Austin Food and Wine Festival Bites: Part Two

Innovative vegetables and vertical integration

Rosés (photo by Melanie Haupt)

Saturday morning dawned sunny and warm, and hundreds of festival goers lined up outside the Austin Food & Wine Festival gates in anticipation of the 11am start time. They were rewarded for their patience at about 11:07, when they were finally allowed access to all the food, wine, and celebrity chef-spotting they could handle.

My favorite way to experience the festival is to keep moving as much as possible. In the process, I can get a broad sense of what chefs are tinkering with this year. To that end, my friend and I began by visiting the fire pit demonstrations by Jack Gilmore, Andrew Wiseheart, and Paul Qui, then popped in to watch and listen as Hugh Acheson prepared a fava bean recipe. While doing so, he extolled the virtues of seasonal food, with a shout-out to Edna Lewis as the arbiter of Southern food, which should be fresh and simple. “The perfect Southern meal is roasted chicken thighs, succotash, fava bean salad, not a bucket of fried chicken and some crappy salty biscuits,” he said.

From there, we took a stroll through the Grand Tasting tent, enjoying bites from John Bates of Noble Sandwich Co., who brought a smoked pork belly braised in anchos, garlic, and other aromatics, then served atop a masa cracker and topped with pickled red onion; a pork trotter sausage from Jacoby’s; a poached carrot dipped in beef fat, rolled in pumpkin seed granola and topped with microgreens from Page Pressley of St. Philip; pistachio gelato from Dolce Neve; and bite-sized key lime pies from Tiny Pies.

Tiny Pies (photo by Melanie Haupt)

“Do you want to split one,” my friend asked as we approached the assemblage of wee treats. Her mouth hadn’t even formed the question mark before I hastily replied, “No. I do not share Tiny Pies.”

Shane Stiles and Lance Kirkpatrick of Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew had a line a mile long for their exceptional beef ribs. Later, I asked Stiles about the big bottles of Barbecue Wife Bloody Mary mix on their table. Turns out, Catherine Stiles will soon launch her home-grown product at the restaurant; keep a sharp eye out for “BYOV” at the Switch on Sundays. Meanwhile, Tim Love bellowed from his stage at the ever-popular hands-on grilling demonstration.

Barbecue Wife Bloody Mary mix (photo by Melanie Haupt)

Next up was Matt McAllister of Dallas’ FT33 demonstrating preservation for the modern pantry. While he prepared pickled ramps, he told stories of foraging gone wrong, such as when one of his associates accidentally ate a poisonous plant thinking it was a green onion. Tim Love? Still bellowing.

After a Frito pie break courtesy of Ranch 616, we lined up in hopes of seeing Vilma Mazaite (master sommelier at laV) and her seminar on “surprising sparklers.” Alas, we were shut out, so lined up early for Devon Broglie’s (wine buyer at Whole Foods Market) seminar on rosés (‘tis the season – the 2014s are just now hitting the shelves). Broglie took us on an animated and informative tour of rosés from around the world; my favorites were the Charles & Charles, a Washington State blend combining syrah, cabernet, and grenache grapes (among a few others) and the Whispering Angel, a peachy-pink, mostly-grenache rose from Provence. The seventh wine we tasted was a supple, cotton candy-esque wine out of Italy, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what it was. (My notes are around here somewhere…)

Grahamamania? (photo by Melanie Haupt)

I’d had it on good authority that I couldn’t miss the Mystery Box challenge between Graham Elliott and Andrew Zimmern, a sort of celebrity-chef version of Chopped with jokey-pranky ingredients. However, this was clearly the biggest draw of the day and it was so raucous and so crowded that it was impossible from my vantagepoint to discern who was cooking what and oh my god could Zimmern please just put on a shirt already? Love served as referee and judge of the Wrestlemania-themed throwdown, having wrapped up his long, increasingly boozy keynote on grilling steaks. He’s got to be hoarse today.

After one more turn through the Grand Tasting, which yielded a liquor-based beverage that had bananas in it (my intrepid editor bravely fell on his sword to finish it for me), it was time to head home. I hated to miss Paul Qui’s demonstration on how to make ktiss, a spicy Cambodian vegetable dip, but baseball games and art openings beckoned. Plus I wanted to swing by H-E-B and see if they had any Charles & Charles rose in stock. (Winner!)

Here’s what I gleaned from my visit to Saturday’s festival: chefs are finding innovative ways to present vegetables; macarons are the new cupcake (again?), but maybe so is gelato; goat and pork are still popular proteins at this venue; and vertical integration is reaching new and intoxicating heights. It’s a good time to be an eater in Austin.

Until next year, Austin Food & Wine Festival…

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