Austin Food & Whine Festival

I had the great fortune to attend the first annual Food & Wine festival in Austin this past weekend.  True, there were lines, heat, dust and a whole host of first world problems.  Tickets did not come cheap at $250 for the "weekender" and $850 for the VIP.  VIP ticket holders had a couple of exclusive events including a taste of Texas dinner Friday night and a "rock your taco" throwdown Saturday night.  I was jealous of both events, but not $600 worth.  Additionally, VIP had the ability to pre-register for the demos, early entry into the tasting tents and a separate VIP "lounge" area.

I was seriously under powered in the camera department and my photos would have benefited from a serious zoom lens, so apologies now.

My first demo was Gail Simmons of "Top Chef" fame.  I was looking forward to her inside scoop on this past season.  Cracking open a Shiner at 10:00, Ms. Simmons was obviously smitten with Texas despite the brutal temps of last summer when the season filmed.  She showcased a couple of recipes that were "Texas inspired", but disappointingly, we didn't get to taste them.  I found myself wishing I had attended Tim Love's hands on grilling demo--his people came away with bags of meat.  And while I realize that there is definitely a "preaching to choir" element to speaking a foodie-centric event, I hoped to learn a little something new.  I didn't expect to hear "you all know the difference between a dry measuring cup and a liquid measuring cup, don't you?"  Yes, since I was about 12 years old.

There was quite a bit of time between sessions, giving time for a bathroom break, a frosty adult beverage, or as I learned, standing in line so as to assure your seat at the next demo.

The Meyer's washing station, conveniently located next to the bathrooms, very generous with their swag!  Another plus were the bathrooms themselves--a little air-conditioned trailer instead of stinky porta potties.  Stocked with Meyer's products for hand washing within the bathrooms as well.  The one place you would expect a huge line, mercifully was always free!

Speaking of free--an abundance of water, soft drinks, beer and wine for the taking.  If you were dehydrated it was your own fault.  With the size of the venue I would have expected more tents for shade and bigger tents for demos.  There were food trucks available: East Side King's was slinging some excellent pork buns, fried chicken and Paul Qui's famous brussel sprouts.  Helpful for absorbing the alcohol until you got a crack at the food in the tasting tents.  The tents were crowded and hot--not unexpected, but still annoying.  There was a big emphasis on wine, less so on food.  This contributed to my angry tweets when I showed up to the Makimono Hands on demo with Tyson Cole/Paul Qui an hour early only to be told that all the seats had been reserved by VIP.

                                   This was as close as I got to Paul Qui.

I elected not to stand in the blazing sun and headed over to Andrew Zimmern's talk.  He was very polished and definitely entertaining.  Apparently I missed this speech about choosing alternative proteins he gave during his talk on Sunday.  He passed around an alternative protein....

                                                                 Any guesses?

It's ox heart!  His description and the smells as he prepared it were mouthwatering.  Alas, still no tasting!  I had heard it was some bullsh!t about "food safety," but if not at Andrew Zimmern's talk where else could you try some actual chef-prepared foods?

I left Saturday a little sunburned, a lot filthy due to the dust kicked up my the winds and disappointed by the experience. 

Sunday began with more lines and another stampede to get into Chef Love's grilling demo.  Back in January when I purchased my tickets I won a contest put on by Austin F&W for dinner for two at Second.   My winning entry described the class I was most excited about and why. 

This young lady did not disappoint.  Christina Tosi's "Cereal Milk" demo was the highlight of the festival for me.  My daughters and I have loved and bonded over her book and it was sitting in my bag awaiting her signature at the book signing.  From her honest and humble presentation about her work to the fact that she actually provided food for the masses--cereal milk, cornflake crunch, cookies and (gasp!) unbaked cookie dough she was inspiring and down to earth in a way that no other chef had been previously.  The fact that I won another copy of the book seemed karmic.  Her thoughtful inscriptions to Sophie and Maddy will ensure that we treasure these books forever.

I bought a copy of "Uchi" since we are moving to Washington DC later this summer and won't be able to make it back to our favorite sushi place ever anytime soon.  Tyson Cole signed my copy--looking a bit fatigued, but accommodating as I gushed about his world class sushi.

Overall, a good time:

Pros:

  • met a bunch of great people who despite the heat and crowds were patient, pleasant and respectful
  • free beer and wine!
  • Christina Tosi!
  • close to my house and easy parking close by

Cons

  • free beer and wine! and no one to drive me home
  • wasted space that could have been used for shade/bigger tents for demos
  • no tasting at demos--seriously, at a food festival?
  • VIP allowed to take up an entire demo with reservations
  • seemed oversold and more disorganized than I would have expected for the price
  • only able to attend 4 demos--staggering them would have been nice

I know, first world problems.  I came away inspired.  In the kitchen with Momofuku Milk Bar as we speak.  Cream on!