Stay Hungry and Thirsty, My Friends: Austin FOOD & WINE Festival Gears Up for Year Two
Thu November 1, 2012 12:00 pm

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.

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.

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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