There’s a New Fest in Town

 

The beloved Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival has now become the Austin Wine and Food Festival.  April 27-29, 2012 marks the beginning of  a new era for the Austin food scene.  Food and Wine Magazine is teaming up with C3 Entertainment to showcase big name national chef stars like Masaharu Morimoto, Marcus Samuelsson, and Andrew Zimmern alongside Austin luminaries like Tyson Cole, Paul Qui, Bryce Gilmore, and Aaron Franklin.  The idea is to make a destination festival along the lines of the South Beach or Aspen festivals.  How will the Austin chefs stack up?  Will the Austin foodie community support a fest that comes with a $250 minimum price tag?  How will the festival organizers deal with unforeseen issues that are bound to come up with a new huge event?  I cannot wait to find out.

 

Congratulations, Tyson Cole!

For the first time since 1991, Austin has another James Beard award winner with Tyson Cole, chef/owner of Uchi and Uchiko.  I remember the first time I tasted something of Cole’s.  It was strawberry scented salmon at the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival’s Stars Across Texas several years back.  Cole had recently opened Uchi and was receiving rave reviews so I was anxious to sample from the new Wunderkind. The salmon was so subtlely flavored and fresh, the first thing I tasted was the fatty meaty salmon with just a breeze of strawberry fields on the back end.  So simple and so good. 

Flash forward seven or eight years to the present.  Tyson has a gorgeous new cookbook out, a new sister restaurant, Uchiko, on North Lamar, a James Beard Award for best chef Southwest (tie with Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas), and just recently announced that he will be teaming up with fellow chef Tim Love, C3 events, and Food and Wine magazine to takeover the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Fest and turn it into the Austin Wine and Food Fest.  Think Austin City Limits for foodies. 

I love the irony that the festival I have loved so much, the fest that I first tasted Cole’s food at is now his new project. So congratulations to Tyson on a well deserved win and best of luck with the new venture.  It will be very interesting to see what this new fest turns into.

Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival March 31- April 3, 2011

Spring is coming!  How do I know?  The schedule is up for the THCW&FF!  (I love a long acronym.)  Lots of great events, my favorite is always the grand Stars Across at the Long Center.  The Sunday Fair wasat the beautiful grounds at the Salt Lick in Spicewood but has also been plagued with mud the last couple of years.  This year should be interesting at the stunning new Mexican American Cultural Center in downtown Austin.

Luncheon at Fall Creek Vineyard

Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Fest is one of my favorite foodie events of the year.  I attended for the first time 7 years ago and had so much fun that I have volunteered every year since.  I always start the fest with one of the luncheons in the Hill Country at a winery.  For the last few years I have been lucky enough to attend the luncheon at Fall Creek Vineyards.

Susan and Ed Auler are luminaries of the Texas wine world.  The very first fest 25 years ago, the legend goes, was planned around Susan’s kitchen table along with a now megastar in the wine world, Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible and beloved PBS host.

Here is the menu we enjoyed with pictures:

1st Course

Seared Texas Shrimp and Blue Crab with White-Truffled Gazpacho

By Chef Jon Bonnell

Peregrine Hills Chardonnay

2nd Course

Texas Coffee Rubbed Grilled Strip Steak,
Roasted Parsnips, Candied Garlic, Mesquite Syrup

By Chef Josh Watkins

Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo, “Salt Lick Vineyards”, 2008

Dessert Course

Pound Cake, Fresh Seasonal Berries and Lemon Curd

By Chef Randy Evans

Llano Estacado Moscato

The grounds at Fall Creek are gorgeous.  Especially charming during this lush spring were the bluebonnets blooming among the vines.  Only in Texas!!

Chef Jon Bonnell prepared a creamy gazpacho that perfumed the air with the scent of white truffle.  The soup was topped with blue crab and Texas Gulf shrimp and matched with a crisp Chardonnay from Perregrine Hills.

It is no secret that I am a big fan of Josh Watkins.  He shines like no other at the Carillon.  But have you ever had a steak cooked to a perfect medium rare at any kind of large event off site from the restaurant?  Josh’s solution is to cook the steaks sous vide, which basically means searing the meat off, sealing in a plastic bag, and then placing them in a large warm bath where they can be brought up to the perfect temperature.  Another advantage to sous vide is that almost the entire steak is the correct degree of doneness and not just the pink center with a ring of gray around it.  The steaks where enhanced by a lovely Tempranillo from Fall Creek but what I really wanted was the big, bold, and hard to come by Meritus that Fall Creek produces.

And I learned the secret to Josh’s candied garlic garnish!  Maybe I will share in another post.

Of course, as a pastry chef, dessert is my favorite!  I have an obsession with lemon curd which almost bloomed into a business at one point and Randy Evans did not disappoint.  The pound cake was toasted for textural crunch, placed upon a layer of lemony buttery curd, then topped with fresh Texas strawberries and lightly whipped cream.  Beautiful and tasty, it inspired me to create a blueberry version over the weekend which I will post along with recipe soon.  Chef Evan’s version was paired with a not too sweet, almost musky Llano Estacado Moscato.

What a great start to a lovely weekend!

BBQ Cookoff

Yeehaw!  I am not really a country music fan.  Like most little girls, especially in Texas, I did grow up with a fondness for horses but I was never really drawn to the rodeo.  Until I discovered free beer and barbecue at the BBQ Cook off at the Star of Texas Rodeo.  I have to say it again, FREE BEER AND BARBECUE.  I love Texas!

