At Vaca y Vino, set for Sunday, April 22, from 1 to 6, three Austin chefs are coming together to do an afternoon of beef, wine, song, and camaraderie in the great outdoors at the Bridges Ranch eight miles south of Driftwood, outside Austin. A whole steer (basted in chimichurri) will be slow-roasted over oak coals, and ample vittles will be supplied, including empanadas, veggie caldo, cheese and cured meats, new-potato salad, grilled escarole and other veggies, tres leches cake, and more. Wine will flow. And of course, this being Austin, there will be live music, by Latino-funk masters Brownout and classical Argentine tango maestros Glover Tango.
To cut to the chase: Tickets are now on sale for $75. If there are any left by April 1, they will go up to $95. The price includes food, wine, and music amid the live oak trees on the ranch. Also, bus transportation from downtown. Only 300 tickets are being sold, so don’t procrastinate.
The co-conspirators who dreamed up Vaca y Vino are Emmett Fox (of Fino and Asti), Lou Lambert (of Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, among others), and Larry McGuire (of Perla’s and Elizabeth Street Café, among others). Also involved are Will Bridges, a scion of the family that owns the ranch, and music maven Rose Reyes.
I attended the dress rehearsal for this event about a week ago, on a blustery Sunday afternoon, and I have to say that although my hair, clothes, eyelids, shoes, socks, fingernails, and iPhone were completely and totally smoked before it was all over, I can’t remember when I’ve had more fun.
About 80 people gathered round to watch the three chefs wrestle with half a steer on the crazy swinging grill (more formally known as a cantilevered parrilla-style grill) that they had had custom-built by a trailer hitch company in Austin. To tell you the truth, the contraption reminded me of some old bedsprings and a piece of tin roofing welded to an upright pole, with half a steer sandwiched in between, but it worked beautifully.
Every half hour (for more than sixteen hours) they swung the bedsprings (excuse me, the parrilla) out from the pole, flipped the half steer over to ensure even cooking, and swung it back over the coals.
I privately thought there was less than a 50:50 chance the meat would be cooked halfway evenly, much less be tender. After all, it takes barbecue pitmasters years to get it just right. These guys were doing it on the fly. (Of course, Lou (pictured) has plenty of experience with barbecue at Lamberts, but still—he’s not working with a whole animal).
But the results were perfect: tender, smoky, juicy, and amazing. They did take out the key cuts, like tenderloin and ribeye and smoke them separately, just to be sure there was something to eat in case the half steer went to hell in a hand basket, but it turned out there was no need to worry.
We sat down to eat family-style at long tables covered in checked tablecloths under the live oaks. Everyone proceeded to baste themselves in Malbec, overload their plates, eat until they couldn’t see straight, and wonder why no one ever thought of this before.