The seventh annual Austin Food & Wine Festival returns to Auditorium Shores and Fair Market for this long weekend of culinary programming. This year, attendees can look forward to demos and dinners from more than five dozen acclaimed chefs spread out over a number of different events. Read on for five things we can’t wait to experience this weekend.
New (to the Fest) Talent
While plenty of well-loved celebrity chefs will return to this year’s festival (like Chopped‘s Amanda Freitag and James Beard Award winner Jamie Bissonnette), several familiar faces will be making their first AFWF appearance. Iconic chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author Lidia Bastianich, who just released her memoir, My American Dream, will sit down for a conversation with Texas Monthly executive editor Kathy Blackwell on Saturday. Later that afternoon, acclaimed chef Stephanie Izard will recreate brunch dishes from her new cookbook, Gather & Grace, like crispy beef short rib with salted caramel and pickled cucumber relish. Fellow Chicago powerhouse Paul Kahan will cook smoked eel and diver scallop with crispy potatoes, a favorite dish from his restaurant Publican Anker. On Sunday, Top Chef alum Nyesha Arrington will provide the audience with the perfect cure by stirring up the popular Hangover Soup served at Native, her new Los Angeles restaurant. As for wine programming, this year local sommelier superstars June Rodil, Devon Broglie, and Craig Collins will be joined by Helen Johannesen, the owner of Helen’s and partner in Jon & Vinny’s in Los Angeles.
The Taco Tournament of the Year
Each year during AFWF, a number of visiting chefs (plus a few local stars) go head-to-head in a friendly (but heated) taco competition called Rock Your Taco, and it’s typically one of the weekend’s most anticipated events. This year’s throwdown, held at Fair Market, will feature the music stylings of the illustrious Gina Chavez and a panel of esteemed judges including Bastianich. This year’s competitors include 2017 champion Tyson Cole (Uchi and Uchiko, Austin), Ray Garcia (Broken Spanish, Los Angeles), Cassidee Dabnee (The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Tennessee), Diego Galicia and Rico Torres (Mixtli, San Antonio), and more.
Grilling Lessons Gone Wild
Anyone who’s attended AFWF is undoubtedly familiar with festival partner Tim Love’s rowdy hands-on grilling demonstrations, in which the Texas-born chef has been known to heckle participants, climb the stage’s lighting structure, and host games of Shot Roulette (something you’ll just have to experience to understand). This year, Love’s grilling demo has been expanded and will take place Friday night at Auditorium Shores, where several hundred grills will be set up for participants to cook vegetables, proteins, and dessert. Those with an All-In pass can attend the Grillin’ and Chillin’ event, and pairs will be provided with a grill and a cooler full of ingredients, plus plenty of Herradura Tequila and Joel Gott wine.
A Super Lit Fire Pit
Fire pit programming is, appropriately, one of the things that distinguishes Austin’s Food & Wine Festival from the other festivals Food & Wine puts on across the world. This open fire spectacle grows a bit more each year, and has been known to include contraptions like turkey swings, a corned beef pulley system, and a rotisserie fire truck. This year, we’re especially looking forward to honey jalapeño lamb pops from Wayne Mueller (Louis Mueller Barbecue, Taylor), Oaxacan chicken tacos from Billy Durney (Hometown Bar-B-Que, Brooklyn), BBQ spare ribs from Rodney Scott (Rodney Scott’s BBQ, Charleston), Bissonnette’s fire pit paella, and a whole hog roasted by Parkside’s executive chef, Jennifer Nyugen.
These days, brands are using super creative ways of standing out, especially at food festivals like AFWF. Those who attend the weekend’s daytime events can experience Monkey Shoulder’s Monkey Contraption, a massive device that resembles a cement mixer, but with a cocktail shaker in lieu of a drum. Glenfiddich will be pouring three different whiskies inside its Experimental Dome, which features a vapro station that challenges the perception of smell. In true irreverent form, Hendrick’s Gin will be shaking things up with a three-story contraption called the Most Utterly Inefficient Cocktail Bar. Winemaker Fintan du Fresne will bring his Malene 1969 Airstream to town from San Luis Obispo, serving rosé on tap from the Santa Ynez Valley.