As the Austin culinary scene grows up, so does its biggest food festival.
The Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, which turned 25 last year, has made some serious changes ahead of its four-day festival that starts Thursday, including dropping the culinary masters dinner from its lineup and moving the Sunday Fair downtown to the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. Festival organizers have moved the Stars Across Texas event to Thursday night and added a Friday night extravaganza, an outdoor event at the Texas Disposal Systems Exotic Game Ranch called Live Fire! Beef Supremacy over Flames, at which chefs will cook beef over wood fires.
Amid the shuffle, standbys like the tannin-bomb Big Dog Reds wine tasting and the Savor the Hill Country winemaker luncheons on Thursday at Fall Creek, Stone House and Becker vineyards remain the same. The festival is swapping craft beer for wine in Saturday's cheese tasting panel, led by Whole Foods Market cheese-monger Cathy Strange.
Texas wines get top billing in a Saturday session with Congress beverage director June Rodil, who will walk guests through some of the state's best wines with food from Hyatt Regency chef Kevin Dee.
Texas winemakers aren't the only vintners with award-winning wines to show off. As the fifth largest wine-producing state in the nation, Texas is giving Washington state and California a serious run for their oak-aged barrels.
"Texas wines have gotten to this level where they are getting worldwide acclaim," says Cathy Cochran-Lewis, president of the festival. At more than half a dozen events during the festival, out-of-state winemakers will be featured, and Cochran-Lewis says their presence is as much to let them experience Texas wines as it is the other way around. "Texas wines hold their own, and it makes sense to feature them all together," Cochran-Lewis says.
Meat seems to be as much as theme as wine in this year's lineup. In addition to the beef-centric live cooking event on Friday night, festivalgoers also can explore charcuterie and hamburgers in two sessions on Friday. Just in time for burger season, Time magazine columnist and author of "The Hamburger: A History" Josh Ozersky will explain his theories about building a better burger at 11:30 a.m. Friday, and that afternoon, local charcuterie makers will show off their cured meats as a panel, led by Bon Appétit restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton and Edible Austin publisher Marla Camp, explores the renaissance of these age-old preservation techniques.
The chef who gets the award for the most miles traveled to attend will most certainly be Andrew Dwyer, an Australian chef who has gained international fame by elevating campfire cooking into elaborate dining affairs during culinary tours in the Outback. He'll be teaching his outdoor cooking techniques at a session on Saturday afternoon and serving his best fare at the Live Fire event on Friday night. (Brad Farmerie of Public in New York, "Top Chef" finalist Casey Thompson of Brownstone in Fort Worth and Portland notables Andy Ricker of Pok Pok and Rodney Muirhead of Podnah's Pit also will be cooking alongside familiar names like Lou Lambert and Aaron Franklin from Central Texas at the Live Fire event.)
Stars Across Texas will shine a little brighter with the addition of chef John Besh of Luke, Domenica and August in New Orleans and the recently opened Luke in San Antonio. (Besh's newest TV series is called "Chef John Besh's New Orleans" and will premiere on PBS stations across the country next month.)
But on Saturday night, actor Kyle MacLachlan ("Desperate Housewives," "Sex and the City") will preside over the highest-ticketed event, a $150-a-seat dinner featuring two of his personal favorite chefs, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal in Los Angeles, and two of Austin's best, David Bull of Congress and Josh Watkins of the Carillon.
Why MacLachlan? A few years ago, he got into the business by teaming up with a Washington state winemaker to create a line of small-batch cabernet sauvignon called Pursued by Bear, which will be served at the dinner in the courtyard at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center.
The Sunday Fair hasn't just moved downtown; it has added tacos to the lineup in the form of a showdown between local eateries including Sazón and Chi'lantro that festgoers will vote on. The event isn't recommended for anyone younger than 21. In past years, the Sunday Fair has been a kid-friendly event with as many strollers as picnickers. "If people need to bring their children, that's OK," Cochran-Lewis says, "but there are no designated activities for them."
With two parking lots next to Cesar Chavez Street, a parking garage at the convention center and valet parking, she says finding a place to park shouldn't be an issue, but don't count on street parking in the Rainey Street district.
For a full schedule and to buy tickets, go to http://texaswineandfood.org .
Stars Across Texas Classic at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 7 to 10 p.m. $100
Josh Ozersky's Burger and Beef Seminar at Whole Foods Market Culinary Center, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. $60
Live Fire! Beef Supremacy over Flames at Texas Disposal Systems Exotic Game Ranch, 6:30 to 9 p.m. $75
Spotlight on Texas Wines and Winemakers at Hyatt Regency Downtown, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., $65
Australia Unleashed: Fine Wines and Rogue Cookery at Whole Foods Market Culinary Center, 2 to 3:30 p.m., $55
Star Power: An Evening with Kyle MacLachlan and Animal Restaurant at Courtyard at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, 8 to 10:30 p.m., $150
Fair at the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 1 to 5 p.m., $45
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect spelling for Brad Farmerie's name and the incorrect time for Josh Ozersky's Burger and Beef Seminar. The correct time for Josh Ozersky's Burger and Beef Seminar at Whole Foods Market Culinary Center is 11:30 a.m. Friday.