Stay Hungry and Thirsty, My Friends: Austin FOOD & WINE Festival Gears Up for Year Two

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After months and months of planning and preparation, The Austin FOOD & WINE Festival made its debut at Auditorium Shores last April. For three long days, attendees swarmed festival grounds – eager to eat, drink, and mingle with a mix of local and national celebrity chefs. Overall, the first Austin FOOD & WINE Festival garnered relatively favorable reviews, but there were a few criticisms that simply couldn’t be overlooked. Long lines, limited food tastings, ubiquitous dust, and high ticket prices with mediocre perks were some of the main gripes of festival attendees. As I said in my own review, “If you’re going to make your guests dish out the big bucks, you better deliver… The Austin FOOD & WINE Festival’s libations and eatings were glorious, but if they are going to make the festival worth the ticket prices next year, they better bring all the charms, bells, and whistles and nothing less.” Earlier this week, C3 Presents‘ Charlie Jones and chef Tim Love reached out to TEXAS MONTHLY to address the criticisms of the 2012 Austin FOOD & WINE Festival and reveal some of the integral changes being made to the 2013 Austin FOOD & WINE Festival, which goes on sale November 8 at 10 a.m. (you heard it here first). How will ticket prices be structured? Last year there was griping that there were only two price levels, and for the lowest one, $250, you really didn’t get any guarantees of admission. Specifically, will you have individual-session tickets so people can pick and choose? In addition to offering Taste ($250) and Savor ($850) passes, guests that have purchased the Taste pass will have the option of adding a la carte evening events, including Friday night’s The Taste of Texas event for $150, or Saturday night’s Rock Your Taco competition for $200. The Taste of Texas and Rock Your Taco events will be held on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively, at Republic Square Park. Will the two venues be Auditorium Shores and Republic Square Park again? Which events at each? The culinary demos, grand tasting tents, hands-on demos, book signings, and wine tastings will be held at Auditorium Shores, while The Taste of Texas and Rock Your Taco competition will both be held at Republic Square Park.

Tim Love and Charlie Jones at the 2012 Austin FOOD & WINE Festival. Photo taken by Cambria Harkey.
How are you addressing the long lines? Some people stood in line nearly an hour to get into choice celebrity demos. In an effort to streamline seating, attendees will line up in two separate lines: one designated for Savor pass holders, and the other for Taste pass holders. Fifteen minutes prior to the start of each seminar/demo/event, the Savor line will be allowed in to choose seating. Once that line has dissipated, attendees in the Taste line will be allowed entry. Once the two lines have diminished, seating will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, with standing room available on the perimeter of tents. We are also expanding the size of the demo tents to accommodate more seating. Specifically, the lines to get into the big food tents were ridiculous. Will there be more than three food tents? We are working with wine, spirits, and food vendors to increase the number of offerings during the Grand Tastings. The footprint of the Grand Tasting tent will increase, resulting in an increased amount of restaurants, purveyors, and overall food options. All participants are asked to serve tasting-size portions. Will there be more shade in general? Our goal is to improve the overall experience for all attendees and participants. We’ll offer additional seating throughout the grounds at Auditorium Shores, including picnic table-type seats for attendees to enjoy food and beverages, with additional Adirondack-style seating scattered around the park. Again, all tents will be larger and will accommodate more people. Has the dust issue been addressed? C3 Presents and the Austin FOOD & WINE team are committed to improving the overall experience for the 2013 Festival. We, too, were disappointed in the 2012 condition of Auditorium Shores. Unfortunately, park maintenance is not under the control of the Festival team, and we tried to make the best of the conditions. We are grateful to the Austin City Council for approving restoration plans in April 2012 for Auditorium Shores, and look forward to working with them to make the 2013 edition of Austin FOOD & WINE Festival the lush, green epicurean experience we all envision. Thanks to recent efforts by the Parks Department, Auditorium Shores is in great shape with lots of grass. What about the layout of the festival grounds? There was a lot of grumbling from people trudging back and forth between events at opposite ends of the space. We learned a lot during our first year of the Festival, and are committed to improving the overall experience for all attendees and participants. Based on event experience and feedback, we will make adjustments to the overall layout and flow of the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival grounds, similar to the changes we have made every year at Austin City Limits (ACL). How did attendance break down last year between Austin and out-of-town guests? Approximately forty-nine percent of 2012 Austin FOOD & WINE Festival attendees were from Austin and the greater metro area, while thirty-six percent of attendees were Texas residents, and fifteen percent of attendees came in from out-of-state. These figures are actually very similar to the stats for the Austin City Limits (ACL) Festival, so we feel like we’re on track to establish this as a nationally recognized event. It has always been our goal to create a cultural event that lasts a long time and we will continue to evolve programming and overall guest experience. How did Austin stack up, attendance-wise, against other FOOD & WINE-sponsored festivals? (Christina Grdovic, publisher of FOOD & WINE magazine, addressed this question) We were very pleased with the attendance at the first annual Austin FOOD & WINE Festival. Like all the festivals FOOD & WINE is involved with, many events were sold out and there was a huge demand for the wine and food talent. What was so striking about the audience at the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival was how engaged they were. The audience was very knowledgeable and excited about meeting the chefs, mingling with the wine experts, listening to the music, and generally being at the festival. One thing that surprised me about the chef lineup was that they all seemed to be genuinely passionate about the Austin culinary scene. Do you seek out chefs who are familiar with the city before you invite them? In other words, how do you recruit for the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival lineup? We chose talent based on several different factors, including passion for the Austin and Texas culinary scenes and diversity of styles. Of course, we like to recruit people that have an interest in what’s going on in Austin, and we’ve been overwhelmed with how enthusiastic chefs, wine, and spirits professionals from around the country are about the vibrant culinary scene in Texas.
Tyson Cole, Tim Love, and Charlie Jones at the 2012 Austin FOOD & WINE Festival. Photo taken by Cambria Harkey.

