Anthony Bourdain

Post-filming of No Reservations at J Mueller BBQ (now LA Barbecue) in March 2012.

I’ve been a fan of Tony Bourdain’s since I read his 1999 “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” essay in the New Yorker. He entranced me from the start with his irreverent yet decidedly somehow still respectful voice. This line clinched it for me: “Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.”

As the years progressed, I avidly followed his television career. In March of 2012 the local rumor mill was rampant with breathless whispers of Bourdain’s advance team filming footage around Austin for No Reservations, and I was giddy with excitement. When I was quietly told that I would “want to be here on Saturday at opening” by JMueller Barbecue pitmaster John Mueller, there was no mystery behind the vague words. I knew it was my chance to see Bourdain up close and personal, but I had no idea just how up close and personal the day would become. If you view his Austin barbecue episode (Season 8), I’m the diner in the aqua colored blouse sitting next to Daniel Vaughn at the table with Bourdain, who is seated diagonally opposite me.  After filming wrapped, I broke my cardinal rule of never asking a celebrity if they’d take a photo with me, and Bourdain agreed readily, with a smile, even though he’d just worked through a long line of fans who’d waited to greet him. I can say that he was just as genuine, as sharply witty, and as warm in person as he comes across on tv.

Arguably one of the most influential chefs of our age, Bourdain was a sort of everyman’s bon vivant, but without pretense. He used his television shows to showcase not only great food around the world, but also the people behind the food, their lives, their humanity. Bourdain showed us the extreme poverty of some, and the extreme wealth of others. He opened a window to the culinary world and showed us that while we are all so very different, we are all so very much the same: we want good food, to be enjoyed with good people, in a moment of time that uplifts us both physically and spiritually.

Losing such a man to the blackness of depression is a tragedy on many levels. My heart aches for his young daughter, who will meet each milestone in her life with its appropriate joy, but also a continuation of grief for her loss. Bourdain’s death reinforces the sad truth that depression destroys lives no matter how well lived they may seem. For me, personally, I will take what Bourdain has taught me, and eat more mindfully, more in tune to the hands that prepared my repast, the story behind them, and the history that shaped the recipes. I will honor him, through the medium that gave him to the masses.

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Fancy Girl; Country Boy ~ Where to Eat?

 

Craft beer makes waiting for yummy food a whole lot easier.

One of life’s toughest issues for my husband and I is deciding on where to eat. Yes, I realize this is a first world problem, but when you are an uptown girl married to a no frills boy, it’s still a problem. My sweet man wants an uncomplicated menu, free of things he cannot pronounce, much less understand what type of edible animal/mineral/vegetable it may be, and to eat something delicious in a comfortable, casual environment. I want fancy. My heart (and stomach) yearn for fancy. The more fancy, the more I love it. Give me unique eats, artfully arranged, and flavor explosions that leave me in awe. I don’t have to know what I’m eating, as long as it tastes great.

Trust me, these wings tasted just as good as they look!

Luckily for us, when my husband’s birthday rolled around he already had a flavor craving and a place in mind: Chi’lantro BBQ, home of the original kimchi fries. I’ve been a patron of Chi’lantro since they started off with a food truck in downtown Austin, and began wowing the crowds with their Korean-Mexican mashup and turning even the most finicky eater into a kimchi-loving machine. The Kimchi Fries are legendary, and for good reason – they are just that good. Delectable, satisfying, this dish is a riot of flavors layered on a bed of crispy french fries topped with your choice of spicy pork, spicy chicken, soy-glazed chicken, tofu or ribeye beef (get the spicy pork), two kinds of cheese, onions, cilantro, magic sauce, sesame seeds and sriracha, and that amazing caramelized kimchi. If you’ve never tried it, you’re seriously missing out.

My husband and I split the Korean Fried Chicken Wings during his celebratory dinner. I love the Gangham sauce with its sweetly spicy flavor, complimented by the spicy Ranch sauce that’s served alongside the wings. I could probably have eaten the entire order, but I resisted. So.hard.to.resist!

Chi’lantro has 6 locations, with a 7th in the works, so no matter what part of town you’re in, you can find your Kimchi Fries easily. Go get ya some!

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Austin Food + Wine – The Highlight Reel

Sampling “breakfast wines’ and learning how to up my brunch game.

Disclosure: I attended the Austin Food + Wine Festival as a member of media.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect back on this year’s Austin Food + Wine Festival, I realize just how enormous the event is, and how even over two full days I didn’t experience all it had to offer. I kicked off my fest in the right way, though, by hitting the first Tasting Session, a seminar on “Breakfast Wine” taught by Master Sommelier and Whole Foods Global Beverage Buyer Devon Broglie.  Devon is a wealth of knowledge, and I can firmly state he’s never steered me wrong on wine choices. So when I saw he was talking wines paired with breakfast, I had to attend. In the Breakfast Wine session we talked about the sugar and acidity levels of the wines, and what foods pair best with each. Devon instructed us to sip, and think about a breakfast food that would taste yummy with that particular wine. With his enthusiasm for wine and food, Devon was lively and entertaining while teaching us that yes, you can pair a Riesling with French toast, and a Lambrusco with chicken & waffles. And that Riesling? Devon calls it “sommelier Gatorade” as you can drink it anytime, with anything, even if it’s just because you’re thirsty.

Let me back up a moment and say that your best bet for a seat in one of the Tasting Sessions is at the very first one of the festival. After that, the crowd realizes there is magic happening in the tents, and lines form quickly for sessions, often a half-hour prior to the seminar, leaving you baking in the hot sun. And boy, is there sun! The last weekend of April is historically sunny and warm. Pack a travel sized (non-aerosol) sunscreen with you to this festival. Shade is limited.