In addition to the livestock show, roping competitions, and carnival rides, a couple dozen teams compete in the annual barbecue cookoff.  They set up their smokers and in a few cases elaborate tents meant to draw in the public to taste their wares.  There are actual judges for different categories such as best brisket and best beans but the public gets to vote as well with their dollars into tip jars that go towards the Austin Rodeo Scholarship fund.  Many of the venues hand out beer, wine, even jello shots to raise money. 

This Saturday a final bitter winter wind blew into Austin on the first day of Spring.  The whipping wind may have discouraged some from attending but by 3:00PM most of the tents were packed with patrons enjoying the live music as well as the food and drinks.  The La Pasadita tent pictured above is always one of the favorites.  Maybe it was all the free beer but I found myself returning again and again to this tent for the tasty brisket, crispy fried catfish, and the great entertainment from LC Rocks. 

Despite the chill in the air, the rodeo means spring festival season in Austin is upon us.  Look for me at Reggae Fest, Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Fest, and, of course, Eeyore’s Birthday Party.  And for those of you visiting for SXSW,  try and make it out of downtown and come to the rodeo next year!

Taste of Austin 2010- Review

2010-01-27_20.23 TASTE OF AUSTIN GARRIDOLooks like tomatoes on top of a mini nacho but that is watermelon.  Slow cooked pork on top of goat cheese with pepitas and a spicy piquant watermelon sauce was Gariddo’s little bite at Taste of Austin last night.  It was crunchy and creamy with a touch of heat and the slightly sweet notes from the watermelon.  I was all set to name this the best bite of the night.  http://www.garridosaustin.com/menu/ 

2010-01-27_20.26 TASTE OF AUSTINAnd then I tried this.  Green chile mac from Moonshine.  Grilled chicken, corn relish, and a green chile cream.  Warm, spicy, creamy comfort in a cup with a sweet crunch of corn.  I loved them both and declare a tie.  http://www.moonshinegrill.com/menus.php

 

I had a great time at Taste of Austin last night at the Palmer Events Center last night.  Around 50 restaurants participated in this scholarship fundraiser.  It is a fun way to try both new restaurants and old favorites in one location as well as socializing with your fellow foodies. 

I have been debating since last night if I should also post the worst bites at the event.  There was a crunchy risotto, bland bangers and mash, and a cold, mushy stuffed mushroom from a place that was advertising their catering services.  Serving from a small booth at a tasting event is a far different animal than serving from your own kitchen so I am inclined to cut some slack to those that showed poorly but if you are there to plug your catering services, you need to figure out how to serve a hot hors douvres.  I have decided to hold my tongue for now.  A restaurant deserves a fair review over several visits, especially if you are going to publish something negative.  But please, veal osso bucco should not taste like it has barbecue sauce on it.  You know who you are.

Back to the good!  One of my favorite cookie places in town is Kevin’s Cookies.  http://www.kevinscookies.com/  Trey and his adorable wife Jen run this little operation.  They now only have a location south, so I don’t make it over there much but Trey sends out a great newsletter that makes me feel like part of the family.  Last night they had half a dozen different varieties of their delicious cookies.  Crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, and full of chips, nuts, etc.  My favorite last night was probably the white chocolate chip.  And I hate white “chocolate”.  I believe the darker the chocolate, the better.  But these gems were delicious. 

Spec’s had a booth and I <3 Spec’s!  http://www.specsonline.com/  Very knowledgeable wine staff, great prices on wine and liquor, and a decent assortment of gourmet goodies.  Some of the stores have a bigger selection than others.  I frequent the one at Arbor Walk which also has a deli case but I hadn’t gotten around to trying it yet.  I am pretty picky about my sandwiches, so when I got the sample from them, I thought, “Turkey on white, just another sandwich.”  But it was really good.  Fresh bread with very flavorful turkey.  If they do that well on a little sample for the masses, I will be trying them in store soon.

I recently had Craigo’s pizza for the first time and was impressed.  http://www.craigospizzaandpasta.com/  Last night they were serving pasta.  There was an ok lasagna that had a little too much fennel for my tastes but they also had a spinach ziti that I believe was vegetarian and it was yummy. 

One of the most exotic offerings came from Frank, the “purveyor of artisan sausage” at Fourth and Colorado.  http://www.hotdogscoldbeer.com/ That is  tony talk for $7 hot dog.  Last night they were offering the Jackelope- antelope and rabbit sausage with a huckleberry compote, siracha aioli, and applewood smoked cheese.  Good, different, innovative-  yes.  Worth $7 a hot dog?  Not so sure but I was intrigued enough to want to at least check out the happy hour sometime soon.  

There was a classmate of mine from culinary school passing out little bundt cakes from franchise outfit Nothing Bundt Cakes.  http://www.nothingbundtcakes.com/index.php For something ever so slightly different from a cupcake, these cute little cakes were moist and rich with a bit of cream cheesy icing.   

There were a few places I did not get to try because the lines were way too long.  I tasted the sushi from Piranha Killer Sushi at La Dolce Vita this year and really liked it but the line only got longer last night as the evening wore on.  What is really frustrating is when you see a full tray of food at the head of the line and people obliviously standing there and grazing like there aren’t 50 people behind them in line.  Move it, people!!!!!

Taste of Austin is usually my first big foodie event of the year.  It signals the beginning of my favorite time in Austin, spring means festival season!  Before you know it, Austin Restaurant Week http://restaurantweekaustin.com/ will be here.  Then my personal favorite, Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Fest! http://www.texaswineandfood.org/  You can buy discounted tickets for the Sunday Fair now for $25 (reg $45) through this link.  http://twff.frontgatesolutions.com/choose.php?b=1&lid=39935&eid=46543  Price good only till February 1.

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