The eighth annual Austin Food + Wine Festival was a chef-studded spectacle of tacos, barbecue, and wine. 

By Veronica Meewes
Updated May 01, 2019
Sydney Gawlik

Live-fire cooking may have increased in popularity over the past few years, but cooking directly over flame has always been essential to Texas cuisine. That is why it’s only fitting that fire remained the main attraction of the eighth annual Austin Food & Wine Festival this past weekend.

Over 70 chefs and 6,000 food-lovers gathered at Austin’s Auditorium Shores each day on Saturday and Sunday, April 27 and 28, to enjoy cooking from locally and nationally celebrated chefs, demonstrations, drinks aplenty … and the raucous dance party the event is known to turn into each year.

Katrina Barber

Visiting chefs including the iconic Nancy Silverton and celebrity chef Antonia Lofasco from Los Angeles, D.C.-based Carla Hall, Sarah Grueneberg out of Chicago, and the Texas-born but New Orleans-based Aarón Sanchez, who was recently in Austin hosting the Tortilla Awards. The roster of acclaimed Texas-based chefs included Fermīn Nuñez of Suerte, Kristen Kish of Arlo Grey, Chris Shepherd of One Fifth, and Eric Silverstein of The Peached Tortilla, who just celebrated the release of his first cookbook. Several local chefs also teased guests with bites from anticipated local concepts like Nixta Taqueria, Gati, and Vixen’s Wedding at the Arrive Hotel.

Austin’s own Contigo managed this year’s fire pits, undoubtedly a festival favorite. This year’s programming was condensed to one area, where chefs, friends, and fans mingled freely among barbecue pits and smoking contraptions, asking logistical questions and tasting each dish fresh off the flames. Over the course of the weekend, a DJ spun records as massive red snapper dangled over smoke, a suckling pig turned slowly on a spit, fragrant marinade was brushed across glistening proteins and chefs danced as they prepped and plated.

(And, as it turns out, you haven’t truly lived until you’ve seen a massive pan of paella prepared over fire to the soundtrack of a Sade remix.)

Katrina Barber

Among the featured chefs were Lance Kirkpatrick of Stiles Switch Barbecue, who served sliced pork loin with watermelon barbecue sauce and honey lime coleslaw, Gabe Erales of recently opened Comedor, who made tacos from smoked lechon with salsa de pasilla, Takuya Matsumoto of Kemuri Tatsu-ya and Ramen Tatsu-ya, who grilled ponzu mojo chicken, and Sonya Cote, who smoked and pulled a whole pig then served it on a corn tostada with shaved radish, molasses gastrique, cilantro blossoms and a green mole made from green onion tops, green coriander, pumpkin seeds, and broccoli.

Evening events included the annual Thursday night Feast Under the Stars longtable dinner, a Friday night grilling master class with Tim Love (which always involves copious amounts of tequila and wine), and Saturday night’s Rock Your Taco throwdown (arguably the most anticipated event of the weekend).

Highlights of the heated taco competition included Aarón Sánchez’s crispy oyster taco topped with jicama-chayote slaw and roasted corn, Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto’s curry-smoked beef cheek with pickles and chicharron, Nancy Silverton’s scallop ceviche with salsa macha, Jonathan Waxman’s duck ragu ­- duck steak duo, and Fermín Núñez’s short rib carnitas with salsa frita, avocado and cotija. This year, Andrew Zimmern took home the prize for a surprising taco interpretation, topping fry bread with cured Verlasso salmon and a mess of wild paddlefish caviar sourced from Oklahoma.