<p>As Texan George W. Bush’s eight years as president wound down in 2008, Bush told Politico that there was one thing he was looking forward to in a return to private life:</p> <p>“Emailing to my buddies. I can remember as governor I stayed in touch with all kinds of people around the country, firing off emails at all times of the day to stay in touch with my pals One of the things I will have ended my public service time with is a group of friends. And I want to stay in touch with them and there’s no better way to communicate with them than through email.”</p> <p>Bush, the email addicted Texas governor, had gone cold turkey on taking office as president, knowing his email accounts would be public record and thus fodder for reporters and opposition researchers to pore over looking for material that could be used to embarrass him.</p> <p>Apparently, rather than follow the path of this Texas governor, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to follow the path of another Texas governor, Rick Perry, and engage in removing emails from public scrutiny. While each used different techniques, Clinton and Perry both found ways to make public disclosure of their emails difficult. When it comes to the public’s right to know what their government officials are doing, Clinton and Perry seem to be birds of a feather.</p> <!--break--> <p>Clinton, the presumed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, is embroiled in a controversy over keeping a private email account on a server her family owned. Despite federal regulations requiring all of her official emails as secretary of state to be in the possession, <a href="" target="_blank">The New York Times </a>reported that Clinton maintains control of most of her emails, having only turned over 55,000 relating to the incidents in Benghazi.</p> <p>Perry’s emails were on a government computer, but his aides made a liberal interpretation of the Texas Records Retention Act to delete most office emails after seven days, claiming to keep only those that were official state business. A Minnesota open records advocate tried to thwart Perry’s scheme by writing a computer program to generate a request for Perry’s emails twice a week, but the <a href="" target="_blank">purges continued. </a></p> <p>When former Attorney General Greg Abbott replaced Perry as governor in January, Abbott’s office created a new email policy to keep all emails for 30 days and only delete material under the guidance of the records retention schedule.</p> <p>While Perry’s email controversy is different from Clinton’s, the former secretary of state has a lot in common with officials in several Texas cities and counties. If the Texas controversies are any guide, then Clinton is simply wrong and should turn all her emails as secretary of state over to the department.</p> <p>The battle over public officials avoiding disclosure through private email accounts has been fought more than one here. Texas attorney generals -- including now-U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Abbott -- have ruled that public business conducted through a personal email account is subject to disclosure under the Texas open records law. Federal law is different from state law, but the principle of open government is the same.</p> <ul> <li>The Arlington City Council in 2001 received an open records request for all council member emails. The city complied with the request on city computers but balked at giving out information from the members’ private computers. Cornyn ruled in Open Records Decision 2001-1790 that the city had to obtain the private emails and give them to the requestor. Since that time, there have been multiple controversies over public officials use of private emails.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>The Austin Bulldog, a local investigative newsletter, claimed in 2011 that <a href="" target="_blank">Austin City Council</a> members used private email accounts to deliberate about a $250 million city project, using the emails to avoid open meeting act requirements. </li> <li>Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson sued in 2012 in an attempt to block release of emails from a personal account to The San Antonio Express-News, which was trying to find out how much an anti-toll road crusader was doing in his administration. A state district judge <a href="" target="_blank">ruled against Adkisson</a>. </li> <li>The Victoria Advocate has been fighting with several local officials over the release of public information kept on private email accounts.</li> <li>The City of El Paso has an ongoing fight with attorney <a href="" target="_blank">Stephanie Townsend Allala</a> over releasing personal email account materials from city advisers to city officials over the construction of a city ballpark. Abbott ordered the records released, but the city has gone to court to block the release. The city claims it cannot release records it does not possess. </li> </ul> <p>“The government’s business is the people’s business,” Texas Freedom of Information Foundation Executive Director Kelley Shannon told me. “Some officials may be trying to avoid open records by using personal accounts.”</p> <p>The Legislature in 2013 passed a state law codifying the Cornyn and Abbott opinions that public business conducted on private accounts is subject to open record release. But with local governments like El Paso refusing to comply, claiming they are not the custodian of records, state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, has introduced a bill to require public officials to turn such records over to the government body for release. </p> <p>“They’re not personal. They’re official business,” Hunter told me. Hunter said no one is trying to force officials to release truly private communications, but he said there are so many personal devices available to officials now, laptops, tablets, wireless phones, that it only makes sense to have those devices subject to public scrutiny. “We’re in the modern age now.”</p> <p>Over the past 24 hours, I’ve seen a lot of Democrats engaging in the Washington game of ‘This is no big deal because it is OK when our person does it’ to provide forgiveness to Clinton. Or they’ve hidden behind the fact that former Secretary of State Colin Powell under Bush also maintained a personal email account – as if two wrongs make a right. If her supporters really want good government ethics, they should be expressing disappointment and urge her to turn all the records over to the Department of State, where public release would be determined by following the federal Freedom of Information Act.</p> <p>Clinton had to know the problems associated with her personal email accounts right from the time she took office. There were national stories about President Obama keeping his Blackberry and about how neither Bush nor former President Bill Clinton used email while in office. The Washington Post is reporting that White House spokesman Josh Earnest said <a href="" target="_blank">Clinton did not follow Obama’s policies </a>on officials using email. </p> <blockquote> <p>“Very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees in the Obama administration should use their official e-mail accounts when they’re conducting official government business,” Earnest said. “However, when there are situations where personal e-mail accounts are used, it is important for those records to be preserved, consistent with the Federal Records Act.”</p> </blockquote> <p>Simply put, Clinton is learning the lesson of Texas politicians – that private email accounts do not put a public official above public scrutiny. Clinton probably should have adopted George W. Bush personal policy as he left the Texas behind for the District of Columbia. Bush surrendered his email handle <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a> in January 2001 and sent out his final email for eight years.</p> <p>“Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace. This saddens me. I have enjoyed conversing with each of you.”</p>

