After a taxing Day 1 at the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival, Day 2 showed off a completely different experience. A new day also meant a new guest — my good friend Charlie joined me for more food and wine fun.
After rave reviews of chef Tim Love’s grilling demo (with 200 charcoal grills set up for attendees) from the day before, Charlie and I got down to the festival about 15 minutes after the gates opened and 15 minutes before the 11am demos started. Well it turns out people were lining up at 10am, before the festival gates were even open, ready to run to the next line with hopes of getting a grill station. We did not.
As a fallback we grabbed seats at Andrew Zimmern’s Global Street Food demo. While waiting in line I saw Iron Chef Morimoto walking by with scissors and freshly cut flowers off a nearby tree. He does what he wants.
After Zimmern was introduced by Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, he showed us how easy it is to make street food from Morocco and China, explaining how they may seem exotic, but are really very accessible. Just after getting started the demo was crashed by Morimoto himself. He must be following me. Anyway, interlaced with the cooking Zimmern preached about food issues in our country. The big “Tweetable” moment was when he said “Our food system in this country has never been so good for so few and so bad for so many”. The food smelled great, and he even gave out some samples to people in the front row. It turned out to be a great alternative to the smoky grilling demo.
We regrouped in some shady chairs while waiting for the next demonstration. Nothing really jumped out as must-see, so we ended up checking out the alcohol-related events. With one vodka and two wine options, we got into Anthony Giglio’s Syrah vs Shiraz. He’s a straight-talking New Yorker through and through, though not overly abrasive, which I appreciate in a wine tasting. The big takeaway for me was to serve red wine no warmer than 65*. Anything above that, in his words, is “excretion”. Delicious.
With six glasses in front of us Giglio talked about the history of the two grape varieties (and the fact that they are genetically identical). The wines came from all over, including Washington State, Australia, and France. My favorite was from Chateau Tanunda in South Australia. Overall a tasty, moderately informative session.
With all celebrity chef demos wrapped up and 45 minutes to kill before the Grand Tasting, I decided I wanted to find Morimoto to get him to sign my badge. Charlie and I figured he definitely was not going to be hanging around with the bourgeoisie. More likely he would be in the VIP-reserved tent. With a little confidence in numbers, we strolled into the VIP tent like we belonged. Since the regular badges and VIP badges differed only by a small, color-coded strip on the bottom of one side, we were careful to show
the generic side. Riding the confidence wave we went up to the food tent to find a whole roasted pig being used to make pulled pork sliders, along with some grilled shrimp.
Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen’s Kitchen and Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine (father and son) were both behind the table overseeing their fine work. We didn’t find Morimoto, but I still consider this side trip a success!
From there we headed over to the Grand Tasting to get our money’s worth out of the free passes. Most of the offerings were the same as Day 1, but it was all new to Charlie. It felt like people had a better idea what they wanted and what they didn’t, so some lines were longer than Saturday, others were empty. I made sure to get myself another one (or two, but who’s counting) of the amazing beef cheek ravioli from Finn & Porter. Otherwise we made the rounds until we could go round no more. While leaving we ran into the crew to recap how things went. General consensus: not too shabby.
p>And so the first Austin FOOD & WINE Festival came to a close, and we were a few pounds heavier for it. But we were also a little more knowledgeable (or at least I think so) from the chef-led demonstrations. I’m grateful to Twin Liquors for providing me two passes, because I’m still not sure they were worth the $250 per person. Too much waiting in line, foregoing your first choice of demonstration, and seemingly unnecessary amounts of downtime between sessions. But for its first year I must say was I impressed with how smoothly the logistics played out. Bottom line, if nothing changed, I would not buy tickets to next year’s event. Hopefully the event organizers make an earnest effort to improve from their solid starting point.