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Scene report: Austin Food & Wine Festival Saturday at Butler Park

Staff Writer
Austin 360

People like to debate whether chefs are the new rock stars. It kind of seems like a silly argument. And then you see people like Andrew Zimmern and Tim Love signing ladies bodies with Sharpies.

The two chefs were part of a host of talent that performed, signed books, took pics and shared sips with animated crowds at the third annual Austin Food & Wine Festival. Love’s grilling demo was once again hit of the festival Saturday, with folks grilling meat and shooting booze with the raucous chef.

Chicago chef Rick Bayless’ demos on pairing wines with Mexican food had one of the earliest lines, with folks eager to hear from the Mexican cuisine master. Festival co-founder Charlie Jones, who says he eats at Bayless’ Topolobampo every time he visits Chicago, has long hoped to get Bayless to the Austin festival and the two were spotted chatting together about food on the stage in advance of Bayless’ packed demonstration.

The Chef Showcase part of the grand tasting has proven to be a great addition to the festival, and Saturday offered a chance for attendees to get a taste of what’s hot on Austin’s dining scene and a hint of what is to come. Husband and wife chef team Chris Hurley and Jennifer Costello of the Bonneville impressed with bites of lamb pastrami topped with a bright apple-fennel slaw and Allison Jenkins gave attendees a sample of her new restaurant, LaV, with a wonderful sea bass tarter with smoked eggplant and Harissa, which you can find on the menu at the East Austin restaurant.

Josh Watkins of the Carillon delivered an Asian-inspired pork rib that was an umami bomb with black garlic barbecue sauce, Thai herbs and fish sauce. The chef said that the rib, which was cured, grilled, braised and fried, was an indication of the kind of upscale barbecue he hopes to do at a new restaurant he has in mind.

Another new restaurant on the horizon for Austin is Gardner, a veggie-forward concept that the owners of Contigo officially launched at the festival. Contigo owner Ben Edgerton said the restaurant will be the other side of the coin of their meat-centric ranch-style restaurant in East Austin. If the excellent butternut squash with smoked shitake mushroom is any indication, the restaurant at 1914 E. 6th St. will likely prove to be as popular as its sister restaurant. Edgerton says they hope to open this year.

The Contigo bites came from the grill area in the center of the park. It was expanded this year to include more chef tastings, another change the helped with flow throughout the day and kept attendees full and happy.