If you thought for one second that day one of the Austin Food & Wine Festival was the festival by which all other festivals should be measured…then you were just wrong. Let us introduce you to day two. Day two was the first day the H-E-B Grand Tasting Pavilion was open and it also marked the first time many of the chefs would be hosting their own showcases – live on stage.

Unlike many of the other “food and wine” focused festivals, this one was all about the chefs and not the TV personalities (although we love them too). We were super excited to see many of the chefs in their element and getting the opportunity to see them on a public stage and not the stage behind the scenes in their respective kitchens. This was going to be good!

Our plan was set. We laid out the schedule for the day with intent – we would visit a few showcases, get our hands dirty at the “hands on grilling” pavilion, and spend a few hours at the Grand Tasting sipping various concoctions and getting our stomachs nice and full. We would then finish out the afternoon talking with a few of our favorite chefs, take a quick break, and then head back for the evenings Rock Your Taco event. I know that seems pretty straight forward and well planned, but with so many options, the hardest part was not deciding “how” to do it, but “what” to do.

The Android/iPhone “app” that Austin food & Wine festival created, with the sole purpose of helping attendees find their way throughout the day, came in handy. Not only was it cute, but it was functional! You could mark your favorites, access the map that directed you to the correct tent, and it even provided alerts to let you know when big events were happening. This was a device junkies dream and made the weekend paperless, which was really the way to go. As the saying goes…”there is an app for that!”

The first event we attended was in support of a local favorite, Philip Speer. He was hosting his “Classic Desserts in a Modern Kitchen.” He was showing the crowd how to take your typical dessert, like cheesecake, and add a little pizzazz to the mix. Some of his techniques, although they seemed pretty fancy, proved to be pretty simple. We learned how to successfully use nitrogen to “quick freeze” ingredients that would normally require hours to do the same job. We even got a glimpse into some of Chef Speer’s plating techniques…and if you have ever seen this man plate, you know what we are talking about!

The next event was one for the books…a hands on grilling showcase where each attendee had their own grill! In this “Heads or Tails” showcase, Andrew Zimmern and Tim Love gave two different perspectives on how to use the grill. We were in awe at the pure genius that was required to create such an event and we give two high fives to the event team over at C3 Presents. You guys were kickin’ ass and taking’ names this year…seriously! This event in itself is enough reason to buy your tickets for next year.

The highlight of the day was all the deliciousness that was taking place at the H-E-B Grand Tasting. From the sheer number of exhibitors (over 80 to be exact), wine to beer, desserts, sliders and everything else in between, this cozy pavilion had you covered. Although we sampled and devoured many superb pieces of food, the breakout stars were the Frito Pies (made conveniently in the Frito Pie bag) from Ranch 616, the Honey and Goat Cheese gelato from Teo, and the Pork Sliders from Jasper’s. The one great thing about the whole setup…we didn’t feel guilty going back for seconds! This all going on while DJ Mel was getting the airwaves and senses raised with the latest jams. 

We ended our day at Butler Park with a visit to Graham Elliot’s, “American Classics 2.0.”, where he re-imagined dishes, like Beef Stroganoff. He let everyone in the audience (and visitors of his restaurants) know that he did indeed “take a bite from each and every plate that leaves the kitchen” (as he rubbed his belly). We SOOO wanted a pair of those funky glasses and we are sure that Chef Graham has officially set a new trend. You will see loud colored specs on the scene any day now. Oh yes, and before we forget, have Kitchen Aid give us a call! Take a look at the slideshow and get a glance at the full kitchen build outs they did for the event. To. Die. For.

After a few hours of rest, we made our way back to the Republic State Park for the The Rock Your Taco event where thirteen chefs were fighting head to head for this years crown…in the hopes of beating last years winner, Tyson Cole. The creativity from last night’s event showed its pretty little face again as we sampled tacos made of from tripe, antelope, goat, to short ribs and pastrami…and even a bahn mi taco made an appearance. From a taste perspective, we personally enjoyed Susan Feniger take on a taco with a version that didn’t require any meat. Her sweet potato and poblano pepper was surprisingly delectable, yet very messy.

The Rock Your Taco challengers were: David Bull (executive chef/owner, Congress, Second Bar + Kitchen & Bar Congress); Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo (chef/owners, Animal & Son of a Gun); Susan Feniger (executive chef, Border Grill); Bryce Gilmore (chef/owner, Barley Swine); Tim LoveTony Mantuano (cookbook author and chef/partner, Spiaggia, Cafe Spiaggia, Terzo Piano & Bar Toma); Brian Malarkey (chef & restaurateur, Searsucker); Marc Murphy (executive chef, Landmarc NYC & Ditch Plains); Rene Ortiz (executive chef, La Condesa Austin, La Condesa Napa Valley & Sway); Marcus Samuelsson (chef/owner, Red Rooster Harlem, Ginny’s Supper Club & co-founder, FoodRepublic.com); Laura Sawicki (pastry chef, La Condesa Austin, La Condesa Napa Valley & Sway); Christina Tosi (pastry chef, Momofuku Milk Bar); and Jonathan Waxman (chef/owner, Barbuto NYC).

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Tyson Cole ended up taking home the prize yet again, and in the most humble way, gave an acceptance speech and walked away with, “come back so you can try and beat me next year.” He is really the nicest guy we have ever met and was emotional as he thanked not only the festival, but his family, peers, and God. And just for the record, Allen Stone is the quintessential example of what an artist should be…we are fans for life and #will #travel #for #music.

With that said, we bid adieu to the 2013 Austin Food & Wine Festival. We hate to be missing all the events on Sunday, but we have truly had a great time attending one of the best festivals we have had the pleasure of covering. No stone was left unturned this year and from what we hear, it was five times better than the last. We are anxiously looking forward to 2014 – when we get to see our sister city show and prove to the the nation that Texas has a ton to offer in the culinary world. Now who’s your daddy!?

Until then…

– Urban Swank

The Urban Swank Girls

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