50 Things That Defined Austin’s Food & Wine Fest

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 04.30.14
Rock Your Taco
The Austin Food & Wine Festival’s hottest ticket, Saturday’s Rock Your Taco competition was a chance to taste food from 14 chefs of national stature. The event was rolled into the $850 Savor ticket, and it was a bargain $150 add-on to the $250 Taste ticket. Here are all 14, ranked:
1. David Bull of Congress: Blood-sausage crunch wrap
2. Tim Love of Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth: Elk foie gras ode to Jack in the Box
3. Tyson Cole of Uchi: Coconut milk-poached sea bass
4. Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger and TV fame: Chinese red roast duck
5. Tandy Wilson of City House in Nashville: Ham scrapple with grits
6. Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill in Chicago: Cochinita pibil
7. Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine and Odd Duck: “Goat Revolution”
8. Austin author Georgia Pellegrini: “Dough, a Deer” with salsa verde
9. John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss.: Lamb “Redneck” tacos
10. Mike Lata of Fig in Charleston, S.C.: Fried sweetbreads
11. Monica Pope of Sparrow Bar + Cookshop in Houston: Thai-style pork taco. Points off for the lettuce wrap.
12. Kent Rathbun of Abacus in Dallas and Jasper’s in Austin: Ancho-roasted pork shoulder
13. Chris Shepherd of Oxtail in Houston: Korean braised beef
14. Richard Blais of Juniper & Ivy in San Diego. The “Top Chef” darling won the competition. But his booth game was s-l-o-w and his octopus and lamb picadillo ran out while many of us were still in line. Cheers to the chefs who rolled the lines and served until the end.
Taste of Texas: ATX edition
Highlights from Austin chefs at Friday’s Taste of Texas event.
15. The pain and pleasure of ghost pepper bark from Delysia Chocolatier.
16. The siren’s call of sour sausage and egg crepe from Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher of Lenoir.
17. Everything good at Ramen Tatsu-ya comes from a spoon, even bacon and eggs.
Taste of Texas: San Antonio edition
Highlights from San Antonio chefs, who come to Austin so often we should annex them.
18. Crispy crab salad in a Chinese takeout box from Jason Dady’s group.
19. A tiny blue corn masa macaron filled with Mexican ricotta and squash blossom puree from Diego Galicia and Rico Torres of Mixtli.
20. Duck barbacoa from Jesse Perez of Arcade.
Taste of Texas: Houston/DFW edition
21. Fried lamb rib from Terrence Gallivan and Seth Seigel-Gardner from Pass & Provisions in Houston.
22. Braised veal cheek and pork belly from André Natera of the Common Table in Dallas.
23. Ajo blanco with white gazpacho and ramp vinaigrette from Omar Flores of Casa Rubia in Dallas.
Contigo’s new harvest
24. Andrew Wiseheart and Ben Edgerton of Contigo announced Saturday that they’re planning a vegetable-centric (but not vegetarian) restaurant called Gardner later this year in the old post office on East Sixth Street. The boys have already mastered the ranch aesthetic at Contigo. Life on the farm looks promising.
Guerrilla fest
25. The Austin Food & Wine Alliance is the new festival’s predecessor and beneficiary. Or is it the rebellious stepchild? Their small tent’s big agenda included a raucous Official Cocktail of Austin session with Justin Elliott of Qui and Tipsy Texan David Alan, a taste of entrepreneurship from Stephanie McClenny of Confituras (above right) and a charcuterie class from Salt & Time. Not to mention the Alliance’s pre-festival Live Fire wine-and-dine at the Salt Lick the week before. For people who miss the single-event-ticket format of the former Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, the $75 Live Fire felt a lot like that festival’s old Sunday Fair.
