10 tasty takeaways from the 2017 Austin Food & Wine Festival

Chef Tyson Cole hands out tacos and receives compliments from Donna and Ed King as the country’s best chefs compete with their own versions of taco dishes in the Rock Your Taco showdown during the Austin Food and Wine Festival at Fair Market April 29. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The fifth installment of the Austin Food & Wine Festival kept attendees well fed and fueled by libations over three days. The weather gods smiled and the sold-out festival, which included a venue making its AFWF debut, seemed to run without any serious problems. We take a look at a few highlights, best bites and random notes from the festival.

Beef cheek from Matt Balke of Bolsa in Dallas. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Texas proud: The Lone Star Nights kickoff again once again showcased the amazing array of talent across the state and should serve as encouragement for diners  to gas up their cars and road trip to restaurants outside of their hometowns. My highlights: Sonoran cascarelli with ricotta from Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye; beef cheek pastrami with Eagle Mountain pimento cheese from Matt Balke of Bolsa in Dallas; trout roe migas from Paul Qui’s Kuneho; and Northern Thai chicken salad from Thai Changthong of Thai Kun.

Chef Tyson Cole created a smoked masu taco with Asian pear, yuzu kosho and ramps to win his third Rock Your Taco crown. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Taco king: Tyson Cole may operate some of the best sushi restaurants in Texas, but the man knows how to create a killer taco. The chef took home the Rock Your Taco title for the third time in five years on the strength of his smoked ocean trout taco that was tingly with pickled ramps, and bright with shiso.

Chef Alon Shaya created a pastrami taco with preserved mango labneh, pickled cabbage and herbs for the Rock Your Taco event. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

National names: One of my favorite parts of the fest each year is getting to taste food from out-of-state chefs. I’ve dined at Ludo Lefebvre’s Peitt Trois in Los Angeles, so I was not surprised to see him create an excellent, though I was surprised to have such love for a taco with mashed potatoes in it. Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s imaginative taco made with a chorizo shell got me excited to visit  the Purple Pig in Chicago again. Christina Tosi of Milk Bar in New York City proved why she is the most fun and talented pastry chefs in America with her corn cake taco with strawberries. And, I didn’t need another reason to head back to New Orleans, but Israeli-born Alon Shaya’s pastrami taco with preserved mango labneh, pickled cabbage and herbs certainly has added to the city’s appeal.

Fair Market was a hit at this year’s Austin Food & Wine Festival. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

New kid on the block: The evening events were moved  to Fair Market this year, and the event space in East Austin proved an ideal fit. The tasting stations and bar were located in the hangar-style indoor space and two outdoor spaces. The chambered spaces slowed the flow of traffic and kept people from eyeing something across the park and heading that direction. I didn’t experience any extended line waits, and hope to see the space utilized more by AFWF and other events.

The briscuit from Olamaie. (Contributed by Olamaie)

Stellar bites: Olamaie’s other worldly biscuit and Texas staple brisket were combined for what was known as a “briscuit.” There were several heavy, smoky dishes during the Saturday daytime tastings, but Contigo was wise enliven their lamb shoulder with an electric chimichurri.

Keep your eyes open and you might find a new favorite wine. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Rosé all day: Sure, there’s wine everywhere and it’s easy to get carried away with tastings. But the point of a festival like this shouldn’t be to get drunk; hopefully, it can be about discovery.  Like most rosé lovers, I know about the easily drinkable Whispering Angel from Chateau d’Esclans, but I didn’t know about their Les Clans and Garrus rosés, the latter of which was brawny and beautiful with a long finish with notes of toasted oak. They were offering limited pours, and later in the day had the Garrus below the table. Pro tip: Always ask if they’re hiding something great out of sight.

Jonathan Waxman at Rock Your Taco. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Getting to know you: One upside from the cooking demos is that you don’t just learn how to make a dish, but you also hopefully find out a little bite about the person behind the name. Celebrated California chef Jonathan Waxman, the proud shedder of about 20 pounds in recent weeks, shared his recipe for vegan chili and also had the temerity to let people know he had cut alcohol from his diet. He also talked about how he loves a heavy skillet, and said that when he graduated from culinary school in France he received a set of Le Creuset cookware but he couldn’t afford to ship it home.  

Tameca Jones performs at the Austin Food and Wine Festival. (Tom McCarthy Jr. FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Live music. Because Austin: Tameca Jones’ soulful and powerful performance at Rock Your Taco reminded me that I should see her whenever I get the chance.

