Craft Beer, Fine Wine, Artisan Spirits, and Mouthgasmic Food.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

2014 Austin Food and Wine Interviews with Pichet Ong, Graham Elliot, Jon and Vinny

Follows is the last set of interviews from the 2013 Austin Food and Wine Festival.  I asked the following chefs, How do you define a food destination?  How does Austin stack up?
 Pichet Ong: "Austin is already on par with other food cities.  There are all these new restaurants.  A town that has amazing local food is a food city.  Austin has always been a food city, even before the restaurant scene. Barbecue was a destination here.  Every town has a unique style of food. Austin had that even before any of the new restaurant were established.  And with Austin being a college town, meaning many young people come here, and they stay.  It is a basic ground for innovation. “

Pichet and I trying out Ramen Tastuya

Graham Elliot (below, picture with Andrew Zimmern) thoughts on a food city is that it needs to offer something else besides food.  “Chicago has music and architecture, and it is a beautiful big metropolitan city.  Austin is known for music.  How do you capitalize on that and make it a real food and music experience?  Like during SXSW, is every band paired with a chef?  It feels like there is more of a disconnect.” I wholeheartedly agree with Graham.  We do have many activities and festivals here, but they are kind of off doing their own thing.  Combining forces with other industries can mean even bigger and better things for Austin as a community. 

Andrew Zimmern with Graham Elliot and Merlin Verrier at the Food Republic interviews
Jon and Vinny from Animal in LA say: "Food city has good food.  “*And they laughed*  Not any one restaurant or diversity. .  ...[it has] more than one specific style of food that is good in that town So for here, like barbecue, there’s like 20 good barbecue restaurants here.  People who are passionate about food  people, who are enthusiastic about food....[are critical]."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

2014 Austin Food and Wine Interviews with Andrew Zimmern, Chris Sheppard, and Sarah Grueneberg

The next set of interviews are quite interesting and diverse.  I asked the following chefs, How do you define a food destination?  How does Austin stack up?
Andrew Zimmern said that Austin’s food scene is already out of control, in a good way.  “There’s so much good food in this town.  There’s certain cities in the world that being experienced at is okay by the consumer.  You have so many artists, bands, and college students.  Those are typically groups of people who don’t mind being experimented at.  Snooty 50 year old suburban folks in Midwestern cities don’t like being experimented at.  San Francisco is the only big city in America that its okay.  Even in New York, they don’t like that.  In New York, you have to be good right out of the box.  It is so competitive.  Here, you can not be good and still be successful.
Andrew Zimmern with Graham Elliot and Merlin Verrier at the Food Republic interviews.  
In short, Austin is special.  It is a great place for entrepreneurs and creative types to master their art and build a large audience.  That is quite an interesting perspective.  Austinites are okay with experiments, or dishes that don't wow. 
Chris Sheppard with Jamie Zelko.
Chris Sheppard of Underbelly says it comes down to "chefs doing what they want to do...... and people and communities feeding what they want to do.  They don’t care what I want to do.  They are feeling their communities.  What they want to cooking for their people."
Sarah Grueneberg with her crew at the 2013 Austin Food and Wine Festival Rock Your Taco. 

I really love Sarah Grueneberg.  She's from a small coastal town in Texas too, and it is exciting to see someone from I could identify with become a huge star. Sarah Grueneberg's definition of a food destination is "A town with that’s full of chefs and restaurants searching for great products and cooking foods they like.  They cook what they want to cook.  I want to see that.  I want to see what style the chefs are trying to show.”  If chefs are a little too out there with their dishes, they can try small plates or send experimental dishes to tables who have already order some pretty solid classic dishes.  Go out there and describe it.  It is about trusting the chef.  For diners, I think when they have lived with a chef on television, they are more willing to trust the new chefs.  They will be more willing to try things like sweetbreads."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