Are there any chefs that you want to bring back in 2013? More than half of the 2013 talent line-up is new, featuring a mix of familiar faces and some of Texas’ brightest culinary stars. And the returning talent on the lineup had such a great time in Austin, they wanted to come back again. We received enthusiastic feedback from attendees about the culinary and beverage line-up in 2012, and are super excited for many of the participants to come back next year. Based on the feedback you’ve received, what do you feel were the most successful events at the 2012 festival? Are there ones you feel could have used some improvement? We received a lot of positive feedback from attendees and participants about the first-year festival, and intend to continue working on all aspects of programming to make sure that Austin FOOD & WINE Festival continues to evolve year after year. The hands-on demos and Rock Your Taco were fan favorites, and we heard countless anecdotes that people loved the interaction and accessibility to the chefs. Throughout your planning and organizing, how do you make sure the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival remains Austin-centric? In other words, how do you keep Austin culinary traditions like food trailers, local farm cuisine, snout-to-tail consumption, etc. alive while inviting outside chefs and culinary talents from New York. In our opinion, the recipe for success at any festival is a mix of local, regional, and national chef, sommelier, and mixologist talent. Our goal in creating the Austin FOOD & WINE program is to create an event that would offer Austinites the chance to experience food and meet chefs and culinary personalities they might not otherwise be able to experience, while attracting tourists that want to come to Austin to experience the city’s unique culture, music, and cuisine. And in the spirit of Austin’s dynamic culinary scene, we will once again have several local food trailers on-site at Auditorium Shores offering food throughout the weekend. In addition to featuring rising stars as well as established talent from Austin, we are pleased to showcase more chefs and beverage professionals from around Texas, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. I think one thing that surprised me was the small amount of food served during the festival. Will there be more food samples to hand out at the 2013 festival, or is the festival designed to focus more on the discussion and celebration of Austin food? Also, there wasn’t as much wine and spirits emphasis as I thought there would be. Are you planning on including more wine and spirits events/talent this year? The 2013 Festival will feature Interactive Chef stations on-site at Auditorium Shores: participating chefs will cook throughout the day, interact with attendees, and offer samples of their dishes. Additional wine and spirits vendors will be set up and pouring in The Tasting Room throughout the Festival, and the footprint of the Grand Tasting tent will increase, resulting in an increased amount of restaurants, purveyors, and overall food options. When the schedule is released in January, it will include a second Texas wine panel, as well as interactive winemaker discussions.
Tim Love at the 2012 Austin FOOD & WINE Festival grilling demo. Photo taken by Cambria Harkey.

