Gourmet Roundup

Food and wine lovers from around the state and the country converge in Austin this weekend for the annual Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival (THCWFF). The focus of this year's festival is Chardonnay, and whether or not you have tickets to all the festival parties, there are plenty of mouth-watering events to savor. For instance, two of the most enthusiastic proponents of Texas cowboy cooking willbe in town. Native son Matt Martinez Jr. returns to town Thursday, April 8, to entertain the guests at the sold-out Woods & Waters Wild Game Dinner with demonstrations of his prairie range cooking.The owner of Y.O. Ranch, Matt's No Place, and Matt's Rancho Martinez in Dallas will also sign copies of the Dallas Cowboys Players' Cookbook, which he organized and stocked withmany of his best-loved recipes. At 8pm that night, cowboy chef Grady Spears will be at Barnes & Noble Westlake (701 S. Capital of Texas Hwy, 328-3155) signing copies of his new cookbook A Cowboy in the Kitchen (see review this issue). Spears is chef/owner of Reata Restaurants in Alpine and Fort Worth. His co-author is former Austin Chronicle food editor Robb Walsh.

On Friday, April 9, Martinez and Spears both join top chefs from around the state presenting their signature dishes at the sold out THCWFF "Stars Across Texas" tasting dinner at the Four Seasons. Spears moves on to Borders (10225 Research, 795-9553) Saturday, April 10, to serve some recipe samples and sign more copies of his book. The festival winds up on Sunday, April 11, with the Wine & Food Fair, noon-4pm, at the Salt Lick Pavilion. At this popular fiesta, Matt Martinez's sons Joaquin and Marco Martinez will serve some of theirdad's creations at the Texas Beef Council chuckwagon. At 3pm, Grady Spears will pair some Reata dishes with wines from both Bell Mountain Vineyards and Llano Estacado Winery. Tickets for the Sunday fair are $35 and will be available at the gate.

Cowboys aren't the only ones participating in THWCFF. Fresh from appearing on NPR, a first-place win at the National Fiery Foods Show,and a culinary tour of her native Thailand, Austin restaurateur/food scientist Dr. Foo Swasdee will moderate a panel on pairing Texas wines with cuisines of the world. Swasdee, owner of Satay and Thai Noodle House, will be joined by Four Seasons chefs from Istanbul, Milan, and Hong Kong for cooking demonstrations and tastings at noon at the Sunday Food & Wine Fair.

Perfectly Timed Opening

It turns out that the long-awaited opening of the Central Market Westgate (4477 S. Lamar, 899-4300) store has dovetailed nicely with the Wine & Food Festival. Festival goers and anxious South Austinites alike will probably be swarming the new store this weekend. The gala opening celebration began on Wednesday, April 7, and will continue through Sunday, April 18. On a recent private tour, the features that caught my attention were the custom-designed mushroom trays in the produce department, the extensive healthy living section, the Affinage Vault (cheese-ripening room to the rest of us), the boiling pot in the seafood department, and the antique proscuitto slicer in the deli. And, of course, the best advantage of the new store: a much bigger parking lot. It appears that the HEB folks have created another luxurious foodie heaven, and it will be interesting to see how business at the new store affects the frustrating parking situation at the original Central Park location.

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