A steady mist didn’t keep a sold-out crowd from flocking to the Austin Food and Wine Alliance’s annual Live Fire! event Thursday night at the Salt Lick Pavilion.
Aaron Franklin and Paul Qui were on familiar ground as the belles of the ball. Their dance cards filled up quickly, with hungry attendees lining up to sample the celebrated chefs’ creations. (Qui’s food was actually the creation of the restaurant’s pastry chef.) Both Franklin Barbecue and Qui were out of food by 8 p.m. at the event that started at 6:30 p.m.
Franklin, no stranger to selling out of food, was in good spirits as the line dissipated after word spread that the last of his beef short ribs had been distributed. Pastry chef Monica Glenn represented Qui, with her champurrado (chocolate-based drink) with chocolate mousse and coconut rice pudding.
The two notable Austin restaurants were joined on the rolling verdant lawn, home of last week’s Old Settlers Festival, by chefs from more than 20 restaurants from around the state working their culinary magic with beef. There were also a few restaurants serving up dessert. I started my evening with a smooth and sweet cup of banana cream and malted chocolate stout from Callie Speer of Swift’s Attic. Who said you can’t have dessert first? I then made my meaty rounds.
Austin butcher shop, salumeria and restaurant Salt & Time gave a glimpse at part of what makes them so great. They carved out the matambre, a section of the cow’s round that most people would toss into a grind and grilled it and toped it with Swiss cheese and hard-boiled egg, their take on a "pizza." The matambre comes from the hind muscles the cow uses to shake flies. Even Salt & Time butcher Bryan Butler was surprised at how tender the meat was off the grill.
Jesse Perez of San Antonio’s Arcade Midtown Kitchen made a return visit to Austin, and his savory and spicy skirt steak with jalapeno and toasted pumpkin seeds was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Ronnie Killen of Killen’s Barbecue in Pearland made his Austin food event debut, but I think he’ll be back judging by the awed reception he received for his 36-hour smoked then sous vide brisket and massive beef ribs (one attendee dropped his on the ground, picked it up, dusted it off and tore into it with his teeth).
Hops & Grain’s malty Alteration brew made for a nice pairing with the ribs, but I hemmed toward the less filling keg wine from charming Congress sommelier and wine director Paula Rester. She served Hahn Family GSM 2012, a Grenache Syrah and Mourvèdre Rhone inspired blend.
"I chose Hahn GSM because ripe fruit and spice driven wines balance and complement carbon, smoke, and sweet caramelized flavors of barbecued meat," Rester said. "Weight-wise it’s more of a medium bodied wine, so it remains refreshing and won’t weigh you down like a heavy cab. And you can drink more."
Attendees proved that last line to be true, as the keg received steady business throughout the night.
Across the lawn from Rester, Josh Watkins of the Carillon gave attendees a taste of the black garlic barbecue sauce he’s serving with his new Hamachi dish, as he used it to flavor his plate of beef tongue. No stranger to Live Fire, Whole Foods impressed with decadent roasted bone marrow prepared by chefs Mari Soto and Mark Morales, who cut the richness with some greens tossed in Sriracha vinaigrette. It was the best bone marrow dish I’ve had in Austin.
While most of the chefs were able to use the event to market their current restaurants and stores, one team of chefs was there to tease us with the future. Charming and clever culinary partners Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki, who will be opening Launderette and Chinese take-out Angry Bear later this year in East Austin, served Tien Tsing beef and tofu with yellow rock sugar and daikon numbing salt. I was too late to their table to get a taste. And it seems that may have been my only chance, as Ortiz said the dish won’t be on the Angry Bear menu. But it’s hard to tell if he was being serious. Like everyone else at the event that raised money for AFWA’s education and grant programs, it seems like he was just having fun.