<p>Formerly known as the Noble Pig, the newest outpost, on Burnet, is still heavy on the porcine. We adore the farm tables painted in cheerful blue gingham, which are especially inviting in the morning, particularly when topped with plates of blueberry waffles or fluffy biscuits with eggs and sausage and a dousing of cream gravy. Though still heavy on the meat (there’s nary a salad in the offering), dinner goes way beyond sandwiches: Fork-tender oxtails with a smoky red chile sauce on a bed of grits topped with two runny eggs is the definition of comfort food. Tarragon offsets the touch of gaminess in the lamb stew, and a few turnips and carrots make an appearance. And the cavatappi and Gouda version of mac and cheese is downright gluttonous. (3/15)</p>

Do you plan on including more participatory events at this year’s festival, like the grilling demo from 2012, or will the festival entail more watch-and-learn events? We will activate the grounds of Auditorium Shores with Interactive Chef stations, where featured chefs will cook throughout the day, sharing cooking tips and other culinary insights, while dishing up samples. One suggestion I heard from a friend was that the festival should add more live music to jazz things up a bit. Are you considering doing more live music events during the festival? Friday night’s The Taste of Texas and Saturday night’s Rock Your Taco competition will feature live musical performances. Additionally, the C3 Presents team plans to book a diverse selection of live music throughout the Festival weekend. The Austin FOOD & WINE Festival is dedicated to celebrating great food, wine, and spirits. As we grow, we’ll make changes from year to year and add music where appropriate. Do you see the potential for the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival to become as successful as, let’s say, the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen? Or are those just two completely different entities? Austin FOOD & WINE and the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen are two completely different entities, and all culinary festivals are unique and different in their own way. However, our goal with [the] Austin FOOD & WINE Festival is to create an experience-based event that can become one of the premiere culinary festivals in the country. This is a C3 Presents question. How do you handle planning for a food and wine event like this when you’re accustomed to highly successful music events? What are some of the differences and similarities between organizing these two types of very different festivals? C3 Presents focuses on experience-based events, whether it’s the ACL Festival or the White House Easter Egg Roll, and we approach planning festivals the same way. Our goal is to show attendees a good time while providing a unique experience. Cuisine motivates a lot of people in our office and Austin’s vibrant dining scene inspires us to be a part of it. For all of our festivals, we want to curate an interesting and diverse roster of talent that showcases the incredible level of talent in Austin and across Texas, as well as featuring the brightest folks in the industry. Last but not least, what should festival attendees expect to see in 2013? Feel free to splurge as many any yet-to-be-revealed details about the chef lineup, plans, and changes as you want. The Austin FOOD & WINE team takes attendee feedback to heart and is committed to improving the overall experience for all participants and Festival guests. The 2013 Festival will feature Interactive Chef stations on-site at Auditorium Shores: participating chefs will cook throughout the day, interact with attendees, and offer samples of their dishes. Additional wine and spirits vendors will be set up in The Tasting Room pouring drinks throughout the weekend. The footprint of the Grand Tasting tent will increase, resulting in an increased amount of restaurants, purveyors, and overall food options. The footprints of demo and seminar tents will also be bigger, accommodating more attendees. We will release the schedule of programming in January, which has been designed to maximize attendees’ opportunities to experience a variety of cooking demos, wine tastings, book signings, Grand Tastings, and more. The program will also include more interactive, hands-on demos. Additionally, several wine, spirits, and food vendors will be activated throughout the grounds at Auditorium Shores, enabling attendees to interact with chefs and culinary professionals in between seminars and demos, throughout the day. And based on the current lush and green condition of Auditorium Shores, we think it’s a great venue to showcase all that Austin has to offer.

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