Austin Food & Wine Fest: Bread and circus

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 05.02.12
At the Austin Food & Wine Festival, the $250 Weekender ticket gave badgeholders access to cooking demonstrations, the Grand Tasting tents where local restaurants passed out bites and winemakers poured samples, an uncertain shot at the grilling theater’s game of musical chairs or an elusive slot in the standing-room-only sushi-rolling rondelay —  and all the dust and distressed value calculation they could handle. Here are scenes from two days of what the Weekender badge bought.
 In the photo above, top left: Pecan bites from Austin’s Tiny Pies at the Grand Tasting.
 Top center: Nicoise-style salad cups from chef Justin Raiford and the team at Bess Bistro.
 Top right: One of the best bites in the tent was pate maison from Austin’s Pate Letelier.
 Middle left: Chefs Andreas Exarhos and Alex Kahn — both most recently of David Bull’s Congress — are running the kitchen at the new Italian restaurant Trento at Loop 360.
 Middle right: Texas wines in the tasting tent included vermentino from the Duchman Family Winery in Driftwood. Other wines and liquor with Texas connections spotted among the pouring tables: Becker Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Llano Estacado, Wrath, Texas Sake Company, Real Ale Brewing.
 Bottom: California wines like Hahn Family and Alexander Valley were the most highly visible players at the festival. Chateau Greysac from France was part of wine writer Anthony Giglio’s presentation.
 Inset photo, top: Christina Tosi of New York’s Momofuku Milk Bar talked about something adolescent boys have known since forever: Cereal milk tastes great. At Tosi’s bakery and dessert bar, they use cereal milk in ice cream, White Russian shakes and cookies, for starters, often tossing in the toasted crumbs of the cereals themselves. She made cornflake chocolate chip marshmallow cookies, offering these tips: Cream your butter like crazy. Don’t overmix the flour or it becomes a rock-hard gluten factory. Refrigerate the dough before cooking or your cookies will go all Salvador Dali, and where’s that melting kitchen timer when you need it?
 Inset photo, bottom left: Miami chef Michelle Bernstein. Because her smile, charm and hyperkinetic expressiveness made me and everybody fall in love, that’s why.
 Inset photo, bottom right: During a sushi demonstration Saturday, Uchi and Uchiko chefs Tyson Cole and Paul Qui gave the crowd everything it needed to roll their own makimono.
 Gail Simmons (as seen on TV) kept a running tavelogue of Canada — where she’s from, in case you missed it — as she taught Texans how to make biscuits from scratch.
 Dressed like a ringmaster in a Baz Luhrmann film, chef Marcus Samuelsson made his cooking-demonstration audience cheer for fried chicken, then showed them how he makes it at his Red Rooster Harlem restaurant in New York. In short: brine it, drop rosemary and garlic in your frying oil, fry the chicken twice with a rest stop in-between. Also: balance the oil with something acidic, like collard greens cooked with vinegar. “If you can’t use fancy ingredients,” he said, “make sure all of them have great flavor.”
 Food explorer and emerging activist Andrew Zimmern praised 7-Eleven Slurpees and called Austin part of “Next America,” then went on a sermonizing guilt trip about how poor people eat poorly and rich people don’t eat enough goat.  In truth, it was a solid message about the dangers of over-reliance on factory ranching and the responsibilities of privilege. But at a food and wine festival, it came off as the posturings of a flagellant-in-training. Bon appetit, Bono.
 Chef David Bull of Austin’s Congress restaurant delivered the best line of his Savory Chocolate session as he dished out a scallop: “Put it on the plate: 8 bucks. Slice it: 14.”
 Food & Wine magazine wine editor Ray Isle’s “Superstar Wines” session included rosé champagne from Bollinger, which he reminded us was James Bond’s brand. The winery itself brushes off the connection with classic French hauteur, Isle said. But their hold-button music is the Bond theme. Isle poked fun at wine writers, suggesting that descriptions like “dung fire in the distance” or delineations of “sage, dried sage, dried sage from Italy” or obscure allusions to “overripe cherimoya” might just be bad writing.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)