All Fired Up: Texas Hill Country Food and Wine Festival's "Live Fire!" event was blazing fun.
Sat April 2, 2011 12:58 am

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There’s something deliciously naughty about attending a beef grilling event at an exotic game ranch in Texas. Add celebrity chefs, the open flame, and a corridor of wine purveyors to that mix and you’ve got yourself a party. In other words, the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival’s “Live Fire! Supremacy Over Flames” evening was a success.

One of the most exciting moments occurred at the beginning of the evening: As we drove into the Texas Disposal Systems Exotic Game Ranch, we were surrounded by leaping antelopes, quarreling zebras, myriad birds, and even a hiding buffalo. But upon entering the event, there was a different kind of game: a baker’s dozen of chefs serving plate after plate of delicacies, tables of wine to try, and, unfortunately, a line at each station (the place was packed).

Where to start? Andrew Dwyer’s samples from the Australian Outback seemed like a fitting place. His pink, melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin; smooth potato and celeriac mash; thick, pestolike chimichurri sauce; and roasted corn-on-the-cob wheels were divine. As tender as the tenderloin tasted,

the sweet, charred corn on the cob was almost the star of the plate.

The most creative dish of the evening certainly should be awarded to Public Restaurant’s Brad Farmerie. Hot off the heels of winning New York City’s Cochon 555 competition, where he flexed his creative muscles by working with a 175-pound heritage-breed hog (highlights were a pig liver crème caramel with maple roasted grapes and a pig blood popsicle with tomato chili jam and toasted peanuts), Farmerie forsook the whole hog tonight and met a different four-legged friend head on. We loved his beefy black pudding waffles with soft, red-wine-poached pears, topped with light, fluffy foie gras butter. For the less adventurous, he also did a nice grapefruit salad with sweet tahini yogurt and gogi berries.

Why black pudding, rather than ribeye or tenderloin? “The whole point is to use every part of the animal,” Farmerie said. “We try to open people’s minds to the idea that unusual things, like blood sausage and tongue, can be really good.” Amen to that. In fact, where can I get some more of that whipped, delicious foie gras butter?

The stampede to Franklin Barbecue was unsuprising and a bit daunting, but Aaron Franklin’s brisket and other cuts of meat were perfection, as usual. His neighbor, Rodney Muirhead, was serving up some fine Texas-style barbecue as well, all the way from Podnah's Pit Barbecue, in Portland, Oregon. “There are so many Texans in Portland, it’s amazing,” Muirhead said. “And they’re all pretty happy with my barbecue. The tricky part is pleasing people from other parts of the country, like North Carolina.” (Clearly those North Carolinans haven’t learned yet that Texas barbecue is the real barbecue.)

And what better pairing for all of this red meat than a fine red wine? In addition to the many excellent wineries from all over the world, there were some great Texas vineyards in attendance, such as the Mosaic Wine Group, Wrath, Becker Vineyards, and Llano Estacado. Truth be told, though, we particularly liked the 2006 Grenache Syrah from Ken Forrester Vineyards, in South Africa.

La Condesa’s Rene Ortiz served up some amazing taquitos arabicos with rare beef, fennel crema, minted cucumber, red onion, and smoked beef fat on a homemade tortilla, and Andy Ricker dished up a nice beef sampler with a thick, spicy chili paste and beef flank brined in aromatics. It didn’t beat the spicy grilled boar collar meat glazed with soy and sugar and served with raw, iced mustard greens that I ate last month at Pok Pok, Ricker’s famous Portland restaurant, but it was quite good.

I didn’t make it to Jason Dady’s tasty-looking Thai beef salad, but I did try Scott Roberts’s smoked and shredded beef cheek slider with sweet barbecue sauce, jicama, and citrus and chili slaw, at the Salt Lick station. “We’ve been cooking briskets for forty-seven years,” Roberts said. “But we felt we knew heat and smoke and blood too. Sometimes you just get bored doing the same thing over and over, even though we do it really good.”

After such a wildly fun party, Brad Farmerie put it best: “The festival has been great so far. The food, the wine, the booze—what’s not to like?”

Posted by Megan Giller

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