I wasn’t sure what to expect from the inaugural Austin Food & Wine Festival, but the line up of celebrity chefs and sessions was promising and the foodie fan girl in me was intrigued. Fortunately, I had the benefit of a press pass and was able to take advantage of most of what the festival had to offer.
I started the weekend on Friday at the W Hotel where the Food Republic Test Kitchen was interviewing chefs and entertainers. I was immediately drawn in by how open the super star chefs were. To be honest, I’d written off some of the chefs as strictly larger than life TV personalities and had my biases turned upside down by the candid conversations. Clearly, there was going to be more to this weekend than just good eats.
At the VIP party on Friday night, I was curious to find out who had bought the pricey $850 passes. I found a majority of the VIP badge holders to be from out of town, choosing the full package as part of their trip. I met folks from Lafayette, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and even my hometown of Amarillo – shocking, I know. Each of them was excited and a bit starry-eyed by the chance to visit with and try the food of their favorite chefs.
Chef Paul Qui plating at the VIP Kickoff
The main event kicked off Saturday morning with a long line of excited festival-goers winding down the sidewalk. As soon as they opened the gates, people sprinted across the lawn of Auditorium shores to be one of the 200 people to secure a spot at Chef Tim Love’s hands-on grilling demo. The run was worth it.
Tim Love Grilling Demo
The demo was raucous and loud, starting with a tequila shot, and full of double entendre and cursing, but it was also packed with good tips. Amidst all of the jokes, Tim Love was peppering this audience with good advice on how to grill the perfect steak. And they did. Each and every one of them left with two medium-rare, mouth watering, juicy steaks.
The festival continued like that for two days. Yes, there were lines to get in the tents and it was hot and dusty, but it’s a festival. I intentionally did not take a seat at any demo that was full, deferring to paying ticket holders. I did pop into the grand tasting tents early to get pictures and interview vendors before the crowds arrived, but I also stayed with the masses and figured elbowing in is just part of the deal at events like this.
None of the hassles mattered to me when I got to meet new food artisans in the Grand Tasting tent or I saw the booths for the local farmers markets crowded with people clamoring to know more. It was heartwarming to hear people who had never tried their products before raving about Salt & Time’s salumi or Pie Fixes Everything’s sweet treats. You would have thought one couple had died and gone to heaven when they sipped their first Tipsy Texan cocktail made with St. Germain liqueur.
Pate Letelier at the Grand Tasting
What was unique for me about this event, and what I feel has been lost by some, was not only these new experiences but also the accessibility of the visiting chefs and sommeliers who were, to a person, engaging, funny and passionate. Their sessions were chockfull of interesting facts and tips as well as lots of humor. Did you know Chef Masaharu Morimoto sings when he chops?
The stars signed souvenirs and posed for pictures. The culinary students, who were assisting in the demos, wore chef’s coats covered in autographs and were beaming with glee. Attendees were showing off signed badges and t-shirts; I even saw a signed breast. To this crowd, these chefs are the rock stars of the culinary universe.
This was a big deal to the Austin chefs too. When I asked James Beard award winning Chef Tyson Cole about cooking with Chef Morimoto, the grin on his face said it all. This was the chance of a lifetime for everyone involved.
And the stars were having fun, popping into each other’s demos and cheering on the crowd. Marcus Samuelson walked through the festival grounds introducing himself to anyone who would shake his hand. I’ve been going to an Austin food festival in some incarnation or another for 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.
Andrew Zimmern and Marcus Samuelson take over Time Love's Stage
I was nervous on Sunday when Christina Grdovic Baltz, the publisher of Food & Wine Magazine, got up to introduce Chef Jonathan Waxman at the start of his demo. I hoped that the very public grousing about things that weren’t perfect or could be done better in the future wouldn’t scare the magazine away.
As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. She enthusiastically announced that they would be back in 2013. And the crowd went wild.
You can read more of my daily festival accounts by clicking on the following Evernote Food segments or view the full Flickr photoset. See you next year at the festival!
Food Republic Test Kitchen
New Taste of Texas Kickoff VIP Event
Saturday Austin Food & Wine Festival
Rock Your Taco Showdown
Sunday Austin Food & Wine Festival
View the full Flickr photo set.