This past weekend reminded me why I'm proud I get to write about the Austin culinary community. Local chefs and food artisans were impressing Austin Food & Wine Festival guests, entertaining visiting celebrity chefs in their restaurants, and offering one another support and encouragement in the process. Take chef Philip Speer, for instance. As culinary director for the company that owns Uchi, Uchiko, and the forthcoming St. Philip, Speer started the day early on Friday as host and master of ceremonies of the third round of the Citywide 86'd competition, held in the cooking school at Central Market. After his hosting duties, Speer went on to represent Uchi/Uchiko at the Taste of Texas event that kicked off the AF&WF Friday night; all day Saturday, his was a familiar face on the fest grounds and on panels. Same with Paul Qui, Bryce Gilmore, David Bull, Vilma Mazaite, Allison Jenkins, Aaron Franklin, Janina O'Leary, David Alan – Austin's best and brightest culinary stars were out in force demonstrating exactly why our food community attracts regular national attention. The camaraderie and sense of community was not lost on the visiting chefs, either. Both John Currence and Graham Elliot commented on the collegial atmosphere and pointed out that it's not always evident in cities they visit on the celebrity festival circuit.
Here's a quick stream-of-consciousness review of the fest highlights: Working the Taste of Texas booths Friday, it was obvious Jessica Maher and Todd Duplechan (Lenoir) and James and Cristina Holmes (Olivia, Lucy's Fried Chicken) are expecting babies anytime now... While the desserts arrayed at Sips & Sweets at Mellow Johnny's were all inviting, have to say my favorite bites were Janina O'Leary's ethereal macarons and tiny cream puffs... Ben Edgerton and Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo got the Twitterverse buzzing around the fire pit early Saturday by serving roasted and grilled vegetables that will be at the forefront of the menu at their new restaurant, Gardner, when it opens in the former East Sixth post office later this year... Tipsy Texan David Alan was working the fest on crutches due to a recent skiing accident... Matt Lee was scooping gelato in the Grand Tasting Pavillion and encouraging folks to come out and support Teo when the Gelato World Tour rolls into Republic Square Park May 9-11... The retro firetruck outfitted with a firebox and a pig-roasting spit from Bryce and Jack Gilmore was a very impressive prop for their great food... Good to see chef Mark Schmidt of Blackbird & Henry in the Grand Tasting with a spicy puffed-rice Indian street-food dish. Had to soothe the heat with a scoop of Jeni's Splendid Savannah Buttermint ice cream and an ice-cold can of High Brew mocha coffee... The handicap-accessibility and hospitality were greatly improved, but I've learned I need to plan a better pre-fest battery charge for the scooter... Read more about the experiences Wes Marshall, Melanie Haupt, and I had at the fest online at austinchronicle.com/daily/food.
In much sadder news, breakfast taco lovers were shocked and saddened to find the doors locked at Tamale House No. 3 (5003 Airport Blvd.) Monday morning due to the fact that owner Robert Vasquez passed away over the weekend. At press time, there was no official word yet regarding the future of the beloved eatery. Our heartfelt condolences to the family.
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