Celebrating Texas’ Best at the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival

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It may have been over a month ago, but I’m still musing about the great finds this year from the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival which brings together some of the best chefs from around the state for a weekend of festivities.  If you haven’t been before, it’s like a statewide holiday for foodies full of cooking classes, tastings, dinners and tours of the Hill Country Wineries.  It’s enough to overwhelm the best palates.  I was fortunate enough this year to participate in the Stars Across Texas event on Friday night at the Long Center and Sunday Fair at the Salt Lick.

At the Stars Across Texas event on Friday night, we tasted lovely bites from our Austin favorites, but I was most excited to talk to chefs from other cities who were cooking with local ingredients. Chef Jason Dady who has five restaurants in San Antonio (The Lodge RestaurantBin 555Tre TrattoriaTwo Bros BBQ Market and Restaurant Insignia) spoke with enthusiasm about integrating local ingredients in his menus.  Whether its the game at The Lodge or the market pizza at Bin 555, he’s doing his best to work farm fresh produce into his dishes. 

Also in San Antonio, the Omni’s La Mansion del Rio  is working with local farms to provide produce to their kitchen.  Chef John Brand says he likes to work with the freshest ingredients from area farms as they plan their menu.

Of course, nothing topped the news that Chef John Besh, the famed Executive Chef and owner of August, Domenica, La Provence and others, is opening Luke in San Antonio this fall.  Chef Besh and Chef Stephen McHugh represented the new restaurant with enthusiasm throughout the festival.  

Chef McHugh, who has already moved to San Antonio and will be running the new spot, has already started working with San Antonio farmers to source the best meats and produce for their dishes.  At Sunday Fair, Chef Besh showed off his Shrimp & Grits skills at his cooking demonstration;  giving us all a little taste of what we can expect to find at Luke.  
In addition to Chef Besh’s delicious dish, Sunday Fair offered tastings from dozens of food artisans, restaurants, wineries and distilleries from around Texas and several chef demos.  I was particularly delighted with the locally sourcing food artisans profiled in the Whole Foods Market tent with the help of our friends at Edible Austin.  
I tried a number of new products including cupcakes from Blue Note Bakery, the flavored Reel Popcorn, Hail Merry Vegan, Raw and Gluten Free snacks, and Aurelia’s Chorizo, which was my favorite new discovery in the tent.  I’m a big fan of Cookwell and Co.’s Green Chile stew and was delighted to see that they have added a number of products to their line.

Delysia Chocolatier made their wine and food festival debut as well, profiling their award winning chocolates, particularly their chocolates made with Texas wines.  

The day was brought home by a cooking demo from Chef David Bull, who has most recently been working with Bolla in Dallas, and is enthusiastically opening two new restaurants this fall at the Austonian.  As he prepped his Texas quail for the Sunday Fair audience, he reminded us all the home cooks of the importance of using fresh local ingredients to capture the best flavor in the dish.  He definitely brought the flavors home with his Green Chili Buttered Bandera Quail with Corn & Monterey Jack Fondue.  It was beyond finger-licking good.

As far as foodie holidays go, the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival definitely fills the bill.  I better mark off the days on my calendar for next year.  Don’t you want to join in on the fun?
Click here to view the full photo set for the chef demos.
Click here for the full photo set of food artisan products.

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