Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Austin Food & Wine Festival: Tyson Cole defends Rock Your Taco title

Addie Broyles

It’s hard to compete with a James Beard-winning chef on his home turf, especially when he has a title to defend .

For the second year in a row, Tyson Cole ran away with Saturday night’s Rock Your Taco contest, the signature evening event of the Austin Food & Wine Festival. Cole wowed the judges (and the crowd) with his Uchi-inspired interpretation of a taco: hamachi, roe, apple and chopped Marcona almonds folded in a thin sheet of dried yuca.

As the defending champ, Cole had the longest line of the night, by far, even by Aaron Franklin’s standards, but he and pastry chef Philip Speer handed out tacos — and graciously posed for photos with fans — for most of the two-and-a-half hour event.

Cole’s taco won over the judges, which this year included Andrew Zimmern and special guest Billy Gibbons, but from the chatter in the crowd, it seems several other chefs’ tacos must have been in contention for the win.

Congress chef/owner David Bull unofficially won presentation of the night with his banh mi taco served in a lime with a wedge cut out of it, while Marc Murphy, a “Chopped” judge and chef behind Benchmarc, brought a taste of New York with his pastrami taco.

Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine was the only chef offering a vegetarian option: a lightly dried slice of beet served as a shell around a filling made with goat cheese and crisped rice.

My favorite taco of the night was probably from Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal and Son of a Gun in Los Angeles, who turned a top-selling dish at the restaurant — a hamachi tostada — into a hamachi and avocado taco, topped with a hefty slaw made with cabbage, shallot, Thai basil and a fish sauce vinaigrette.

This is the first year that Taste badgeholders, who paid $250 for the daytime events only, could add on evening tickets at $150 a pop, and plenty of guests seemed to have taken advantage of that option.

Republic Square Park served its purpose well for the festival’s evening events on both Friday and Saturday, offering a relatively flat and open space for attendees to enjoy live music, but also trees and elevated ground along the perimeter to enjoy food, conversation and plentiful wine, beer and La Condesa margaritas.