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First Austin Food & Wine Festival Gets Cooking

Gail Simmons says Austin is bursting with creativity.
Photo courtesy Austin Food & Wine Festival
Gail Simmons says Austin is bursting with creativity.

Austin’s long been known as the Live Music Capital of the World. But these days the city’s also on the map for its food scene.  Today the first Austin Food and Wine festivalkicks off at Auditorium shores. We sat down with Gail Simmons, a judge on Top Chef and a figure at Food and Wine magazine, about what’s on tap at the festival and why they chose Austin in the first place. 

KUT: What was it about Austin that attracted you and the festival here?

Gail Simmons: "Interestingly, I think both art and craft in Austin are alive and well. It's a young, energetic city, obviously partially because of the huge student culture here. And it's just full of great art and great design and great music. And it only makes sense that food would follow.

Over the last several years, we've seen a huge surge in great, creative young talent in the food world. There's been some great young chefs coming out of Texas, notably Tyson Cole at Uchiand Bryce Gilmore at Barley Swine just a year or two ago. Those are only two of them, certainly. But there seems to be a great energy here, a great mix of cultures and cuisines creating this signature style that Austin is really known for now.

That can be seen on the streets by the unbelievable food truck culture here that is by far ahead of any other city in this country. They are like the "OGs" ["original gangsters"] of the food truck situation. It's unlike anything. New York, we're like babies, we're amateurs in comparison.

So I think that's really what lured us. This is the energy that we really try and capture in the magazine every month, so it just made sense to do something here three-dimensionally."

KUT: We take a lot of pride here in Austin about how evolved our own food scene has become in the last couple of years. If this something you see in other parts of the country as well?

Gail Simmons: "There's no question. I think that this is a great moment to eat in America. And I think there's a lot of cities that are kind of reinventing themselves. We're coming out of a little bit of a depressed time in the country, it's been an uneasy few years. But the last three or four years have really forced us to think about food differently. To think about it locally, to think about it in terms of affordability, sustainability and accessibility. And I mean [that] literally, the thought that some people don't have access to fresh food.

So I think that people are really re-thinking food and making it more approachable. But at the same time, I think that we all travel more, we all read more, we all watch more television, we all are more evolved ourselves, so we want more. And so Austin has certainly gone along those lines.

But I see it everywhere. I do a lot of traveling all of the country. Cities like Charleston, New Orleans, all of them are Southern-rooted cities that are taking the traditional foods of their area and bringing them to the world in a really exciting way. Mixing them with Korean food, with Mexican food, with Japanese food, with other global influences but also getting to their roots at the same time."

We'll have more on the Austin Food & Wine Festival over this weekend.