Austin FOOD & WINE Festival: Day 1

The Austin FOOD & WINE Festival took over Auditorium Shores for two days, showcasing all kinds of famous chefs and local vendors.  Originally I wasn’t going to attend (due to seemingly exorbitant ticket prices), I was able to win some passes thanks to Twin Liquors!  With two entries, but Evelyn out of town, I scrambled to find some friends who had no plans this weekend.  Luckily two were free to divide and conquer.  Onward to the festival!

On Saturday Travis came by at 9:30am and we headed down to the excitement.  First up was a demo from master chef Jonathan Waxman to talk about a chef’s favorite junk food.  After long nights of restaurant service, sometimes chefs just want something greasy and delicious.  He showed us how to make some stuffed fried jalapeños, sloppy joes, and s’mores.  It all looked fantastic, though I will say Ev and I must be pretty innovative, because we were making our “urban s’mores” long before any famous chef told us it was cool.  Unfortunately none of the food was given out to the packed tent of attendees.

Travis and I headed out to the row of food trucks (comprised of MMMpanadas, The Peached Tortilla, East Side King, and Coolhaus) to get some food.  We had an hour to kill before the Grand Tasting tent opened up to the “Weekender” pass-holders.  We ended up at East Side King, which was featuring three menu items from the Liberty Bar location menu, of which I got the Thai Chicken Kara’age and Fried Brussels Sprout Salad.  Delicious and satisfying, especially after my 18 mile run earlier in the day.  Expect a review soon.  After eating we saw a group of friends, Jeff, Natalie, Hilary, and Nick, who just got out of the open bar line.  We chatted a bit, and then without anything else to do, we got in line for the Grand Tasting (which still had thirty minutes until opening).

The Grand Tasting tent, 10,o00 square feet spread across three tents, seemed to be the main reason to go to the festival, at least to me. There were dozens of food vendors, and nearly twice as many alcohol samplers.  We walked through, trying to get the most out of our $250 free tickets.  We had quite a few wine samples, including the fancy Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa.  My favorite of the adult beverage purveyors was Breckenridge Distillery, who was handing out a tall Manhattan along with some chocolate truffles and some kind of liquid chocolate called Break Up Potion.  All I know is that all of it was delicious.

Breckenridge Distillery truffle on the Break Up Potion, Manhattan behind.

For food, the best of the day was the beef cheek ravioli from Finn & Porter (out of focus above).  Salty and savory and rich and amazing.  Other notables included the meatball from Mandola’s Italian Market and .  I can’t decide if the Frito Pie from Ranch 616 was actually good, or just gimmicky with chili and cheese filled into a bag of Fritos.

Frito Pie from Ranch 616

None of this would have been as much fun, though, without friends to share it with.  Jeff and Hilary were definitely having a great time.  Notice the empty wine glass.

Jeff & Hilary in the Grand Tasting tent

After the Grand Tasting we got some Standing Room Only spots for master chef Tony Montuano’s Italian Pasta demo.  Post-tasting, it was a little tricky to focus.  We took away some tips, like using 00 flour and to cook the pasta in water briefly, and then cook it the rest of the way in the sauce.  Top Chef finalist Sarah Grueneberg found herself on stage too, giving her own tips and sassing her mentor Chef Montuano whenever she could.  It was entertaining, but nothing mindblowing.  I appreciated the pasta-making tips that I was able to remember.

Chef Montuono sharing his Pasta demo with Chef Grueneberg

With 45 minutes between sessions Travis and I found a few chairs to rest, maybe catch a quick nap, and plan for the upcoming demo.  Unable to resist, I swung by Coolhaus and got myself the best ice cream sammie they make: (gluten free) coconut almond cookie with sea salt caramel ice cream.  It was divine!

And not to miss a great photo opportunity, I ran over to snap a photo of Chef Marcus Samuelsson grabbing a sammie from Coolhaus.  I even took a picture of him with the Coolhaus crew.  Such a nice guy, always willing to stop and appreciate his fans.

