- The Basics
- Things to Remember
- The Schedule
- The Fire Pits
- Chef Showcase
- Food at Vendor Booths
- Booze picks
- DJ Mel’s Closing Set
- Rideshare Redux
The Austin Food & Wine Festival in 2021.
The Austin Food & Wine Festival returns to Auditorium Shores next weekend, full of food, wine, drinks, and fun. As with production company C3’s other big event Austin City Limits Music Festival, those looking to attend Austin’s largest annual food festival have the best success if they arrive with a game plan.
After operating for over a decade, the massive food event seems to have found its ultimate formula. Daytime events are filled with bites from noted Texas chefs and cooking/wine demonstrations from both locals and traveling celeb chefs. The evening VIP events feature Dallas chef Tim Love’s Wurst Weekend Kickoff (Friday) and an array of statewide and national celebrity chefs (Saturday’s now perennial “Rock Your Taco” competition).
A few changes to note this year:
- Both the cooking demonstrations and drink seminars run for a compact 30 minutes this year, allowing guests to attend them without diverting too much time away from the main Chef Showcase area.
- For guests who would prefer more intimate events, there are three satellite events throughout the weekend. There’s the dinner at steakhouse Maie Day with host chef Michael Fojtasek and guest chefs Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson of Los Angeles restaurant Kismet (Friday, November 4, $150); the dinner at Caribbean restaurant Canje with host chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph and guest chef Maneet Chauhan from Nashville (Friday, November 4, $175); and the lunch at new Mexican seafood restaurant Este with host chef Fermín Nuñez (Saturday, November 5, $115).
- All wine corks will be recycled and additional composting stations have been added to reduce the festival’s footprint.
- There are no COVID-19-related measures.
Foreign & Domestic’s set up at Rock Your Taco in 2021.
Attendees with “all-in” tickets do also gain access to the other evening events including Love’s wurst event at Auditorium Shores on Friday, November 5, and the Rock Your Taco competition at Republic Square Park on Saturday, November 6. At the latter, be sure to grab tacos from celebrity chefs Los Angeles’s Brooke Williamson, Chicago’s Sarah Gruenberg, and Seattle’s Shota Nakajima, along with Texas favorites like Tiffany Derry of Dallas’s Roots Southern Table, Nicola Blaque of San Antonio’s the Jerk Shack), Steve McHugh of San Antonio’s Cured), and Top Chef contestant and Austin’s very own Jo Chan.
To help improve your experience, Eater crafted this weekend schedule focusing on the main event, the Chef Showcase. Whether you are a first-time visitor to the fest, or simply missed last year, read on for tips on what to bring, how to plan, and the best bets for a winning weekend.
- Ticket tiers: This year’s fest offers three ticket options. The popular weekender pass ($250 to $270) allows full access to both the Saturday and Sunday daytime park events, while the VIP all-in pass ($625) includes evening events on Friday and Saturday nights. At press time, weekender and single-day tickets are sold out (there are waitlists), but the all-in tickets are still available.
- Hours: The main weekend daytime events begin at 1 p.m. and end at 5:30 p.m. finish (this is a later start than previous years). Note that DJ Mel’s annual dance party on Sunday often goes past that stated time, though drinks are no longer served after the official closing time. Evening events start at 7 p.m. and run until roughly 9 p.m. on Friday, and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday. Also keep in mind that Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday morning, which means we turn the clocks back and gain an extra hour in the day.
Rodney Scott’s chef demonstration in 2021.
- Cooking demonstrations: During the daytime events, there are 15 food, wine, and liquor seminars at staggered times. Note that the chef “demos” take the form of something akin to a live television show — the personalities will lecture, cook, and answer questions, but the food isn’t actually served during the classes. (Grab a snack or two before you head in.)
- One special note: The Dos Hombres Mezcal session will feature appearances from Breaking Bad co-stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, and thus will draw overflow crowds. Be warned. (Will there be paired scoops of Blue Bell Creameries’s mint chocolate chip ice cream?)
- Drinks classes: On the other hand, the beverage classes do serve wine or spirit samples to go with the discussion. Note that most of these seminars fill up early, so arrive at least 20 minutes in advance for a better chance at a seat.
Things to Remember
- Bags: As with most festivals and concert venues, only small purses, tote bags, and drawstring bags will be allowed into the venue. Non-clear bags like small clutch purses and fanny packs cannot be better than 4.5 inches by 5.5 inches and can’t have more than one pocket or opening. Clear bags need to be smaller than 12 inches by 6 inches. Anything with more than one pocket, i.e. backpacks, isn’t allowed.
- Important items to bring: Texas fall park essentials are advisable: sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat or cap, some wet wipes (your hands will get messy from food samples), and comfortable walking shoes are all recommended. You’ll be in a park setting during Austin’s fall allergy season, so take Zyrtec or Allegra as well (allergies are no fun). A notebook and pen aren’t bad things to have, either, to remember favorite wines and snag chef autographs, and a fully charged phone is ideal.
Wines at a drinks tasting at Austin Food and Wine Festival in 2021.
