Un-oaked Chardonnay – Much of the Chardonnay featured in advance of and during the festival was un-oaked. A big deviation for this buttery, oakey loving girl was the refreshingly light Chardonnay that was served in abundance. In all fairness, I largely stopped drinking white a couple years ago after the sugar intake rendered horrific hangovers – so I’m a little off the grid. However, this un-oaked business has a magical flavor process. Rather than knocking you with a metaphorical oak bat on the front end, it’s unassuming at first. Each sip brings more depth and increase complexity, making for some delicious food pairings. Some of the un-0aked varietals that we were fortunate to enjoy off-site included Bridlewood Estate Winery’s Monterey County Chardonnay 2012, paired with an outstanding Royal Red Shrimp and grilled celery root creation from Odd Duck (pictured below) and Taken Wine Co.’s Complicated Chardonnay 2012.

Graham Elliot Photo By Hayden Walker

How great does Graham Elliot look? Seriously, he is such a great guy and his energy and talent is electric. Kudos, chef.
Photo By Hayden Walker

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The novelty of wine-infused popcorn charmed this girl. Thank you Kim Crawford. Now I only have to figure out how to powder my un-oaked chardonnay so that movie night is extra fun

The Downs:

Dollars – Food comas don’t run cheap. To eat and drink your fill at the festival proper, you will have to shell out $250. A “Savor” pass runs at $850 and includes VIP tent access, festival proper access and tickets to Taste of Texas kick off and Rock Your Taco events. A cheaper way to go full-foodie is to buy the regular pass and $150 add on the special events, knowing there is plenty of vino in the Grand Tasting tent to offset the $300 VIP loss

While local love always abounds in Austin, it was strange to see such a plethora of non-local bevies. While that is expected of vintners, the plethora of local craft brews and spirits, not to mention Hill Country vintners would have been welcome alternatives to the largely commercialized varieties that were available. It seems to be a trend in Austin that festivals become commercialized quickly, so I hope this is not a signal of the years to come.

 Photo: Hayden Walker

Photo: Hayden Walker
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Vegetarians beware – this is a Texas food festival and, true to form, boasts mind-numbingly large quantities of meat. Though the options for vegetarians are tasty, they are few. Vegans…eat beforehand.

Lines – Note to self, if you attend next year’s festivities, you can expect lines – especially for the likes of Tyson Cole. Rock Your Taco winner, Richard Blais ran out of his octopus and lamb taco well prior to the announcement for “best taco.”

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