(Ground beef guru Josh Ozersky, from a 2008 Nightline appearance)
Wednesday at approximately 4 p.m., culinary event planner Mike Thelin was driving around Austin in search of hardwood briquettes, trying to fill a last-minute request from one of the many chefs participating in the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival. The 26th edition kicks off tonight with the Stars Across Texas Classic at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
Local talent will be featured at the gala, including Austinites Tyson Cole (Uchi/Uchiko), Shawn Cirkiel (Parkside) and David Bull (Congress), new part-time San Antonioan John Besh (Luke) and current Texas Monthly cover star Tom Perini (Perini Ranch).
But Thelin and the festival staff have also wrangled an eclectic out-of-towner A-List for the weekend, including L.A.’s Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (Animal), Australian chef and cookbook author Andrew Dwyer and several luminaries from his own home base of Portland, Oregon.
“It wasn’t like, hey let’s bring in a bunch of guys from Portland,” Thelin says. “It was more like, what is Austin as a food city? Would it make sense to bring in Food Network stars who have been here in the past, or bring in the type of people who the local chefs would see as peers? People come to a town like Austin because it’s on the leading edge - it creates a lot of trends and knows how to throw a great party. So it made a lot of sense, in the same way that SXSW was a festival that focused on the up and coming acts, to do the same thing with food.”
In addition to Thursday’s gala and the Sunday Fair (at Austin’s Mexican-American Cultural Center) there’s the “Live Fire: Beef Supremacy Over Flames” event in Buda Friday, featuring Public’s Brad Farmerie (winner of the most recent New York edition of the pig-cooking contest Cochon 555) and Portland pitmaster Rodney Muirhead of Podhnah’s (an East Texas native) as well as Aaron Franklin of Franklin’s BBQ, Rene Ortiz of La Condesa and Scott Roberts of The Salt Lick.
TM executive editor and food writer Patricia Sharpe is one of the judges at the Stars Across Texas Classic. She is also looking forward to Friday’s “Burger and Beef” seminar with veteran blogger and author (The Hamburger: A History) Josh Ozersky.
“I want to see how much we agree on what makes a good burger,” Sharpe says. “I have eaten 75 burgers as part of our “Best Burgers” story, so I wonder if he thinks the burger constellation in this country is heading where I think it is. It’s really hard for an old-fashioned, Mom-and-Pop, plain-Jane burger to compete with these steroidal designer burgers.”
- Jason Cohen