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Food bloggers meet and munch at SXSW Interactive

Addie Broyles, Relish Austin

Staff Writer
Austin 360

From cooking contests to chef documentaries, panels on restaurant criticism and food blogging, the South by Southwest Film and Interactive conferences have taken on a distinctively foodie flavor this year.

But the biggest food event of the weekend wasn't officially affiliated with the festival. More than 50 food bloggers from around the country convened at Whole Foods Market on Saturday and Sunday for the TechMunch Food Blogger Conference, a series of panels and workshops that featured notables both inside and outside the food industry. The theme? How to take advantage of technology to channel a passion for food into a successful blog. (On Saturday, I moderated a panel with Kat Kinsman of CNN's Eatocracy, L.A. Times food editor Rene Lynch and Tampa Tribune food writer Jeff Houck about how bloggers can work with traditional media outlets.)

Village Voice restaurant critic Robert Sietsema, covering his face with a mask, helped kick off the South by Southwest Interactive food programming on Monday in a discussion about ethics in the ever-growing world of restaurant criticism.

Nadia Giosia, host of the Web series-turned-Cooking Channel show "Bitchin' Kitchen," was one of the stars of an afternoon panel about using gratuitous food photography to help build your business, called "The Moguls of Food Porn."

The film festival featured two documentaries profiling two of the world's best chefs: El Bulli's Ferran Adrià in "Cooking in Progress" and New York wünderkind Paul Liebrandt in "A Matter of Taste."

For 10 years, "A Matter of Taste" director Sally Rowe filmed Liebrandt as he went from restaurant to restaurant, trying to find a home after becoming the youngest chef to earn three stars from The New York Times.

Though the documentary showcases Liebrandt's artistry, the 34-year-old chef of Corton in Tribeca wanted to sample the spectrum of Texas food during his first trip to the state, first driving to Lockhart to sample brisket and spare ribs at Black's Barbecue and then hitting up David Bull's newly opened, prix-fixe only restaurant Congress downtown.

"I can't come to Texas and not eat barbecue," he said in an interview Monday morning. "And Congress has a great concept and great food."

You didn't have to have a festival badge to get in on the food action spawned by South by Southwest. Dozens of home cooks competed in two different pork-themed cooking contests on Sunday, the Bacon Takedown at Emo's and the Pork Experiment at Club deVille.

Throughout the weekend, owners of Austin food carts and trailers capitalized on the throngs of hungry festivalgoers who were crammed into the downtown space. Last year, hardly a cart could be found serving food during peak daytime eating hours, but this year, dozens of trailers leased space to sell food near the Convention Center and used Twitter to share information about discounts and changing locations.

The festival, not to mention the rodeo and state basketball tournament, transforms restaurants throughout the city, but none as much as Max's Wine Dive, which rented its prime space on the corner of Third Street and San Jacinto Boulevard to CNN for an undisclosed but presumably hefty fee to create a hub called CNN Grill. In the upstairs, CNN staffers and VIPs can order from a menu designed by famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, whose catering company is working with Max's staff to prepare the food. No sign of Max's can be found in the entire space, from the large sign outside (replaced with a rotating neon CNN Grill sign) to the embroidered chef coats worn in the kitchen. With a pop-up restaurant upstairs, dozens of CNN employees are churning out reports from a pop-up newsroom in the basement.

Kat Kinsman, who heads up the channel's newly recharged food coverage, was busily preparing for another pop-up event: a secret supper to be hosted Tuesday night at an undisclosed location and hosted by unnamed chefs. The dinner will be the centerpiece of a larger package on Austin food that will be posted online and on the air in coming weeks, Kinsman says.

As the music festival takes over the city, the focus on food will shift from celebrating and analyzing food trends to simply filling the bellies of the hungry music lovers, including Rachael Ray, who is hosting her annual food-filled Feedback party at Stubb's on Saturday. RSVPs for the event are full, but here's a recipe for flank steak tost-achos, one of the dishes she's planning on serving:

Flank Steak Tost-achos

4-5 ancho chile peppers, stemmed and seeded

2 cups beef stock

2 cups vegetable oil, for shallow frying, plus 2 Tbsp.

11/2 lb. flank steak, chopped into small dice and patted dry with a paper towel

Steak seasoning or salt and coarse black pepper

2 links fresh Mexican chorizo, casings split, or about 1/3 pound Spanish chorizo, casing removed and chopped

1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large fresh bay leaf

11/2 tsp. ground cumin (half a palmful)

11/2 tsp. ground coriander (half a palmful)

1 tsp. dried oregano (1/3 palmful)

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 bottle Mexican beer (12 oz.), such as Negra Modelo

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

16-18 4-inch corn tortillas or store-bought tostada shells (optional)

Suggested toppings:

Queso fresco, crumbled, or shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Fresh cilantro, chopped

Radishes, thinly sliced

Lime wedges

Place the anchos in a small saucepot and cover with the beef stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until very tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Purée the mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth.

In a cast-iron pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons oil, a couple of turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. When the oil smokes, add the dry, cut bits of beef and brown well. Season with steak seasoning or salt and pepper; add the chorizo and render or brown for a couple of minutes more. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf, cumin, coriander and oregano and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the onion is softened. Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute, then add the beer and deglaze the pan. Add the ancho purée to the chili and stir in the beans. Simmer at a low bubble to thicken.

If serving as chili, serve in shallow bowls with suggested toppings, for garnish.

If making tostadas, while the chili is bubbling, place a small, high-sided skillet over medium heat with about 11/2 inches of oil. When the oil is shimmering, add one tortilla at a time and shallow-fry on both sides until golden brown and crisp, about 1 minute per side. You might need to add some more oil about halfway through. Place the tostadas on a paper towel-lined plate to soak up the excess grease.

To serve, place the tostada shells in shallow bowls and top with a large spoonful of the chili mixture. Top with your favorite suggested toppings for garnish. Serves 4 to 6 as a chili entrée or tops about 16 to 18 tostadas.

- Rachael Ray