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Array of food celebrities converge on Austin for festival

Austin Food & Wine Festival

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

This weekend, celebrity chefs and foodies from around the country will descend on Auditorium Shores for the first ever Austin Food & Wine Festival, which is likely the highest-profile culinary event in Austin's history.

But let's get it out in the open: The Austin Food & Wine Festival is not the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival 2.0.

They are two distinct events, one born out of the other when Food & Wine magazine, whose events company hosts a number of similar festivals around the country, teamed up last year with C3 Presents and restaurateurs Tyson Cole, Tim Love and Jesse Herman to buy the 26-year-old regional festival and turn it into a national one.

The result is a star-studded two-day festival (two-and-a-half if you bought a $850 VIP pass) featuring both big-name celebrities such as Andrew Zimmern, Gail Simmons, Masaharu Morimoto, Marcus Samuelsson and Jonathan Waxman, and local notables, including David Bull, Rene Ortiz, Bryce Gilmore, Kevin Williamson, and Andrew Weissman and Jason Dady of San Antonio.

Organizers have made a concerted effort, especially in recent weeks, to Austin-ize the festival, with the addition of a cookbook tent sponsored by BookPeople and another round of Texas chefs and wine, spirit and restaurant vendors who will offer samples in the massive tasting tents on the shores of Lady Bird Lake.

They've played up the music angle, but you can catch Lucinda Williams and Mayer Hawthorne only if you have a VIP badge, and Saturday night's big Rock Your Taco Celebrity Chef Showdown is also VIP-only.

But throughout Saturday and Sunday, regular badgeholders ($250 weekender passes are available at austinfoodandwinefestival.com) can check out more than 30 cooking demos, panels and classes on everything from global street food with Travel Channel host Zimmern to stocking and tending your home bar with author Tony Abou-Ganim.

Morimoto, an international superstar in the food world, will teach two classes on mastering the art of sushi, and in classes on both Saturday and Sunday, Florida chef Michelle Bernstein will teach classes on tapas and spicing up comfort foods.

Throughout all the educational sessions and tastings, it will be hard to miss chefs who you've seen on "Top Chef Masters," including Houston's Monica Pope, Tony Mantuano of Chicago and New York chefs Samuelsson and Waxman, who is making his first trip to Austin for the festival.

Waxman will explore the worlds of seafood and un-junkified junk food in a pair of classes, but he says he's really looking forward to competing against eight other chefs in the taco showdown on Saturday night.

"The world's greatest food is tacos," Waxman said last week from his restaurant, Barbuto, in Manhattan's West Village. "There is nothing better than tequilas and taco. If you're depressed, what are you going to eat? Tacos. If you're in a really good mood, what are you going to eat? Tacos."

Waxman, a trombone and flute player who is trying to get fellow chef musicians together for a band, is also looking forward to barbecue and live music during his stint in Austin.

"I always bite off more than I can chew," he says. "It's Charlie Jones' fault," shifting the blame to one of the C3 founders who entices Waxman to Austin by texting pictures of his thriving winter garden when New York is an icebox.

That a concert promoter is also an avid gardener is a prime example of why the food scene still enthralls Waxman all these years after he got his start with Alice Waters at the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley. "People surprise the hell out of you," he says. "Their secret food desires, what they like to grow, what they like to cook. Sport figures, rock and rollers, accountants, moms with six kids. Everyone has such different, diverse ideas about food. That's what's so great about food in America right now. We're discovering it and embracing it in all these different ways."

One discovery that seems to be happening in backyards across America is barbecue. Not just "barbecue" in the grilling-over-charcoal-or-propane sense, but bona fide barbecue, the kind that Elizabeth Karmel has been researching and teaching for more than a decade since she founded GirlsAtTheGrill.com.

The North Carolina native cooks Central Texas-style barbecue in New York City as the executive chef of Hill Country restaurant, which is modeled after Kreuz Market in Lockhart. Karmel is in Austin and Lockhart this week, smoking briskets at "the mother ship" for Saturday's taco showdown and finally seeing what all the Franklin and John Mueller's hype is about.

"The perception of barbecue has changed tremendously in the past 10 years," she says. "People are cooking way more than burgers and hot dogs or chicken with barbecue sauce on it. It warms the cockles of my heart that people are making ribs, brisket, pulled pork in their backyards."

She'll teach various smoking techniques during her class at Auditorium Shores on Saturday, but she's just as excited to attend. "I was very flattered to be asked to come, but I would have come as a guest anyway. Austin is the perfect city in the South to host a festival like this primarily because Austin is already the capital of live music. Food, wine and music are such a winning combination ... I hope it gets bigger and better every year."

Contact Addie Broyles at 912-2504. Twitter: @broylesa

Austin Food & Wine Festival

Gates at Auditorium Shores open at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Passes (21 and older only) cost $250 for a weekender badge and $850 for VIP, which includes special events on Friday and Saturday nights at Republic Square Park.

Parking for VIP badgeholders on site at Auditorium Shores. Nearby parking garages are available to all for a fee. Details at austinfoodandwinefestival.com

Austin Food & Wine Festival side events

* The Austin Food & Wine Alliance, which will get a portion of the proceeds from the Austin Food & Wine Festival, is hosting an unofficial kick-off event Thursday night at the Salt Lick Bar-B-Que Pavilion in Driftwood. Live Fire! starts at 6:30 p.m. and will feature a number of chefs from Austin, including Josh Watkins, Andrew Wiseheart and Ned Elliott, Naomi Pomeroy and Adam Sappington of Portland, Ore., and San Antonio's Jason Dady cooking over fire pits. Tickets ($75) include food, wine, spirits and beer samples. This is the first of a number of events that the nonprofit will host throughout the year to raise money in addition to what comes in from the festival. The board has said that it will give away culinary grants to Central Texas food businesses as soon as this summer. austinfoodwinealliance.org.

* Trace pastry chef Janina O'Leary studied with New York pastry chef Pichet Ong when she was working The Village Tart in Manhattan, and the two are reuniting in Austin on Thursday when Ong is in town for the Austin Food & Wine Festival. They'll host a three-course dessert and cocktail pairing at 9 p.m. at the restaurant inside the W Hotel at 200 Lavaca St. The cost is $25 a person for desserts only or $40 for desserts and cocktails. RSVP at (512) 542-3660.

* La Condesa chef Rene Ortiz and pastry chef Laura Sawicki, who was recently named one of the country's best new pastry chefs by Food & Wine magazine, are teaming with Miami chef Michelle Bernstein for a free cooking demonstration and book signing at Macy's Barton Creek, 2901 Loop 360 (Capital of Texas Highway), at 6 p.m. Thursday.

* FoodRepublic.com, a website co-founded by Chef Marcus Samuelsson that has been lauded for creating food and drink stories targeted to men without dumbing down the content, is hosting a test kitchen and lounge Friday at the W Hotel that will feature live interviews with chefs and musicians as well as cooking demos throughout the day. It is open to the public on a limited first-come, first-served basis. You can find a schedule and updates at foodrepublic.com and via @foodrepublic on Twitter.