The Foodie Magician blew our minds at dinner Sunday. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

High-cholesterol David Blaine: Some friends and I were having dinner after the festival Sunday night when I was introduced to Josh Beckerman, the Foodie Magician. The charismatic magician worked his sorcery on me, pulling a card from his wallet with the name of my favorite restaurant and pulled some crazy slight of hand maneuvers that involved a friend’s cell phone and convincing a member of our party that he had touched specific parts of their body even though he never did. Then he disappeared. You never know whom you’ll meet at AFWF.

Chef Tim Love is the straw that stirs the drink at Austin Food & Wine Festival. (Tom McCarthy FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Socializing, not social media: Festival co-founder and master of the flame Tim Love appeared to be on mostly PG-13 behavior during his grilling demos, though he couldn’t help but let an F-bomb fly when calling out someone on her phone during his session. She told him she was updating social media. He conceded that the social media fix wasn’t a horrible sin, but added that the demo and festival were actual forms of socializing and not just social media. “We hardly ever interact anymore, and we’re forced to interact here,” Love said. “I (expletive) love it.”

What Austin restaurants did Austin Food & Wine Festival celebrity chefs love?

IU heard the name Kemuri from a lot of visiting chefs last weekend. (Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

You know how you love to hit all the cool, delicious spots when you visit a town? Chefs are the exact same way. And they really know what’s up. It’s their job. So, where do you turn when you’re looking for a hot restaurant recommendation (well, the Austin360 Dining Guide, of course), but chefs also make great guides. You just have to know whom to stalk on Instagram. We saved you some of the legwork. Below are where some of the biggest visiting names visited while in Austin over the weekend.

Judging by context clues, it appears Georgia-based chef Hugh Acheson followed Alton Brown’s playbook and visited Veracruz All-Natural.

Acheson’s caffeine fix at least one morning came from Houndstooth ….

Famed California chef Jonathan Waxman hit Fresa’s on South First Street.

Waxman, who announced at the fest that he has lost quite a bit of weight, also hit June’s for some veggies. (Read our recent review.)

Israeli-born chef and James Beard winner Alon Shaya of New Orleans knows that Uchiko always delivers the goods.

View this post on Instagram

@uchikoaustin tofu is on 🔥

A post shared by Chef Alon Shaya (@alonshaya) on

Shaya proved himself master of the taco at Rock Your Taco and hit La Condesa after arriving to town.

View this post on Instagram

Hello Austin

A post shared by Chef Alon Shaya (@alonshaya) on

Shaya knows that Franklin is the place to be for brisket in Austin.

I’d say Snow’s in Lexington should be proud given that Will Guidara, owner of Eleven Madison Park, recently named the #1 restaurant in the world, made the drive on a Saturday morning for barbecue.

Ming Tsai was one of many chefs who visited Kemuri Tatsu-ya for the Texas izakaya experience. (Read our recent review.)

Tsai went heavy at Kemuri and a little lighter at Clark’s.

Nashville chef Matt Bolus hit La Barebcue for his brisket fix.

Ford Fry, who spends most of his time in Georgia, also had love for Kemuri.

Junior Borges made the trip up Burnet Road to Bonhomie.

Borges showed more Uchi veterans love by visiting Nick Yanes’ Juniper in East Austin.

Borges also stopped into Paul Qui’s Kuneho. (Read our recent review.)


What happens to Austin Food & Wine Festival if it rains?

That question will be on some people’s minds as they head down to Auditorium Shores for the first full day of the fifth edition of the Austin Food & Wine Festival Saturday morning. Humidity and wind prevailed this morning,  along with a 30 percent chance of rain and a chance of thunderstorms after 1 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.  Of course, this is Texas, and if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes because it will likely change.

The daytime activities take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Auditorium Shores, and the festival will work in close coordination with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department to monitor weather conditions, according to a festival rep.  Last year’s festival was cancelled before it began due to heavy rains early in the week.

Josh Neises, with Lonesome Dove, flips lamb chops at the Austin Food and Wine Festival on Auditorium Shores on Saturday, April 25, 2015.

“We also have an on-site weather monitoring station that provides real-time updates on conditions.  Austin Food + Wine Festival is a rain or shine event, and we will take all necessary precautions to ensure the welfare and safety of our patrons, purveyors and staff,” the festival said in a statement. “All safety decisions are made by a team of representatives from C3, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department and the City of Austin’s emergency services departments.  In the event of dangerous weather or site evacuation, AFW will notify all patrons via social media and the website austinfoodandwinefestival.com.

That chance of precipitation will ramp up to 60 percent by tonight, which will be mostly cloudy with a low around 57, according to our Taylor Goldstein, and showers are likely and possibly a thunderstorm before 7 p.m., with showers and thunderstorms likely mainly between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m.

The Rock Your Taco event takes place at Fair Market tonight, and while the event space in East Austin does offer some covered areas, the same weather procedures from the daytime festivities apply to the evening events.

