After I and several other members of the local media finished judging the signature dishes presented by the participating restaurants at the "Stars Across Texas" event at the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival
(THCWFF), we adjourned to the ballroom of the Four Seasons
to join the other 800 patrons in attendance. Eventually, I sat on the edge of the bandstand to observe the crowd and make some notes. As it always is, this year's "Stars Across Texas" event was well-organized and executed with a fascinating array of food -- caribou tenderloin, savory seafood flan baked in eggshells, wasabi mashed potatoes -- but some glaring problems became obvious as I watched strolling patrons struggle to eat off plastic plates while holding wine glasses. It appears that in their desire to create showstopping dishes with exotic ingredients and artful presentations, some chefs forgot that their food would have to be eaten "on the hoof." How can anyone eat two pieces of beef (pork, wild boar, caribou) that have to be cut up on a plastic plate with only a fork while standing up? How can a well-dressed guest possibly unwrap a tamale or eat a whole quail when the plate's too full for the empty corn shuck, the tamale is crumbly, and the quail is deliciously messy? One chef solved the tamale problem by making boats with ends tied and the center open, while another made large tamales and served unwrapped sections napped with tasty sauce. Some of the other dishes were almost impossible to eat. I know that the Beef Council
is a loyal, longtime supporter of THCWFF and that may explain the preponderance of wonderful beef dishes, but why were there so few, if any, desserts? Surely some of the 34 participating restaurants have talented pastry chefs who serve interesting desserts. It appears as if they aren't a priority to this event's organizers or to the chefs involved, which was disappointing. I also wondered about the Festival Board's selection process and why Austin was the only city represented by two national chain restaurants? There's certainly nothing wrong with national chains, but the restaurants from all the other cities were local independents or businesses with more than one Texas location, with the exception of a hotel restaurant each from San Antonio and Houston. The event touts the chosen restaurants as the best in Texas with no explanation of the criteria used to make that distinction.
Make your reservations now for a couple of upcoming charity fundraisers that promise marvelous food. First up is The Garden Party, a celebration of food, wine, life, and art which benefits the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum (605 Robert E. Lee Rd., 445-5582). The gala, which will take place next Thursday, April 29, 6:30-9pm, features hors d'oeuvres from Austin restaurants, live music, and a silent auction of container gardens specially created by local celebrity artists, and an Umlauf bronze. The second event, on Sunday, May 2, is when local chefs and artists again join forces to fight hunger at the annual Share Our Strength-Taste of the Nation dinner and auction. The party begins at 6:30pm in the newly expanded banquet room at the Shoreline Grill (98 San Jacinto). Contact Jeffrey's chef David Garrido at 477-5584 for information and tickets.