Austin Food & Wine Fest: The VIP side

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 05.01.12
I can’t bring myself to say “Rock Your Taco” with a straight face, so I’ll tell you instead that of nine celebrity chefs who made tacos on Saturday night in Republic Square Park, Tyson Cole of Austin’s Uchi and Uchiko restaurants won. Because tacos, like everything else in food’s Age of the Epicurious, are a competitive sport. You didn’t get to see or taste this battle royale of tacos at the inaugural Austin Food & Wine Festival over the weekend unless you held an $850 VIP badge, were busy making tacos yourself or happened to be Mayer Hawthorne singing blue-eyed Detroit soul in a Pee Wee Herman suit.

The taco extravaganza on Saturday and a Friday night Taste of Texas sampler with music by Lucinda Williams were the most high-profile perks of the VIP ticket, as opposed to the $250 basic Weekender ticket that got you on the grounds of Auditorium Shores on Saturday and Sunday. The VIP badgers also had early access to the Grand Tasting tents and first dibs on seating for cooking demonstrations, which especially for the smaller wine events meant the lion’s share of the seats. Here’s a little of what the honey-badgers saw:
 Top left: An “inside-out” taco from Chef Christina Tosi of New York’s Momofuku Milk Bar with pork and Fritos in a lettuce shell.
 Middle left: Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster Harlem and was among the festival’s most congenial and sharpest-dressed hosts.
 Middle right: The build-it-yourself taco bar from chef Elizabeth Karmel of Hill Country Barbecue in New York started with sliced and chopped brisket.
 The lines for barbecue should have been familiar to Austinites. They formed for whole-roasted pig from Tim Byres of the Dallas restaurant Smoke and for, yes, Franklin Barbecue.
 Chef Bryce Gilmore of Austin’s Barley Swine had to shield his deviled egg creation from the wind to protect its crowning touch: dill-pickle foam.
 “Top Chef Texas” runner-up Sarah Grueneberg of Chicago’s Spiaggia plated a sardine crudite and drew an admiring hug from fellow chef Tony Mantuano.
 Pastry chef Philip Speer of Uchi/Uchiko showed off with not one but three desserts, including green strawberry sorbet.
 Inset photo: Speaking of Uchi, chef Tyson Cole won the nine-way taco competition with sous vide pork belly, corn relish and preserved lime.
 Fort Worth chef Tim Love is in love with Love. Even the firepit where he was roasting goat on a spit was called the Love Box. Hell of a good taco, with cabrito and pickled hot peppers on a grilled corn tortilla.
 Miami chef Michelle Bernstein showed that veal sweetbreads work just fine in a folded tortilla.
 Photo below: The Taste of Texas crowd on Friday night included Travel Channel food adventurer Andrew Zimmern, chefs Jonathan Waxman and Tim Love, Olympic swimmer and gourmand Garrett Weber-Gale, chef Marcus Samuelsson and Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)