The good news: Sunday is supposed to have a high of 77 and be mostly clear, so as long as there is no standing water, it should be lovely tomorrow.



Austin Food & Wine Festival preview sampler and predictions

Tyson Cole’s Applewood Smoked Masu Taco at the Austin Food and Wine Festival’s Rock Your Taco event at Republic Square Park on Saturday, April 25, 2015. (Deborah Cannon AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The Austin Food & Wine Festival returns this weekend for its sixth year. The festival started in 2012, but was cancelled due to rain last year. The weekend will see dozens of chefs from around the country descend on Auditorium Shores and Fair Market for three days and two nights of events. Here are a few things about which we are excited. (You can still purchase Weekender and All-In tickets at austinfoodandwinefestival.com and join in the delicious madness.)

  • The Friday night kick off event as been rebranded as Lone Star Nights and features a “global market” theme, so I am curious to see what cultures the chefs will honor. I talked to chef Diego Galicia of Mixtli in San Antonio and Austin’s Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye about the Mexican, Peruvian and Italian touches they will bring to Texas flavors.
  • The Lone Star event is a great way to taste food from chefs around Texas whose restaurants I don’t get too very often or whose restaurants I’ve never visited. Sadly not been to Nonna in Dallas yet, so I’m happy to get a chance to see what chef Julian Barsotti cooks up.
  • The hands-on grilling demo with Tim Love is always a good, booze-soaked time. I cooked the greatest steak of my life at one a couple of years ago. And while I won’t be participating this year (leaving a grill free for an All In ticket holder), I will keep an ear out Saturday and Sunday at the fest for any new tips or bon mots from the chef.
  • The Fire Pit is always a good place to get your char fix, and sometimes you might learn a thing or two, like the name of the new restaurant concept from Contigo owners Andrew Wiseheart and Ben Edgerton a few years ago. Interested to see what Sonya Cote has in store Sunday.
  • Saturday night’s Rock Your Taco will see Love defend his crown against multiple winner Tyson Cole, and I’m curious to see what the all-star cast from around the country has prepared. I’m predicting first timer Ludo Lefebvre or Alon Shaya wins this year.
  • Watching DJ Mel get drunk rich people to dance at the Grand Tasting Saturday and Sunday.


Photos: Hugh Acheson, Tyson Cole, Tandy Wilson and more at Rock Your Taco 2015

10 Questions with … Tyson Cole| Hugh Acheson | David Bull | Janina O’Leary

More Austin Food & Wine Festival coverage

Austin Food & Wine Festival releases lineup; tickets go on sale

The sixth annual Austin Food & Wine Festival returns to Auditorium Shores on April 28-30 with its usual stellar lineup of local, regional and national culinary talent. The festival, which was rained out last year, released its roster of talent and put tickets on sale this week.

Texas chefs gather April 28 at Fair Market in East Austin for the weekend’s first official event. Lone Star Nights is a tasting event, backed by music from DJ DM, that will showcase Texas chefs riffing on global flavors. The lineup includes Dallas chefs Matt Balke (Bolsa), Julian Barsotti (Nonna), Junior Borges and Coner Sergeant (CBD Provisions); Austin chefs Thai Changthong (Thai-Kun), Kevin Fink (Emmer & Rye) and Paul Qui (Kuneho); San Antonio chefs Diego Galicia and Rico Torres (Restaurant Mixtli) and Steve McHugh (Cured); along with Wayne Mueller (Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor), Danny Trace of Brennan’s of Houston and more.

The Lamb Lollipops from Lonesome Dove at the Austin Food and Wine Festival on Auditorium Shores on Saturday, April 25, 2015.(Deborah Cannon AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
The Lamb Lollipops from Lonesome Dove at the Austin Food and Wine Festival on Auditorium Shores on Saturday, April 25, 2015.(Deborah Cannon AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The weekend’s centerpiece daytime events take place April 29-30 at Auditorium Shores, with cooking demonstrations and tastings from a group that includes Austin chefs Sonya Coté (Eden East), Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie), Bryce Gilmore (Barley Swine, Odd Duck), Joe Anguiano (Vox Table), Zach Hunter (The Brewer’s Table), Mia Li (Kuneho), Michael Paley (Central Standard), James Robert (Fixe) and Amanda Rockman (South Congress Hotel), as well as Dallas chef Blaine Staniford (Grace, Little Red Wasp) and others. The daytime events will also include chef Tim Love’s annual hands-on grilling demonstration.