2014 Austin Food and Wine Interviews with Jason Dady, Christina Tosi, Barton Seaver, and Tim Brynes

Here’s part two of the Chef Interviews.  We explore what Jason Dady, Christina Tosi, Barton Seaver, and Tim Brynes think about food communities.  
Chef Jason has been a regular in the Austin food scene since 2001, participating in the Hill Country Wine and Food Festival and Chefs Under Fire events.  He’s seen the changes from Austin, and he’s almost close enough that we might as well call him a local.
Chef Jason Dady credits the food portion to Tyson Cole.  He says “Chef Tyson showcases as a whole what Texas has to offer.  You know what? Listen,  I’m going to do Japanese food, and it is going to be the best @#^@# food in the country, and by doing that and envisioning that he kinda shed this cloak over Texas [that it was just Southwestern steak and cowboy cooking].  We’re not JUST cooking this type of food.  Tyson is just awesome. He’s the Godfather of the New Texas cooking - it means do what you want, cook what you want, and people will buy into it.  Austin has no rules.  You really get to write whatever you want.  Do what you like.“  Chef Dady adds that the other Godfathers of Texas Cooking, Stephen Pyles, Dean Fearings and Robert Del Grande were responsible for putting Texas out before Tyson came along with a different style of food.  
Christina Tosi says “My impression of Austin is a little more ahead of the food scene even in parts of New York.  There are parts of New York where there is a momentum in small artisan and craft made foods - where people are really focusing on a specific type of food, like chocolate or ice cream.  I feel in some way that there’s a bigger sense of momentum in Austin.  Food city is where people eat local - where local artisans are celebrated is the best.”
Christina pictured with Paul Qui
Barton Seaver’s take on what makes a food city is: "A food city is a populous that demands that all food is made with an attention to method.  I say method is more than anything else is important - well executed. because if you look at any other city  If you look at any other food city, New York or any city in Italy, any level of food you visit is well executed……. it comes down to the expertise and method of the chefs and the populous expectations.  People know know what a balanced meal is.  That is what elevates the common element of food.  A food city is not defined by white table restaurants.  It is defined by the level of cooking in its Chinese food restaurants and the taco joints. " 
Barton Seaver's 2014 Austin Food and Wine Festival demonstration. 
Tim Brynes of Smoke in Dallas says that a food city is a community involved situation - the biggest part about cooking is family cooking.  "We’re all about nurturing community and hospitality.  How do you build a food community?  Sometimes it is an economic.  It sometimes happens at home.  Look at the big church functions.  People are doing cool stuff. For me, sometimes the small cities are where it is at.  Sometime these little towns have been doing it for generations.  If you look at the circle of commerce, and that’s how they do it. It is cool to join Austin’s food scene.  It would be nice for all the cities to join together and work together."  

Tim and his oysters.  Yum!

Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 Austin Food and Wine Festival Interview with Larry Perdido

During the 2013 Austin Food and Wine Festival, I sought out to interview chefs - who did not reside in Austin.  I wanted opinions of food leaders about how Austin was stacking up as a food city.  You might have noticed that Austin has changed drastically.  All the locals know that things have changed, but what we don’t have are some outside perspectives.   In order to get a more well-rounded view of Austin, I interviewed non-local chefs during the Austin Food and Wine Festival.  I wanted to know what make a city a food destination and what their impressions were on Austin’s food industry evolution. 

Hoover Alexander of Hoover's

Before we jump into non-local chefs, I have a few wise words from Larry Perdido.  Austin has a handful of what I call “godfathers of the food scene.”  They were there in the very beginning, before the zygote of Austin’s current food scene had even developed.  They are still here, in that omnipresent “I’m watching and guiding you” kind of state, in a good way of course.  Other godfathers include Harvey Harris of Siena, Jack Gilmore of Z’Tejas and Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Michael Vilim of Mirabelle, Hoover Alexander from Hoover’s, and Charles Mays of Cafe Josie.  

Bryce Gilmore from Barely Swine and his father, Jack Gilmore from Jack Allen's. 
Larry is currently the owner of Moonshine and the wildly popular HopDoddy Restaurants.  He hails from Houston with mentorship under the highly regarded Monica Pope.  Larry moved to Austin to raise his kids, and back then, it was a “chicken fried steak town.”  You had Threadgill’s, Hoover’s,, Good Eats Cafe, and NightHawk.  