- Weather: There’s a forecast of potential thunderstorms on Saturday morning with a 60 percent chance of rain as of publishing this guide. Keep this in mind when you’re getting dressed.
- Rideshare: All drink samples are included with ticket prices, which can potentially lead to bad decisions. Download and update your favorite rideshare app for a safe and responsible ride home from the festival.
- Food lines: While most food lines are short, they inevitably happen every year, especially at the Rock Your Taco competition. To sample a broader range of options, split your group between two lines and pick a time and reconvene to sample both dishes. This cuts waiting time without extra effort.
- Choose carefully, and share: As with any food festival, there is simply too much for most regular humans to eat in one sitting. Plan accordingly by first not finishing dishes you don’t care for; second, prioritizing your anticipated and/or favorite restaurants as first bites, and third: sharing a single portion between two people when you begin to run out of steam.
- Drinking strategy: Throughout the weekend, be sure to ask for light pours of cocktails and wines (or share with a companion) — it’s better for you and prevents food waste. Hydrate early and often — grab some water hourly to combat your drinks. It’s also perfectly okay to throw out sips of wine you don’t care for (or can’t reasonably consume safely) on the lawn — just watch your aim.
With all of that in mind, go forth and eat and drink well at Austin Food & Wine Festival 2022.
The fire pits at Austin Food & Wine Festival 2021.
There’s a fun, choose-your-own-adventure element to the festival that leads to varied experiences for different guests. Those inclined to catch a glimpse of the big-name chefs can spend some of their days in the seminar tents, while others simply opt to drink and graze on food samples for the day. In conversations with past attendees, most say that attending one chef demo, one drinks class, and roaming the rest of the time makes for an ideal day. When thinking through your day, here are some suggestions:
The Fire Pits
Try every single dish from the fire pits. It’s always worth it.
Saturday, November 5: This is the festival’s San Antonio day, with chefs Jason Dady (of multiple restaurants), Kristina Zhao (of Dashi Sichuan Kitchen + Bar), Jesse Kuykendall (of Mexican food truck Milpa), and Jorge Luis Hernandez (former Austin chef who is now at Hotel Emma).
- Hernandez intends to serve a smoked pork shoulder in recado negro, and then butter-grilled gem lettuces with black truffle bagna cauda and smoked egg yolk.
- Dady’s menu includes pineapple-soy-marinated skirt tacos with pickled white onions and salsa macha; grilled King Salmon with bagel panzanella, dill crema, and everything spice; and fire-roasted “butter chicken” skewers with mint chutney, ginger yogurt, and cilantro.
Sunday, November 6: This day’s lineup pairs Central Texas favorites Sonya Coté (of Bastrop restaurant Store House Market + Eatery), Andy Knudson (of Dripping Springs restaurant Tillie’s), and Allie McMillan (of Austin restaurant ATX Cocina) with Georgia chef Terry Koval of the Deer and the Dove.
Tacos from the fire pits in 2021.
When approaching the numerous tents in the Chef Showcase area, there’s more to try than one person can reasonably accomplish. If you’d like a priority list, here are a dozen bites to seek out.
- Finn Walter of Lubbock fine dining restaurant the Nicolett
- Kristina Zhao of San Antonio Chinese restaurant Dashi Sichuan Kitchen + Bar
Casper Fermentables’s Austin Food & Wine bite in 2021.
Food at Vendor Booths
Around the festival grounds are sponsored vendor booths and stalls. Of note:
- Little Ola’s Biscuits: Fine-dining restaurant Olamaie’s casual sibling will sling miniature biscuits paired with CBD-infused jam at CBD edibles company Earlybird throughout the weekend.
- Discover Puerto Rico: San Juan chef Mario Pagán and mixologist Israel Bravo will make the trek to Austin to serve a food and cocktail pairing at the fest.
- H-E-B: Yes, H-E-B. The beloved grocery chain will serve smoked meats from its in-store restaurant True Texas BBQ alongside wine pairings from its shelves.
As is the name, along with food is wine and booze, and there is plenty at the festival. If your time (or your tolerance) is limited, here are our picks for drink stops. Some upscale and craft brands to prioritize include:
- Barbados’s Mount Gay Rum
- Napa’s Sequoia Grove Wines
- East Coast-based wholesaler Banville Wine Merchants (multiple brands)
- Wholesaler Winebow Fine Wines (multiple brands)
DJ Mel’s Closing Set
Austin legend DJ Mel always closes the festival with a set of popular favorites (think Prince, Madonna, Beyoncé, Daft Punk, and classic hip-hop) before the crowd disperses. The festival ends, as it should, with dancing and revelry during the final 90 minutes of the weekend. Grab a drink before the dancing, since beverage service closes promptly (and by law) at 5:30 p.m., with some booths erring on the side of caution and stopping a bit before that. If you’d like a drink for the dance party, grab it at least 15 minutes before closing.
The closing hour of the festival is spirited, and excess consumption is par for the course. Remember to be safe when heading home.
The entrance to Austin Food & Wine Festival.