It's a smaller-than-I-expected event, this Austin Food and Wine Festival (only in its second year). At first glance on entering I was underwhelmed. But it grew on me. And grew and grew. And now I am thrilled at its manageability and the set-up, despite the pretty awful combination of Saturday's suffocating humidity, quasi-dehydration, and mixing tequila and vodka tastings in between the wine demos. Bad idea that last one. I thought I could do without Day 2. But after sleeping off Saturday's sins, I was ready to go. Pacing is everything for a food and (lots of) wine festival.
Day 1 (for me), Saturday, started out well when the heart-stopping telltale colors of Veuve Clicquot were spotted right on entering. Their super cute VC-themed Airstream was air-conditioned, so I lingered a long time checking that out.... Champagne was a great way to start the day...at 11 am or so.
Finally we get in line for the H-E-B Grand Tasting Pavilion to open up for the masses. We had only a "cheap" ($200 for early bird special) Taste Pass. But now I know why the cost. There is a LOT of alcohol at this event. A lot of water too have to say. But there is a lot of alcohol at this event.
At 12 p.m., folks with the Taste Pass can enter. I need food, badly, after standing in the sun sweating after 3 small tastings of the VC champagne. At first it was hard to find the food. I must have been delerious. But we found it. And dug in.
These grilled carrots, with a tangy yogurt sauce drizzled on them, just set out there in a gorgeous array of color for the taking: I took about 3 (small ones).
Thrilled to stumble across a stand for Pâté Letelier. Have been following them for some time. Now just need to get their goods into my fridge.
And then who can resist big baskets overflowing with beautiful bread? Had to stop and ogle the bread and yes take more than a few samples. But this bread really needed to be savored. And though the name did not turn me on, a pretzel roll bread, I took a sample anyway, and it changed my world. The bakery is Flour, and this pretzel roll bread is really pretty astounding in terms of its taste and texture.
Demos for Marcus Samuelsson, whom The Food and Wine Magazine Editor introduced as the "Swedish Ethiopian Urban Cowboy," were always SRO. I love that he called Scott on his cell phone -- that judge on Chopped -- for us to tell him, in unison, that he was "too mean." (Scott did not pick up; Marcus had us leave a message.)
But luckily we did make it to the Cinema and Vino demo with the bad boy of wine, Mark Oldman. Only after standing there to make sure we got a seat - for like 30 minutes. He's also a co-founder of Vault.com, so it is no wonder he is fluent in the pricing of La Tâche wines. He had many women lined up afterwards to get their picture taken with him (my group included). One woman had him sign her arm with a Sharpie. Right next to Tim Love's autograph.
With all the fun and laughing, etc. and sabering of the champagne bottle going on for that event (and it really was champagne--Bollinger), I ended up drinking my friend's wine tasting samples as well. This was the beginning of the end for me of Day One.
She drove home. Just in time for me to rest up for the Sel et Gras festivity at the W's Trace from 9pm to midnight. Cannot pass up a "Paris in Austin" night. The music: exquisite. French pop, Serge Gainsbourg, Air - cool electronica. The setting: gorgeous. Windows wide open. A cool night. Sure the rain had them bring everything inside, but it was still lovely. I just have a thing for Trace anyway. Trace's Executive Pastry Chef Janina O'Leary's desserts - yes, again, fantastico. The black and white French movie - with Jean-Paul Belmondo, yes? - très sympa. The frog legs were the tastiest ones I've ever had. But we could have used some more savory stuffs. No worries: just an excuse to have more of Janina's chocolates.
Day 2: I am surprisingly eager to get going. I skip the champagne this time. I am all about education this morning. The goal is "anything French" so I hit Anthony Giglio's "French Underdogs." Thanks to him I have fantastic French wine finds and a newfound compulsion to get an ice bucket. (You just had to be there.) Let's just say the horror of putting ice cubes in your wine is indeed confirmed, but cooling the (red) wine in more appropriate ways is very à propos and indeed necessary.
These folks in the audience were intense: they knew all the grapes that went into a Bordeaux, for example. They knew obscure villages in Beaujolais. I left happy. Entertained. And not too tipsy.
Each day had some intense outdoor grilling going on. On Day 2, there were little guys like this one getting a good fire on them:
I must say this shaved pork slider from Jasper's may take the cake for favorite foods (but the Day 1 kale salad is right up there).
One more class with Anthony Giglio, this one on wines of Sicily - who knew I knew so little about Italian wines?? - and then I was about ready to call it a day.
The striking vista the blue and green chairs made on the lawns of Butler Park - this picture from early Saturday - was harder to discern by this time on Sunday because there was not a single available chair.
Growing tired and slightly annoyed by asking many times - "Is this (empty) seat taken?" - and having the person say "yes" - I decided I could use my standing time more efficiently by making my way back to the car at City Hall (free parking!).
By this time, I also had a few heavy books in hand. Yes, I bought a Mark Oldman book (signed). Yes, I bought the Marcus Samuelsson book "Yes, Chef: a memoir") (signed). And why not take a few more bottles waters on the way out.
And so ended my First Austin Food and Wine Festival, and Austin's Second.
Will I go again. Yes. Will I drink more water, wear the hat and not care what I look like. Yes.
One can imagine this event growing ever bigger every year. So enjoy the smaller, manageable, even sort of charming aspects of this still rather new festival - and get an early bird special next year for a pretty good bargain of a ticket price ($200) in the big scheme of things.