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Scene report: Rock Your Taco at Austin Food & Wine Festival

Matthew Odam

For a while there on Saturday night I thought we might be headed for a threepeat.

Tyson Cole of Uchi and his team turned out a fantastic taco of sea bass dotted with sweet corn, acidic halved cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs served in a puff taco. It was a bit messy. But it was great. Not great enough, however, for the two-time defending champion to defeat Richard Blais, who served an octopus and lamb piccadillo taco.

I’m gonna have to take the judges’ word for it. Former “Top Chef” contestant Blais had the longest (and slowest moving) line of the night, which kept me from trying the taco. It’s the only one of the 14 tacos I didn’t try at the Austin Food & Wine Festival event Saturday night at Republic Square Park.

I wasn’t one of the judges, but I had been, my vote would have gone to Congress chef David Bull, who served a morcilla pork blood and ground goat heart sausage stuffed in a snap lamb casing. He served the savory sausage in a crispy shell stuffed inside a chicken fat chipotle soft tortilla. He spackled the fried and flour tortillas to one another using a decadent chicken liver mousse and enlivened the taco with lemon crema and herb salad. The chef said he and his team spent six weeks in research and development. It paid off. That Blais taco must have been something else in order to knock off Bull.

Chicago chef Rick Bayless gets points for serving the spiciest dish of the night (not surprisingly thanks to his habanero salsa. And Tennessee chef Tandy Wilson of Nashville’s City House and John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss. made me want to plan a dining trip to the South based on the strength of their scrapple and lamb neck tacos, respectively.

From Kent Rathbun’s ancho-roasted pork shoulder to Underbelly’s Chris Shepherd’s Korean braised beef, the chefs Saturday night proved that tacos may be the most versatile culinary creation in the world. They’re also the unofficial dish of Austin, making the annual event a perfect fit as the festival’s showcase event.