The Austin Food & WIne Festival (April 27-29) was a weekend of indulgence, education, and celebrity chefdom. In recent years, Austin's culinary reputation has skyrocketed; most recently Laura Sawicki of La Condesa was honored one of Food & Wine's best new pastry chefs, Paul Qui of Uchi/ Uchiko was crowned the Top Chef Texas, and his mentor Tyson Cole finally claimed a James Beard award. People are realizing that there's more going on here than just Tex Mex, food carts, and barbecue.
All that said, locals wondered how this festival would be executed in contrast to those held in, say, Aspen or Pebble Beach. Hosting an event of this caliber for the first time in a new city is daunting. On behalf of Austin, we're damn proud to be placed on the food festival map, but could they pull it off seamlessly while still "keeping it weird"?
Overall, the events I attended were interesting, the celebrity chef line-up was impressive, the music was bumpin' (this is Austin), and the food selection was solid. The event was produced by C3's, the same company behind Austin City Limits; this was their first food festival of this size, and during moments of crowded elbowing, it felt like a first-year event. But there were plenty highlights.
In particular, two VIP events held at Republic Square Park: the New Taste of Texas Kick-Off Event, which featured 13 chefs' signature dishes, and the following night, Rock Your Taco Celebrity Chef Showdown where celebrity chefs battled for the title of top taco. In the end, Austin's own Tyson Cole of Uchi stole the show with his crispy pork jowl taco.
There was a wide variety of workshops that ranged from wine seminars, hands-on makimono-making, cooking demos by chefs like Marcus Samuelsson and Michelle Bernstein, dessert-driven classes by David Bull and Christina Tosi, and liquor-centric tutorials. One highlight was watching rockstar chef Tim Love drop jokes and profanity during his hands-on grilling demo—that was pretty entertaining.
Another highlight was watching Masaharu Morimoto transform whole fish into sashimi and sushi plates. He demonstrated practical garnishing techniques like shaving daikon into a continuous sheet and creating tuna roses. After each challenging cut, he'd comment, "it's easy [pause] for me. now buy my cookbook." (The crowd was entertained.) He also briefly touched on how wasabi and soy sauce should (and shouldn't) be used.
In his in his Global Street Food demo, Andrew Zimmern urged attendees to address the nation's class related food issues, what he called our "very privileged, very ironic, and almost criminal" food system. He did this all while preparing goat, a healthy, sustainable, but often neglected meat that he wants America to eat more of.