Larry Perdido with a mud bug

During my interview with Larry, one thing became abundantly clear, this man is like CEO, operations, economist, culinary extraordinaire, and big thinker rolled into one.  Austinites are very lucky to have him shepherding our food community! I asked Larry about his thoughts on why Austin became so focused on food.  

Whole Foods and Central Market.  Just having those grocery stores and farmers markets over the past 15 years has raised awareness of what we should be doing in the kitchen.  There’s a different level of consciousness with food now. ”
I would certainly agree. Having access to interesting ingredients and like minded people to nurture our curiosity and interest in food from a nutritional, artistic, creative, social, and economic perspective has certainly made it front of mind for Austinites.  Whole Foods and Central Market furthered the access to ingredients, led the charge with their cooking class offerings, and well-versed associates who were also food fanciers.  

Chef Monica Pope from Sparrow in Houston, TX.
I asked Larry what ingredients were required to be a food city - what led Austin to their success?  
“Austin didn’t get notoriety until we get our first food and wine award.  It was the social media aspect that allowed us to be on the map.  Tyson Cole has really put Austin on the map in terms of getting us there via social media.  It was also an explosion of SXSW and ACL Festival, it has really made Austin a great place to come and visit and to do some cool stuff.  We’re also on the leading edge of the food truck scene - Bryce with Odd Duck and Franklin’s BBQ.  It seems like the whole social media and the influx of the other cultural events has made Austin a good spot to eat.”

Classis dishes from Moonshine Cafe.

That’s right.  Paradigm shifting chefs + social media + remarkable food being served out of trucks and trailers + mass influx of visitors to Austin festivals were critical ingredients in putting Austin on the map.  
Soul cooking from Hoover's.
So what is Larry’s advice to others wanting to start a food community and restaurant scene?

Monica Pope, in Houston, taught me is that you have to support your local farmers.  She did a good job of galvanizing those local farmers by visiting the markets.  She really started the movement.  It has to start with the markets and grow outward.”
Larry’s favorite regional food city isn’t too far away from Houston or Austin for that matter.  New Orleans is Larry’s go to city.  He says, “I’m an old soul.  I have that kindred spirit with everyone there.  You can tell you are in a food loving city, no one asks ‘what are you doing?;’ they ask ‘where are you eating?’”

Oysters at John Besh's Luke in New Orleans. 

A big thanks to Larry for kicking off the 2014 Austin Food and Wine Festival with a historical view of Austin’s food scene.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to Food and Drink Festivals

If you’ve attended any food events in the past, you’ve learned a few things. You usually need to carry everything, walk a good distance to the festival from your transportation, and be prepared for whatever the weather brings.  Here’s a compilation of tips I’ve learned over the years of going to food, wine, cocktail, and beer events along with links to past posts about it. 

A sling for your glass means your hands are free to stuff your face.

General Tips
1. Wear comfortable shoes.  You'll be walking from where you parked to the festival, and all over the festival.  
2. Sunblock.  Sunblock.  Sunblock.  And sunblock.  UV rays don’t discriminate when you’re eating foie gras.  
3. If you must wear a dress or a skirt, make sure it has some structure and substance so it doesn't get blown around.  The wind was causing some free peep shows.  
4. Neti-pot (with distilled or boiled water) when you get home.  Festivals are usually outdoor, and they can get quite dusty.  Your sinus will thank you.
5. Phone charger.  Also bring a portable charger if you can.  You don’t want to be glued to an outlet. Keep it in a plastic bag big enough for your phone and camera in case it rains. 
6. Bring your own fork and spoon, because you might need your own when the disposables run out. Bring your own glass sling too.  Instructions here:
7. ID. Even if you look like you’re 85 years old, TABC could be watching.  No one wants trouble with TABC so bring your license and don’t pitch a fit if you’re required to show it.
8. A designated driver. You can destroy your own liver, but please don’t destroy another person’s life.
9. Cash. While many vendors may take credit cards onsite, cell service can be spotty at large events.  Cash is king.  
10. Your manners. Don’t piss off people.  Don’t be rude.  Everyone here wants to have fun, including the volunteers.  
11. Drink water.  And more water.  And then more water.
12. Benadryl and band-aids.  You never know when you or someone at the festival will have an allergic reaction to food or insect bites.  I always carry benadryl, just in case.  And you never know when you're going to need a band-aid for a blister, burn, or cut. 
12. If Franklin's is at the festival, run to the line first.  RUN! RUN! RUN!

