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
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
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 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.
Kent 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.
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.
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:
Taste of Texas:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”