No bull: John Bullington roasted a 550-pound steer last week for Fantastic Fest's closing night party
"It was like the Christmas Eve of my culinary career," said chef John Bullington, describing his excitement and anticipation about cooking a 550-pound steer over an open fire last week. Bullington's live fire cooking experience was inspired by Argentine chef Francis Mallman and ordered up by Bullington's boss, Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League, who asked his chef to prepare the beef for a party at the J. Lorraine Ghost Town near Manor on the last night of Fantastic Fest. First, Bullington had to find a local welder to create a heavy metal rig that could suspend a butterflied whole steer over hot coals for about 20 hours. Once that was done and the grass-fed steer was ordered from Richardson Farms, Bullington assembled a cooking team of chefs and kitchen staffers from all the local Alamo kitchens. "It turned out to be a great corporate team-building experience," Bullington said, because all the staffers worked shifts tending the fire, prepping food for the party, or serving at the event (see photos above). When 400-500 moviegoers arrived at the Ghost Town last Thursday night, they dined on appetizers inspired by Argentine cuisine, grilled Texas beef with chimichurri sauce, and rescoldo vegetables roasted among the coals of the fire. The party capped off another distinctive schedule of fascinating genre films and outrageous events for which Fantastic Fest has become justifiably famous. Bullington admits he was concerned that his promotion to corporate executive chef of the entire Alamo Drafthouse operation would mean spending all his time working at the computer and traveling to open new Alamo kitchens at theatres around the country, but it turns out he need not have worried. "I'm still working for this crazy man who comes up with these wild ideas for special events, and that's the best part of my job!"... In other local news, Carlos Rivero's restaurant group closed the El Chilito outlet on Congress Avenue last week and completed renovations on the rooftop patio at El Chile Cafe y Cantina (1025 Barton Springs Rd., 609-8923, www.elchilecafe.com) just in time for Austin City Limits festivalgoers to enjoy the dramatic Downtown skyline with refreshing cocktails. Look for Rivero to open a new icehouse burger concept when Flat Top joins the other eateries on the Manor Road restaurant row early next year... National magazine writers have obviously found great places to drink around Austin. Just this month, Food & Wine magazine named the Paggi House (200 Lee Barton Dr., 473-3700, www.paggihouse.com) to its list of "wine-pro hangouts," while GQ put Fino (2905 San Gabriel, 474-2905, www.astiaustin.com) on its list of the 25 best cocktail bars in America. Drop in for a drink while you're in town for ACL. And speaking of ACL guests, if you love ice cream sandwiches, grab one at the Cool Haus truck in the parking lot at Thom's Market (1418 Barton Springs Rd., 479-9800) on your way to or from the party this weekend. You'll be glad you did.