Four days of wining and dining with the best

The 23rd annual Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival served up four action-packed days of events last week, and the Chronicle Food staff was all over them. Ameri­can Air­lines flight cancellations threatened to wreak havoc on the schedule of presenters, but some last-minute scrambling by the festival office was able to assure the arrival of everyone except New York wine expert Josh Wesson. Luckily, Chronicle contributors Wes Marshall and Claudia Alarcón were able to step in and cover his presentations on Texas wines and the pairings of food and wine. The Food & Film event at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz was a delicious success, featuring a good color print of The Caine Mut­iny and a delectable five-course meal paired with wines from MacMurray Ranch, followed by a lively Q&A with Kate MacMur­ray. It was the second time in the past two weeks I've had the opportunity to sample the cooking of local chef Lawrence Kocurek, and I'm more convinced than ever that he's one to watch. Both local and visiting chefs presented standing-room-only classes to appreciative crowds at the Central Market Cook­ing School and the Sunday Fair – we're told the Saturday brunch class with Charles­ton, S.C., chef Bob Wag­goner and the Chef Smack­down dinner between Paul Petersen and Josh Watkins were particular treats. The Friday night Stars Across Texas grand tasting offered up several trends: slices of beef that were too big to eat in one bite and impossible to cut with plastic cutlery while standing up; polenta, risotto, or stone-ground grits spiked with cheese and fresh vegetables replacing potatoes as the starch on many plates; various seafood panna cottas; mandolin-shaved, crisp-fried carrot or parsnip strips as garnishes; more liquor than ever being served, making it a much drunker party in the long run; and a disturbing number of young mothers with babies or toddlers in strollers at a huge cocktail party. (I've got a rant brewing about where small children do and don't belong. Watch this space.) My favorite bites of the evening: a voluptuous shrimp-and-tomato bisque from the Driskill Grill, the divinely crisp pork belly on Finn & Porter's upscale BLT, cheesy grits with spring peas topped with a skewer of cabrito from the Turtle in Brownwood, salted-caramel gelato from Teo's, Hudson's on the Bend's Poteet strawberries wrapped in venison prosciutto with Texas goat cheese and habanero-spiked Round Rock honey, and NoRTH's meltingly tender osso buco. Local food gossip was a very hot topic: Former Dallas Morning News food editor and restaurant critic Dotty Grif­fith is relocating to Austin for a nonfood writing job, new food writer Addie Broyles was covering events and blogging about them for the Austin American-States­man, and longtime Statesman restaurant critic Dale Rice confirmed that he will leave the daily this summer to teach journalism at Texas A&M. (Management at the daily declined to comment on any changes.) The Wine & Food Foundation informed us that sponsorships, ticket sales, and wine bids at the Rare & Fine Wine Auction Saturday evening garnered them a total of $370,000 to support their educational and grant programs. Festival insiders tell us the popular Sunday Fair made its final appearance at George­town's San Gabriel Park this year, but there's no word yet on where it will be located in 2009.

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Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, Josh Wesson, Wes Marshall, Claudia Alarcón, Kate MacMur­ray, Lawrence Kocurek, Bob Wag­goner, Paul Petersen, Josh Watkins, Dotty Grif­fith, Dale Rice

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