The sun finally came out Sunday, just in time for the Taco Experiment and the Bacon Takedown, two Brooklyn-based cooking competitions that always sweep into Austin just in time for South by Southwest.
This year, the contests shifted to the east side of Interstate 35, with the Taco Experiment held inside ND at 501 Studios and the Bacon Takedown at Shangri-La. Everything about the events — from the hosts and their sponsors (Brooklyn Brewery and Hormel, respectively) to the venues and the competitors — are as different as they are alike, and in an effort not to play favorites, I agreed to judge both, even though they were back-to-back.
The Taco Experiment is a much more formal affair, and the competitors are the kind of people who stay up all night braising lengua and then hand-making tortillas. The Bacon Takedown draws a slightly more eccentric crowd and competitors, who are in it as much for the fun of being at the event as to wow the judges with their creations. (The Food Experiments just hosted the Beer Experiment in Houston, and the Takedown is headed there on April 1 for an Avocado Takedown.)
For the Taco Experiment, Jen and Evan Daugherty of Zesty Bean Dog took first place at the judge's table with their Smoked Duck Pastrami Taco, but the audience went with Sous Me Alchemy's Tacos Amores, whose creator, Liz Arrendondo, will go on to compete in the Food Experiments finals in December in Brooklyn.
At the Bacon Takedown, Missy Farahani and Lauren Gaetano took first place with their savory bacon and bread pudding, which was both the judges' and audience favorite. Their prize? A year of free Hormel bacon.
I'm so happy that both Theo Peck of the Food Experiments and Matt Timms of the Takedowns bring their events back to Austin every year. It's a great way for Austinites (and their families) to participate in the SXSW action without having to buy a badge, and it's a fun opportunity for home cooks to show off their skills.
Free food for all
Squarespace's food truck at the corner of Fifth and Neches streets continues to be one of the most talked-about food entities of the festival. For each of the nine days of SXSW, a different Austin trailer, chef or food company is serving free food from the trailer. Organizer Dan Delaney said that they are expecting to feed about 30,000 people over the course of the festivals.
Also handing out free food last weekend were the folks behind the "Today" show's Munchie Mobile, which was parked in front of the Marriott Hotel. Among the breakfast menu items were "papaquiles," a chilaquiles/migas-inspired dish from Austin bloggers Julie Munroe and Ryan Schierling of Fois Gras Hot Dog, which was the winning dish in a national contest that the "Today" show hosted earlier this year.
Panelists at a Friday interactive session called "My Robotic Kitchen Planned This Dinner Party" missed a huge opportunity to talk about cooking apps in general rather than a cooking app/program that they might not even release to the public. One of the panelists was the lead developer on two of Michael Ruhlman's apps — Ratio and Bread Baking Basics — which are among the most successful of the cooking apps to date.
The developers talked about the problems and solutions they found when tinkering with something that they have tentatively called Food. You. Me., but they could have reached outside their world to talk about advances in cooking apps, such as Baking with Dorie, How To Cook Everything, and the soon-to-be-released Cooking PlanIt, which was developed in Austin.
Jessica Applestone of Fleisher's, a butcher shop with two locations in the New York area, caused a little bit of a stir on Twitter during her panel Sunday at the Driskill Hotel with fellow Brooklynites Christina Tosi, pastry chef at Momofuku Milkbar; David Crofton of One Girl Cookies; Erica Shea of Brooklyn Brew Shop; and Peter Meehan of The New York Times.
"I'm amazed that Austin doesn't have a sustainable butcher shop," she said. "Whole Foods doesn't count." Both Whole Foods and Wheatsville Co-op offer many of the grass-fed, sustainable meat options that her artisan butcher shop does, and Austin charcuterie makers Dai Due and Salt & Time are both in the process of opening their own brick-and-mortar butcher shops.
I think the bigger issue was that the panel was so Brooklyn-centric, even though much of the innovation in food happening there is also taking place in other cities, including Charleston, S.C.; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; San Francisco; and Austin.
New beer, chips
Both Samuel Adams and Doritos have chosen SXSW as the venue to launch new products. At a party at Stubb's on Saturday, Sam Adams released the B'Austin Ale, a hoppy amber ale that will be available at the brewery in Boston and at various bars around Austin in coming weeks.
Doritos announced Monday that it would be launching a new chip — "the brand's biggest innovation ever," is how they are describing it — at a concert on Thursday. The Jacked tortilla chip, which will come in two flavors, Enchilada Supreme and Smoky Chipotle BBQ, is 40 percent bigger in both size and thickness, and the chip will be distributed nationally starting the last week of March.
1 30-oz. bag of frozen hash browns
1 Tbsp. vegetable
1 1/2 cup salsa verde
6 Tbsp. sour cream
6 Tbsp. diced white onion, rinsed in colander under cold water
In a large skillet, cook the hash browns in a bit of oil over medium-high heat until crispy and golden brown. Turn off heat under the hash browns, and in a separate skillet or griddle, begin cooking your eggs. Our preference is over-easy, but any way you cook them for this dish is delicious. Even scrambled. When the eggs are almost finished, plate your hash browns (about 5 oz., or 1/6 of the bag, is a nice serving size). Top with 1/4 cup of salsa verde, a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of the diced onion. Place an egg on top, add a few shakes of your favorite hot sauce and dig in. Serves 6.
— Adapted from a recipe by Julie Munroe and Ryan Schierling of Fois Gras Hot Dog, foiegrashotdog.blogspot.com