Pretty cool jersey for Marcus Samuelsson at the Coolhaus window

Next up was going to be a demo by wine genius Ray Isle to tell us about lesser-known Italian Wines.  We got there late so there weren’t anymore seats to actually taste.  Not very engaging, we split up.  Travis went to learn about Tequila and Salt, and I went to listen to Mark Oldman talk about Sparkling Substitutes — alternatives to Champagne.  I don’t really care for Champagne or its alternatives, but Oldman was very entertaining and engaging.  Fun Oldman fact: get your server sufficiently drunk and the corkage fee goes away.  Noted!

Mark Oldman talking Sparkling Wine

To close out the day there was another Grand Tasting, repeating everything we tried earlier in the day.  This time we were more focused on hitting our favorites from the first time around.  A few refills here and an extra ravioli there to close out the afternoon.  Overall Day 1 was a big success!  We got to see some famous chefs and sommeliers talk about their passions and tasted a lot of great food.  Stay tuned for a recap of Day 2!

Travis: Satisfied

4 thoughts on “Austin FOOD & WINE Festival: Day 1

    • Mike says:

      Hey John, thanks for the comment. I’ll be honest, I said to my friends that it definitely didn’t seem worth the $250 per person (for general admission). It’s a lot to pay to stand in long lines, although I’m sure a lot of the cost goes to recruiting such big-name talent on top of putting on a 1.5-2 day event. I appreciated getting to see big names talk about their specialties, but it really just seemed like there weren’t enough accommodations for everyone.

      Guinea Pig, below, left quite a list of feedback, much of which I agree with.

  1. Guinea Pig says:

    I was one of those poor suckers who paid $250 to stand in long lines in the heat! While you can’t do anything about the heat, you can do something about the lines. While the cooking demonstrations were educational, we spent more time standing in line than we did learning anything. Here are my 12 major complaints to the Powers that Be at Austin Food & Wine Festival:
    1. Why not stagger the events? What is the crowd supposed to do for 45 min. between each set of events? Bored, hot, hungry people drinking in the morning can be dangerous.
    2. We learned that hard way that you must be in line 45+ min in advance to get a seat. No one is counting heads vs. chairs. By the time you figure out you’re not going to get a seat, it’s too late to get a seat in any other tent.
    3. There were not enough chairs in all tents combined to seat all ticket holders at the same time. Get bigger tents and more chairs or more tents, more events, and more chairs.
    4. There was an awesome grilling set up and stage but it was left unused most of the day. WHY??
    5. If Austin is the “Live Music Capital of the World,” why not use the empty stage at least for live music? An empty stage is heresy.
    6. There was no coffee in the morning and food before the Grand Tasting event except for 3 food and one ice cream truck. Stand in line to pay extra for food? No thanks. Never thought I had to eat before I went to a food and wine festival!
    7. Plenty of free beer and cheap wine but who wants to drink that at 9am? How about some COFFEE? How about a crepe and espresso stand? More food trucks? People passing out free sample of stuff for breakfast?
    8. On a related note: What happened to all of that meat from the hands-on grilling lessons? Tim Love provided about a pound of meat per person. How about cut it up and pass it out to the crowd for breakfast?
    9. The 3 Grand Tasting events were too packed once the hungry people piled in. Get at least one more tent…maybe one focusing on FOOD and not wine.
    10. I saw several single guys stationed alone at a grilling table. Why not require 2 people per grilling station? Double up the single guys, plug a single chick in there, or ask the frustrated people who stood in line for over an hour on Sunday and did not get a station if there were any singles who wanted to join a stranger.
    11. The Grand Tasting: too much wine, not enough FOOD…especially after starving us for breakfast.
    12. Thanks for bathroom trucks with running water instead of porta potties, but you need at least one more bathroom truck.

    • Mike says:

      Guinea Pig, great comments! I agree with a lot of it. My first thought when I heard there would be food trucks at a food & wine festival was “uh, who in their right mind will pay for food when the free food will be flowing?”. Turns out you just need to withhold food for awhile in the morning.

      Like I said to John above, I think they underestimated how many accommodations were needed for the number of tickets sold. Larger tents, more food vending space, more bathrooms. As for free coffee / breakfast, I personally would *think* $250 per person would cover it, even if they did it with a one-per-person coffee ticket or something.

      Anyway, I think it’s worth saying the event was run pretty smoothly considering it was its first year. Hopefully the Austin Food & Wine Alliance takes concerns like yours into consideration for next year.

Thoughts? Leave a comment!