A selection of just a few of the countless tasty samples offered up in the Grand Taste.

The Grand Taste is, indeed, grand. I wasn’t able to taste everything, but everything I tasted was a flavor sensation. You really do get a feel for restaurants by these sampling events, as they go all out to deliver the perfect bite. In the photo above, two of my favorites were polar opposites: Knotty Deck & Bar’s Frito pie, and Garrison’s Black Garlic & Foie meringues. The simple Frito pie fulfilled all my desires for a juicy, salty, tangy, beef-y, crunchy offering. Garrison’s pretty little taste bombs of richness and crisp meringue blew me away. When you sample at a festival and weeks later you are craving the dish you tried, you know the restaurant hit it out of the ballpark.

Lines for some of the Grand Taste participants were long, but moved fairly quickly, as did the queue for the Fire Pit foods. This year the set up for the Fire Pits was quite different, with a “viewing area” and one large sampling station. The Fire Pit is an impressive mix of live fire cooking utilizing roasting, smoking, grilling and other techniques on a variety of foods. It’s as much of chance to interact with the chefs and their teams as it is to happily scarf down smoked meats.

Chef David Bull happily served up samples of crispy pork skin and other “bits,” including offering smoked pork eyeball to me.

When you have a chance to eat roasted pork, ask if you can have some of the crispy skin. If you’re adventurous, or simply have grown up eating “nose-to-tail,” ask for offal. I jumped at the chance to eat a smoked pig eye, as Chef David Bull’s team cheered me on.  If you’ve never partaken of smoked bits, like eyeballs, it seems outlandish, grotesque even, to consider eating parts. But I grew up on traditional barbacoa, made from a cow’s head and pretty much everything in it, paving a life-long love for offal. (Side note: smoked pig’s eye is tender yet chewy, much like a thick chunk of ham, with a bit of a juicy gelatinous quality from the collagen proteins found in the head. Quite good!).

When I found Lick serving samples of Horchata ice cream, I asked them to add it to my Guinness 200th Anniversary Stout. Yum!

Often, while talking about the Austin Food + Wine Festival people will tell me they don’t ever go because they don’t like wine. Now the name isn’t going to change, but let me tell you, there is a lot more alcoholic beverages than wine at the festival! Spirits and beer are abundantly available for sampling. One of my favorite moments was making a boozy milkshake with Horchata ice cream and Guinness.

So much more than wine!

Around the festival, there was much to enjoy as well. The Glenfiddich Dome featured several cocktails, along with a “vapor station” to demonstrate how our sense of smell affects our sense of taste. Monkey Shoulder brought out its ridiculously huge cocktail shaker truck, Toyota helped us take home personalized swag (the cutting boards were a favorite), and Maker’s Mark paired their mint julep on Sunday morning with a selection of Voodoo Doughnuts. The classic 1942 Don Julio truck provided a perfect photo opp, while the show from the Hendrick’s Gin World’s Most Utterly Inefficient Cocktail Bar was prime time for Instagrammers looking to “boomerang” a quick moment. And yes, I will be making succulent planters out of cans, thanks to the inspiration from Austin Eastciders and their adorable table decor.

For the All In ticket holders, the festival started one night early, with Chef Tim Love’s Grillin’ & Chillin’ at Auditorium Shores. This hands-on grilling demo is a wildly popular event. Chef Tim Love is a larger than life personality, with an infectious sense of humor and zest for having fun. This is the first year the demo has been held at night, a genius move. The only drawback to previous years’ Grillin’ & Chillin’ demos was standing in the sun for hours, learning how to produce the tastiest grilled steak while wondering just how burned your body was becoming. I heard nothing but positive feedback on this night event.

Rock Your Taco, the taco throw down held on Saturday night was a rollicking good time, as usual. Boston-based Chef Jamie Bissonette dethroned the King of RYT, Chef Tyson Cole, with his succulent Thai pork sausage soft taco. Among the participants, local favorite Chef Andrew Curren offered up a Green Curried Shrimp taco, while cheflebrity Amanda Freitag wowed attendees with her Lechon de Coco taco. The tacos were plentiful, music was upbeat, and the good times rolled on.

“She persevered.”

If you’ve wondered whether the ticket to the Austin Food + Wine Festival is worth the price, let me tell you in no uncertain terms that it is well, well worth it. The abundant food and drink, creative experiences, educational demos and sessions are a solid value, but the atmosphere adds in even more. At the fest I talked with strangers who I shared shaded tables with, and almost all of them were not Austinites. I met people from D.C., Wyoming, Chicago, New Mexico, Miami, and more. They all had a common connection in that they specifically picked this food festival out of numerous food and wine festivals across the nation, to experience Austin’s culinary scene. Those of us who live here tend to take it for granted that we have illustrious chefs and highly respected restaurants in town, but tourists are planning cuisine adventures that bring out of state tax dollars into our city. Attending the festival was their main objective, but I found myself answering questions about where to find the city’s best breakfast tacos, barbecue, craft beer bars, and more.

DJ Mel’s dance party is the heart of the festival, every year.

Saturday and Sunday’s closing dance party with DJ Mel are a great way to work off some of what you’ve indulged in that day. Tradition calls for Chef Tim Love to pour one last sip for those lucky enough to be close to the stage. Chef Jason Dady, who chose to announce opening his Austin restaurant, Chispas, via a chalkboard sign at his Grand Taste table, joined him onstage on Sunday. Music and dancing after a day’s worth of memorable gustatory moments is one wonderful way to end the day, and put another festival to bed.

 

 

 

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