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7 chefs you don't want to miss at the 2021 Austin Food & Wine Festival

Matthew Odam
Austin 360
South Carolina pitmaster Rodney Scott will be back doing what he does best at the Austin Food & Wine Festival — cooking hogs.

It’s hard to believe about 30 months have passed since hordes of food and drink lovers have gathered on the shores of Lady Bird Lake and in Republic Square Park for the Austin Food and Wine Festival. 

The festival returns for its 10th annual iteration this weekend, featuring a strong local flavor, along with a handful of big names from around the state and country. The plethora of opportunities to sip and snack might overwhelm, so we’ve compiled a list of seven chefs worth checking out during the festival.

Maybe it’s a chef from a new local restaurant you haven’t visited, one from out of town, or a chef you’ve heard about but whose restaurant you’ve never had the opportunity to visit.  

The festival is officially sold out, but there are still tickets available for three special in-restaurant dinners (which the festival hopes to do more of in the years to come) being held at Canje, Salt & Time Wine Shop and Lutie’s at Commodore Perry. 

A reminder for this pandemic-era festival: A printed copy of a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of the festival will be required to attend. Fully vaccinated attendees may show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination instead of proof of a negative test.

Here are a few chefs we think are worth your hungry attention. For more festival information or tickets to one of the special dinners, visit austinfoodandwinefestival.com.  ‍

If you haven't been able to snag a table at chef Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel's East Austin restaurant Birdie's, the festival will give you a chance to try her cooking. She's seen here with husband and restaurant co-owner Arjav Ezekiel.

Chef demos

Dawn Burrell of Late August (1:45 p.m. Saturday)

You get a twofer when you go check out what Burrell has cooking at the festival. Not only do you get to see a great chef and “Top Chef” finalist in her element, you also get to meet a former Olympian who competed for the United States track team in 2000. 

Jam Sanitchat of Thai Fresh (11:45 a.m. Saturday)

The chef-owner of one of Austin’s longest-running Thai restaurants has been teaching cooking classes for years at her South Austin restaurant, so you know she’s gonna have the education and entertainment chops for a cooking demo that will undoubtedly teach you something new about Thai cuisine. 

Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ (2:45 p.m. Saturday)

Texas is beef country, so it’s exciting to welcome a pitmaster known for working with whole-hog cooking. The South Carolina chef brings history and heritage to his festival appearances, and his demonstration may have you dreaming big about your next backyard barbecue.

Chef showcase

Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel of Birdie’s Austin

The clean Italian and French-inspired cooking of this Houston native has made her and husband Arjav Ezekiel’s restaurant the most exciting to open in Austin this year. Haven’t tasted what the fuss is all about? Now’s your chance. 

Fire pit

John Bates of  Interstellar BBQ (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday)

If you've spent any time checking out Interstellar's Instagram page, you know that chef Bates and his team get up to some pretty creative dishes. There might be a chill in the air Saturday, making the fire pit and whatever Bates has on the grill a perfect recipe for comfort. 

Rock Your Taco is always one of the weekend's most spirited events.

Rock Your Taco (7 p.m. Saturday)

Shion Aikawa of Ramen Tatsu-Ya

Aikawa's partners in the Tatsu-Ya restaurant mini-empire have proven worthy opponents at previous Rock Your Taco nights, so it will be exciting to see if what the chef brings to the table. Maybe the Polynesian flavors of his group's new concept, Tiki Tatsu-Ya?

Paola Velez of Bakers Against Racism 

Not only has chef Velez worked at some of the best restaurants in Washington, D.C. (Compass Rose, Kith and Kin and Maydan), the 2021 Food & Wine best new chef winner co-founded Bakers Against Racism last year, helping raise more than $2 million for charities fighting for social justice. If you’re curious what imaginative flavors a pastry chef can come up with when creating a taco, this will be a bite not to miss.