Third Annual Austin Food & Wine Festival

The must-attend event for Austin foodies expands offerings and options.

By Kristi Willis

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 8.50.56 PMThe culinary stars will be shining bright the weekend of April 25 through 27, as the Austin Food & Wine Festival returns for its third food-filled year of fun. The two-day extravaganza draws celebrated chefs and wine experts from throughout the world to cook and present alongside Texas’ finest.

Part I: Overview

Event organizers have expanded this year’s offerings to include Feast Under the Stars, a seated dinner on Thursday night featuring five Texas chefs that is such a draw it has already sold out, and a Chef Showcase during the Grand Tasting that will highlight the talent of 16 Austin chefs. Feast Under the Stars and daytime festival events will return to the much-praised venue at Butler Park. The parties on Friday and Saturday nights will be held at Republic Square.

Festivalgoers can purchase two types of passes: the Taste pass ($250) that includes general admission to more than 40 cooking demos and the Grand Tasting, and the Savor pass ($850), which adds early entry to the demos and Grand Tasting, as well as tickets to the Taste of Texas and Rock Your Taco events and sip-and-stroll events with festive live music. Savor pass holders also have access to a special lounge area with private food and drink tastings and reserved parking. Either pass is money well spent for food enthusiasts who get to learn and taste from a veritable who’s who of the culinary world.

Acclaimed chefs Richard Blais, Rick Bayless, Ming Tsai, John Currence, Graham Elliot, Georgia Pellegrini and Andrew Zimmern will share their wisdom in demos and panels, as will wine experts Ray Isle and Mark Oldman. Festival co-founder Tim Love will once again lead his wildly popular hands-on grilling demos, focusing this year on surf and turf.

Other don’t-miss Texas sessions include Kent Rathbun’s demonstration of how to smoke salmon on a stovetop and David Bull’s flavor-profiling presentation that teaches how to build the perfect bite. The Be on Que panel—featuring Texas barbecue masters Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue, Tim Byres of Smoke and Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue—is guaranteed to wow the audience with Texas pitmaster secrets.

It’s also guaranteed to have a long line, so get their early if ’cue is your passion. If their panel doesn’t satisfy your craving for smoked meat, each of the barbecue legends will be cooking up bites at the firepits, along with Paul Qui, Jason Dady, Andrew Wiseheart, Bryce Gilmore, James Holmes and Ned Elliott. The interactive pits were a welcome addition at the 2013 festival and have been expanded to include four chefs each day.

Drink up insights from Austin’s wine, cocktail and craft-brew pros at intriguing panels like California Enlightenment from Master Sommeliers Craig Collins and Devon Broglie, Tour de Femme from Sommelier Vilma Mazaite and Hops Aboard! with Brewmaster Josh Hare. If craft cocktails are more your speed, mixologist and author David Alan, also known as the Tipsy Texan, will share the best of the Lone Star State’s burgeoning spirits industry in his In True Texas Spirit panel. The festival lineup offers an inviting balance of superstar chefs and Texas favorites with a nice mix of tastings, panels and places to interact with the chefs. Once again, the Austin Food & Wine Festival promises to be a true foodie paradise.

Part II: Don’t-Miss Sessions

Soak up the barbecue knowledge with the rare opportunity to hear from three of Texas’ finest pitmasters at the Be on Que panel with Aaron Franklin, Tim Byres and Wayne Mueller. Visit with the chefs while enjoying their dishes, cooked over open flame at the interactive firepits. The pits have been expanded to include four chefs each day and will star Tim Byres (Smoke, Dallas), Jason Dady (Jason Dady Restaurants, San Antonio), Ned Elliott (Foreign & Domestic), Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue), Bryce Gilmore (Odd Duck, Barley Swine), John Russ (Lüke San Antonio), Paul Qui (Qui and East Side King) and Andrew Wiseheart (Contigo).

Chef and author Georgia Pelligrini makes her debut at this year’s festival and will share her unique approach to hunting and foraging for your meal in her Get Your Hands Dirty demo. Mark Oldman’s accessible approach helps even the newest wine lover feel comfortable trying unusual varietals. His Outsmart the Wine List demo is a must for anyone who wants to learn the ins and outs of ordering well. Austin is fortunate to have two master sommeliers and even luckier that they are so friendly and engaging.

The California Enlightenment panel from Craig Collins and Devon Broglie promises to be informative and fun. The demos and panels are always entertaining, but don’t skip the Grand Tasting. H-E-B does an outstanding job curating some of Texas’ best food artisans, and each year has introduced new products at the festival.

This year, the tasting tents also include a chef showcase with 16 Austin and San Antonio restaurants serving up samples. Taste pass holders should seriously consider adding the Taste of Texas party to their roster. The sip-and-stroll event offers tastes from 15 of Texas’ best restaurants and is a fantastic way to experience bites from talented chefs from Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Part III: Cookbooks

Fiesta at Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends by Rick Bayless includes some of the master chef’s most sought-after recipes and sample party menus for entertaining your friends.

Top Chef Richard Blais includes everything from the basics of stocking the spice shelf to the adventurous art of sous vide cooking in his first cookbook, Try This at Home: Recipes from My Head to Your Plate.

In Kevin Dundon’s Modern Irish Food, Chef Kevin Dundon presents an updated twist on traditional Irish cuisine with seasonal ingredients and simple techniques.

Georgia Pelligrini explores backyard gardening, foraging and seasonal cooking in her new book, Modern Pioneering: More Than 150 Recipes, Projects, and Skills for a Self-Sufficient Life.

Photo by Dave Mead.