THE SOUND AND THE CURRY: AUSTIN FOOD + WINE FEST

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Hello, old sport!

(Bear with me, Reader. I haven’t even seen Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby yet, but as you can see, my inner English major is rearing its dorky head. Just like how people dress up as hobbits for Lord of the Rings screenings, what would you think of me going to see Great Gatsby dressed as Daisy Buchanan and speaking only in 1920s slang? I’m only halfway kidding about this.)

Courtesy of the very generous Simi Wines, Megan and I went to the Austin Food + Wine Fest a few weekends ago. Now, I’ll be honest with you. I have a hard time writing about stuff like this. Whenever I’m supposed to interview a chef or something, it’s like I figuratively curl up in their lap and say “tell me a story!” And then I write about their story, and that’s that.

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Much more difficult, I find, to describe just the food itself in a way that isn’t immediately obvious. “This taco is meaty!” “This cake is sweet!” No joke, that is how I would write about all food, were it not for my trusty thesaurus.

Which is why I always loved Josh Ozersky when he and I were doing that food show last year. Remember that? He was always so descriptive with food, narrating each bite with a historian’s sensibility, and he could tell you for example which New York hamburgers’ meat patties were served exactly flush with their buns, and which were not. That, my friends, is some serious attention to detail.

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Anyway, it’s also hard to write about Austin Food + Wine Fest because, let’s face it — it’s people eating and drinking all day. As I overheard one attendee say, “this seems like an event the Real Housewives would go to.” So true! And like a Real Housewife, it’s all too easy to get tipsy and not remember any of the specific, delicious samples that you tried, lost in a haze of Pinot Grigio. So let’s hold lacquered hands, and try to piece things together.

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Exhibit A: Sampling champagne slushees.

Early on at the fest, we ran into my Citygram editor Chris Perez, there on the left. He was there with My Well Fed Life blogger and freelance food writer Veronica Meewes, who possesses an amazing tattoo.

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Banksy!

So we joined forces, Megan, Chris, Veronica and I, and behaved like one does at these things:

“DID YOU SEE THAT PORK SLIDER WALK BY? I must have that pork slider.”

“No – the beet taco! Turn away from the slider! Get in this line with me and let’s eat a beet taco!!”

“F-k the beet taco, I’m eating this jalapeno-infused chocolate drizzled with a balsamic white wine reduction.”

“Wha?? Where did that come from?”

“Too late, let’s wash everything down with 18 wine samples.”

“Good idea.”

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I’m serious, Reader – this is how people, people like myself, talk at these things. It’s overwhelming. But incredibly tasty.

Take, for example – the beet taco! Doesn’t that sound…odd? It was, in fact, our favorite sample of the day. Another surprise? It came from Hickory Street! I had no idea they were foodie-ish.

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We swung by Simi’s booth, and chatted a bit with Chef Kolin Vazzoler, who has a terribly exciting last name. Don’t you get excited when you see double z’s? I do.

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Kolin served us a fried chicken skin — a chip-like substance — topped with mushroom puree and dried cherry. He also handed us glasses of pinot noir to pair it with, prompting Megan and I to pretend like we were very knowledgeable oenophiles. “An excellent choice!” we cried. And we weren’t lying. It was excellent.

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Now, given the choice between salty and sweet, I’ll take the former any day. I don’t have a sweet tooth; I’m like a horse with a salt lick. Which is why I breezed straight past all the cake balls/tiny pies/cookies on sticks/champagne slushees/etc. and made a beeline for anything covered in salami or cheese.

As you can see, I was successful:

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Salami courtesy San Francisco-based Columbus, who I had to look up on the Internet because I was too busy stuffing my face to write their name down.

But for me, the main delight of the Austin Food + Wine Fest were wine demos by bad boy sommelier Mark Oldman, who got busted in Austin last year for jaywalking:

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A warrant for Mark’s arrest, proudly displayed on his demo table.

Oh, I wish I had a good picture, or better yet a video Reader, of Mark Oldman! I went to his AF+W demo last year too, and it basically consists of every person drinking five glasses of wine each while Mark tells jokes and makes champagne bottles explode with a sword. He does educate you, too, pointing out various wine regions and why the price points of some wines are more or less than others, but I go because he is so damn entertaining, the anti-snob of the wine world. If he comes back next year – provided he isn’t in jail – you’ll love him.

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I suppose that’s the reason I go to Austin Food + Wine Fest, because the people are interesting. To have such singular focus, on a type of food, a type of wine, and work at it for years. Don’t get me wrong: I go for the samples, too. But when your taste buds inevitably exhaust, you start looking around at all the people making it, and wonder: What brought you here? What piqued your interest in salami / wine / tiny pies? Do you ever tire of it? Are you in it for the artistry of food? Is there an artistry of food? Or is it just a lizard-brain type of thing, a pleasure response rather than an intellectual one? Are you in it for the service? The way people close their eyes and get dreamy when they bite your food? Is it weird when people grab your samples and jam it in their mouths without saying thanks? Or are you over that? Is the real joy in slicing a sharpened knife through a slab of cured meat, feeling the slices fall cleanly away?

Maybe it’s all of these things.