Celebrity chef Hugh Acheson will return to the Austin Food & Wine Festival and compete in the Rock Your Taco event on April 29. Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2015
Celebrity chef Hugh Acheson will return to the Austin Food & Wine Festival and compete in the Rock Your Taco event on April 29. Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2015

Saturday night’s fan-favorite Rock Your Taco showcases famous chefs squaring off in a competition to see who can make the best version of the unofficial food of Austin. Chefs including Hugh Acheson (Empire State South), Ludo Lefebvre (Trois Mec), Alon Shaya (Shaya) and Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto) are just a few of the big names who will challenge reigning Rock Your Taco champion Tim Love.

Feast Under the Stars, the annual unofficial kickoff to the weekend, takes place April 27 with a multi-course, family-style meal from chefs David Bull (Second Bar + Kitchen), Tyson Cole (Uchi), Omar Flores (Casa Rubia in Dallas), Ford Fry (State of Grace in Atlanta) and Austin-based pastry chef Janina O’Leary. Tickets for that event are sold separately on the fest’s site.

The festival has returned to its two-tier pricing structure with Weekend Ticket holders ($250) getting access to Saturday and Sunday daytime events and All-In Ticket holders ($625) getting access to the daytime and evening events.

Tickets and more information are available at austinfoodandwinefestival.com/tickets.

Feast Under the Stars to take place at Zilker night before second ACL Fest weekend

Jon Shook (left) and Vinny Dotolo of Son of a Gun in Los Angeles will come to Austin for Feast Under the Stars.
Jon Shook (left) and Vinny Dotolo of Son of a Gun in Los Angeles will come to Austin for Feast Under the Stars.

A collection of big-name chefs from around Texas and two Los Angeles heavy hitters will team with C3 Presents to throw Feast Under the Stars at Zilker Park on Thursday, October 6, the night before the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Festival gets under way.

Chefs Tim Love (Lonesome Dove Western Bistro), Jason Dady (Tre Trattoria et al), Andrew Curren (ELM Restaurant Group), and former LaV pastry chef Janina O’Leary will be joined by Los Angeles chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec, Petit Trois) to prepare a five-course family-style meal paired with wine from Austin Hope of Hope Family Wines in California. The meal will be served on the eerily vacant festival grounds a day before more than 70,000 music lovers descend on the park.

Tickets for the event are $250 (inclusive of wine pairings and parking) and will be sold separately from ACL Fest tickets. Those who had tickets to this year’s rained-out Austin Food & Wine Festival in April will have the first crack at tickets during a password-protected presale on Tuesday. Tickets will go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. For more information about Feast Under The Stars at ACLFestival, visit aclfestival.com/tickets.

“Austin is one of the greatest cities in the country, thanks to the music, architecture, culture, and of course, food, which is out of this world,” said Love, who opened an Austin version of Lonesome Dove last year. “I am so excited to cook a collaborative menu with some of my favorite chefs with wines from the incomparable Austin Hope and offer guests the unique opportunity to dine under the stars before weekend two of ACL Fest gets underway the next morning.”


Who made the decision to cancel the Austin Food & Wine Festival?

Auditorium Shores was covered with puddles of standing water on Wednesday, as more rained moved in Thursday morning. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Auditorium Shores was covered with puddles of standing water on Wednesday, as more rained moved in Thursday morning. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

If there were any smug jokers defiantly pointing to the sunny skies yesterday around the time the Austin Food & Wine Festival announced the cancellation of this year’s event, today’s rain has probably quieted their squawking.

It was unclear yesterday who made the call to cancel the fest for the first time in its five-year history, but Jason Maurer, the events manager for the City of Austin’s Parks & Recreation Department, said today that the decision was made jointly between city officials and festival producer C3 Presents.

City officials were on hand at the park throughout the week monitoring the situation with C3 reps. Load-in was supposed to take place on Monday, but torrential rains over the weekend delayed that process. With more rain Wednesday morning, the timeline for production kept getting pushed. As the grounds became more soaked, the feasibility of pulling off the festival became less likely.

“You get to a point where it’s too wet to get ready,” Maurer said. And, even if producers had been able to magically snap their fingers and put the festival together by Friday, more wet weather was predicted for Sunday.

“You have to have a broader perspective,” Maurer said.

With standing water, lightning and thunderstorms, public safety was also a concern of organizers and city officials, but Maurer said the decision ultimately couldn’t be put in just one box. Production timelines, public safety, the condition of the park and the festival experience (which would have likely been miserable on Sunday, given the prediction of more rain) all combined to force C3 and the city to jointly make the call to pull the plug.

Festival goers will all receive full refunds, organizers said yesterday. For those who were planning on a weekend of eating and drinking, check out our 2015 Dining Guide for recs on the best places to eat in town. And check out our story from yesterday about discounts and specials some restaurants are offering festival ticket holders.