Nothing more satisfying than a man and his meat.  Get your head out of the gutter. 

1. Bring an umbrella to New Orleans if you don’t want to get wet.  It rains almost everyday.
2. Bring some pretzels or a turkey leg on your neck for Great American Beer Festival.  Unless you are going to a food event, you will need food reserves. There are food vendors inside with limited selection.  I would bring my own vittles. 

This man is simply awesome.  Turkey leg necklaces are a must for the ultimate beer loving carnivore. 

1. Unless you have a VIP pass, it might be wise to wait until the last hour of the grand tasting.  During the VIP period, it was pretty tame.  However, during general admission, it could get a little squishy.  If you wait until after most of the crowd had eaten their fill, the tents started to clear out.
2. Arrive very early to the cooking demos.  The lines can start as far as an hour in advance.
3. Bring a bag big enough to carry all the books and swag that you'll collect.  They do give you a resuable tote bag, but it does get difficult to carry.  I bring my own sling or shoulder strap style bag. 

The cooking demo line for Qui Ingredients at the 2013 Austin Food and Wine Festival

1. Helmet.  This might seem odd.  There are many bikers (the motorcycle kind) out in West Texas.  You’ll never know when you need one for a ride on a Harley.
2. Boots.  This is mandatory dress code for West Texas.  Boots.  
3. Lotion and chapstick.  Did I mention that this is the desert? You'll dehydrate quickly. 

Boots are a must.

Brewery Events
1. Chair.  If you can’t stand for long periods of time, bring a chair.  The brewery most likely will not have any.
2. Snacks. And sometimes there is no food provided at brewery open houses, though it is becoming less common.  You might find a food truck or two, but selection is usually limited.  Pack a power bar, banana, apple, or some crackers.
Wish you were Big Bend Brewing Company in Alpine, TX. 

Dog Friendly Festivals
1. Dog on leash. Do NOT bring your dog off-leash.  I’ve been to so many festivals where dogs are running the street because the owners are too busy doing something else.  The leash is for safety.  Use it.  No one wants to leave a festival early because their dog got hurt. 
2. Water + drinking bowl.  I bring a water jug with a shoulder strap for my dogs because they drink directly out of the jug.  Dogs need water throughout the day as well.
3. Poop bags.  Nature calls.  Clean it up.  No one wants to step in dog poop.  Or human poop either.  Keep a diaper on the babies.  
4. Snacks.  If you’re out and about for a long period of time, bring snacks for the puppies.  If you can’t go eight hours without food, why should your dog go without food.  I also bring treats for my dogs because I use every outing as a training session.  
5. Your dog’s manners. No one likes cranky people, and no one likes rude dogs.  Please train your dog how to behave appropriately in public before bringing it out to play.

This durable $10 dress gave me the freedom to shuck 450 oysters at Viva Big Bend and run around.  And it was machine washable.  Get over here and have an oyster!

Working festivals:
If you’ve worked a food festival, there requires just a little more.  
1. Prepare your stomach in advance.  You may not get to eat as you’ll probably get caught up in work and forget to eat.  You might have to eat after midnight after clean up. 
2. Wear something that is durable and machine washable.  You might be hauling 50 lb cases of raw seafood or have someone drop a bowl of salsa on you.  If it wasn’t totally out of theme with the event, I might even consider wearing workout gear.  You might be getting a serious one.