Reflecting on the 25th annual Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival
Notes and thoughts on the 25th annual Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival: A late afternoon downpour canceled the affordably priced "rain or shine" Texas 25 local tasting event on the Whole Foods rooftop deck Thursday evening, disappointing ticket-holders and causing costly losses for many of the small local food vendors it was designed to showcase. The mishap demonstrated an axiom that any Austin event planner lives by – outdoor spring events require an alternative rain plan... While last year's Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting was all about braised meats on polenta or potatoes, this year many chefs opted for variations on raw seafood. I'm not a fan of raw seafood but was still able to find many delicious savory bites – cheesy little sliders stuffed with spicy shredded beef from The Range in Salado; Moonshine's fanciful "green eggs and ham" cheese biscuits filled with quail eggs and shaved ham; fork-tender, coffee-rubbed venison tenderloin over green chile mashers with tangy tomato aioli from Hudson's on the Bend; Uchi's sweet and salty Saigon street food peanuts; blue corn and huitlacoche tamales from Fonda San Miguel; and the Driskill Grill's perfect scallops with mustard sauce. Several tiny sweets rounded out the evening perfectly: Cocoa Puro's cacao beans; truffles from Dude, Sweet Chocolate; a scoop of Teo's Poteet strawberry sorbet; the Carillon's mini cones topped with coriander and pistachio ice cream; and pillowy little whoopie pies from the student pastry chefs at Le Cordon Bleu... And speaking of Le Cordon Bleu, chair of the school's pastry program chef Aimee Olson introduced me to the winner of this year's $15,000 Stephan Pyles Scholarship Cook-Off competition, Keith Hildebrant. Congratulations, Keith!... The Local Focus wine and cheese tasting at the Carillon was well-received and -attended, showcasing Texas artisanal cheeses paired with Texas wines to everyone's satisfaction. The informative panel discussion with Texas vintners and cheesemakers was moderated by Whole Foods Market's global cheese buyer, Cathy Strange... Chronicle contributors MM Pack and Wes Marshall were among the judges at Saturday's Cocktail Showdown sponsored by Maker's Mark. According to them, the libations designed by first-place winner Lara Nixon of the Tipsy Texan and runner-up Mindy Kucan of the Hilton blew the rest of the competitors away. Nixon's winning concoction was featured as the official cocktail at the Sunday Fair... The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas' Rare and Fine Wine Auction brought in more than $214,000, which will support KLRU and the funding of various grants and scholarships... Unfortunately for festival organizers, April showers have now tormented the Sunday Fair grounds at the Salt Lick two years in a row. Several vendors reported that the mud made morning load-in a real nightmare but that things began to firm up around 2pm. Wine ran out early and long lines for food samples were once again a problem, but the cooking demos and Whole Foods/Edible Austin artisan food tent were very popular. Fairgoers reported a continuing need for the availability of more substantial food to balance the wine, beer, and spirits being poured.
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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY
Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, Whole Foods, Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting, Local Focus, Rare and Fine Wine Auction, Sunday Fair