Chef Showcase, Saturday edition
26. Josh Jones of Salt & Time brought a headcheese crepe.
27. Lamb pastrami with apple-fennel slaw from Chris Hurley and Jennifer Costello of the Bonneville.
28. Sea bass tartare with harissa and smoked eggplant from Allison Jenkins of laV.
29. Cured, grilled, braised and fried Thai barbecue pork rib from Josh Watkins of the Carillon.
30. Foie and chicken liver ganache with macerated strawberries from Sarah McIntosh of Epicerie.
31. Masa gnocchi with almond mornay, chile de arbol salsa and huitlacoche chips from Zack Northcutt of Swift’s Attic.
32. Pistachio panna cotta from Sandi Reinlie of Vespaio.
33. Pecan-smoked brisket and kimchi from John Bates and Brandon Martinez of Noble Sandwich Co.
Fire Pit warriors
34. Chef Ned Elliott of Foreign & Domestic started his Fire Pit adventure — pighead tacos — at 4 a.m. Sunday. Speaking of that, Fara Coffee's Kelly Driscoll opened her booth early to keep the crews caffeinated.
Add + subtract
35. Chef Mark Schmidt of Austin’s new Blackbird & Henry brought an Indian street snack called jhal muri, with a slow burn and as many colors and textures as a wedding sari. “You know how they say to check your look in the mirror, then take one thing off,” Schmidt said. “That's how I approach food.”
Cold coffee is hot
36. Austin's High Brew Coffee in 8-ounce cans — especially the Salted Caramel — was a sweet, creamy roasted jolt for around 60 calories. Cuvee Coffee brought its Black & Blue cold coffee on nitro-charged draft to the Austin Food & Wine Alliance tent.
Bringing GatorBack (get your gator on)
37. Fried alligator and homemade sriracha (alert the neighbors) from Camden Stuerzenberger of the upcoming North Austin restaurant Fork & Vine. Also: Gator sausage with beer fondue and soft pretzel from Frank.
Animal ethics
38. The whole hog on the Fire Pit on Sunday was an English Large Black and Tamworth cross from South Texas Heritage Pork in Floresville. The farm’s Kelley Escobedo (shown with her husband, Mark) had this to say about treating their animals with respect: "How can you eat meat that's never been loved?"
Signs, signs, where are all the signs?
39. Cooks and customers alike would benefit from cards at every station describing what’s being served. Then the cooks wouldn’t have to say “shrimp with tasso ham” 500 times, and 500 customers wouldn’t have to ask, “What kind of ham is this again?”
Chef Showcase, Sunday edition
40. Sauerkraut gougeres and a float with ginger ice cream and sarsaparilla from Cory Untch of Goodall’s Kitchen.
41. Croque madame with quail egg and duck bacon from Lawrence Kocurek of Trace.
42. Jeff Martinez of El Chile brought birria de borrego.
43. Coconut granita with compressed pineapple and melon from Rick Lopez of La Condesa.
44. Kale gazpacho with pinenut gremolata and jagerwurst with rhubarb mostardo from Shawn Cirkiel of Parkside.
45. Goat and beef vindaloo guisada from Kassie Harris of Whip In.
Barbecue blitz
46. Chad Franks represented his Schmidt Family Barbecue with Lockhart-style brisket in the Grand Tasting tent.
47. Whether Wayne Mueller’s at home in Taylor at Louie Mueller Barbecue or on the festival circuit, this son of Texas barbecue brings brisket with bark, bite and a ring of sunset red from generations of Texas smoke. At a panel discussion Sunday, he said his father and grandfather would never believe how big Texas barbecue has become.
48. At that same panel, Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue said the obstacles are endless: wind, wet wood, dry wood, drought, heat, too much grass, too much corn...
49. Over at the VIP tent, Shane Stiles and Lance Kirkpatrick of Stiles Switch BBQ brought the full board: pork and beef ribs, brisket and sausage.
Play “Freebird”!
50. Chef John Russ (top right) of Lüke in San Antonio takes his leadership cues from Lüke founder John Besh: “Your job’s not just to cook food. You are there to motivate,” Russ said. Even so, Russ was doing some mean cooking at the Fire Pit on Sunday: Seared quail with strawberry and pecan. The quail were cooked on a sculpture that looked like tracers left by birds in sudden flight, inspiring Russ to call the piece “Covey Rise.” It was designed by Matt Satter of Austin’s Drophouse Design and welded together on Saturday by Drophouse’s Christian Klein (bottom right).
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)