Austin Food + Wine Festival is a Texas mainstay and a whirlwind of delicious tasters set against the background of Lady Bird Lake and the city's skyline, rising higher and higher every year. While Austin's Food + Wine Festival is an epic affair spanning three days, it can feel intimidating to be in the presence of such high-powered chefs and foodies, a culture that's grown exponentially in the past six years alone. So what does a festival like Food + Wine offer a home cook? A sense of community.
The experience of Food + Wine Festival is authentically Texan and though tacos and barbecue might be trendy newcomers to other food festivals across the country, they're already downright staples here. The festival works with local chefs and restaurants in addition to featuring heavy-hitters like Hugh Acheson, Amanda Freitag, and Aarón Sánchez.
Iron Chef Champion Tim Love gave a hands-on barbecuing demonstration on Sunday that was completely packed, and full of tips and tricks even for those not wearing an apron.
Phrases like, Rub the ribs down, and, Control the flame, buzz around the festival, but what Food + Wine Festival does best is offer smaller, local vendors an opportunity to solidify their place on the map.
Where you have a beloved and quality brand like Kerrygold butter and goat cheese, you also have Tree Hive Syrup, an Austin family business that will no doubt be appearing at all of the brunch spots in less than a year.
Their maple syrup + honey + vanilla + cinnamon blend was the most magical thing I put into my mouth on Sunday, which says an awful lot when you consider that brisket biscuits were also a contender. Paired with goat cheese, the pure maple syrup + honey blend was perfection in a beautifully packaged bottle.
And I wasn't the only one who thought so, they're currently sold out with a promise of availability in two to three weeks. I'm counting down to say the least, and you should, too.
Olamaie, touting five generations of Southern cooking, served up brisket biscuits that were basically everything you could dream of on a Sunday morning.
Counter 3 Five VII, with its fantastic tasting meals in house, served up a sunflower praline cookie that was just the most delicious healthier cookie I've ever eaten. I would gladly bathe in that filling.
Wu Chow's prawn with pecans was divine and a fun Texas twist on seafood, while their chrysanthemum tea was the most refreshing non-alcoholic drink around. As for the whiskey and wine, well, the festival certainly was not lacking.
The Quiet Man Traditional Irish Whiskey was the smoothest whiskey I tasted during the day, and it was almost too easy to drink if such a thing can be said about whiskey.
As for wine, Château D'Esclans' Whispering Angel Rosé was my favorite of the day, and their Rosé Barometer was a sweet touch. Home cooks are always suckers for a good color palette, am I right?
So besides ending the day utterly full and satisfied, what did I learn?
1. Being able to place faces and names to your favorite local restaurants is an important part of being a part of your food community, and is continually something that every food festival offers.
2. You're surrounded by people who are even more excited by food than you are, and the tips and tricks you'll learn while waiting in line for, say barbacoa tacos, are worth their weight in gold. You'll probably make a few new foodie friends along the way.
3. Make the connections, and form a community of people who are interested in what you love. Start a supper club! Cook from the same cookbook for a month! The options are endless.
4. Each tasting experience brings you one step closer to defining what you like. Sure, it's easy to say you love everything a festival like Austin Food + Wine Festival, but popular opinion and trends aside, what do you actually like to eat? What do you actually enjoy cooking?
Austin Food + Wine Festival is a place where a local community joins a national trend that points to bringing food back to home cooked classics, whether you have those home cooked classics served from a kitchen like Olamaie's or your own momma's.
The community comes out in full force, and it's worth being a part of in any way you can.
All images by Shannon Ratliff.