I was lucky enough to attend the first Austin Food & Wine Festival this past weekend.
Fort Worth's own celebrity Chef Tim Love was the host of the event that featured an all-star lineup that included the likes of Marcus Sameulsson, Michelle Bernstein, Andrew Zimmern, Gaile Simmons and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. A few thousand foodies descended on Austin's Auditorium Shores & Republic Square Park for cooking demonstrations, taco smackdowns, sushi extravaganzas and the highlight of the three-day festival, Tim Love's Grills Gone Wild.
The Texas-sized hands-on grilling demo was billed as the world's largest, with 100 grills fired up and ready to sizzle two steaks apiece.
I have been known to grill a steak now and then, OK maybe once a week, so I had to check this out.
I arrived an hour early, and boy what a sight! One hundred grills were lined up like auditorium seats, and at the center was a raised stage with Love's charcoal grill on it.
Then it hit me charcoal grills? All 100?
The thought of lighting one charcoal grill and getting it up to temp on time can be daunting. A hundred sounds insane. But the theme here was grill big or go home.
They use wads of newspapers instead of lighter fluid to spark up the grills. (Lighter fluid x 100 ... now that would've been scary!)
But they were pouring a clear, flammable liquid at each grill station. Turned out to be tequila in shot glasses. I should've known. This was Tim Love's show, after all.
This class opened the festival bright and early at 9 a.m. on Saturday. By each grill was a cooler containing a very nice looking strip steak and some skirt steak, a green vegetable and a bottle of white wine. Tequila, white wine? This really is Grills Gone Wild!
The steaks were restaurant quality. Frankly, I was expecting chicken or hamburger meat in the coolers, but as one of the festival helpers said: Not with Chef Love! Made me proud to be from Fort Worth.
(Of course, festival attendees did pay $250 for festival admission; VIPS paid $850.)
The gates to the festival opened and a horde of guests rushed in to claim a grill. A volunteer named Phil, who must have been a retired drill sergeant, used a "command voice" to get everyone in line.
At this point it was starting to feel like the buildup before a rock concert. Anticipation was in the air, along with the smell of charcoal and Tequila. Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love" is playing over the speakers, and chef Love is by his trailer doing a bit of air guitar.
After a brief introduction, Love jumped up on stage and got down to business, explaining the finer tips of grilling, pausing for occasional shots of Tequila. Helpers with microphones dispersed into the crowd so guests could ask Love questions. He even pulled a couple of guests up on stage to help out.
At one point I started to wonder if the fire department was warned that this many grills were set up in the park. Love had everyone lift the lids to their grills at the same time to flip steaks and it looked like one giant smoke signal! Plus, I don't think I will ever forget the intense smell of 200 steaks cooking at the same time.
Here are some of Love's grill tips
1. Always start with a hot grill, and have a spray bottle handy to control flair ups.
2. Use peanut oil instead of olive oil when grilling meats and vegetables because, Love said, peanut oil can withstand higher temperatures whereas olive oil will break down and burn.
3. Brush your steaks with oil, then season them before grilling, using twice as much salt as you think you need. (Most people don't season meat enough.) Pat the seasoning into the steaks to help close the pores of the meat.
4. Let steaks come up to room temperature before putting on the grill. Don't just pull it out of the fridge and plop it on the grill.
5. Keep the grill cover closed and resist the urge to peek at your meat on the grill. The heat needs to stay trapped in there. Love stressed this point, and he even suggested drinking white wine while you are grilling, to take your mind off peeking.
6. And here is something new for me. After pulling your steaks and letting them rest, put them back on the grill for a couple of minutes to finish the steaks. You now can serve the steaks straight off the grill with no need to rest them again.
Be sure to check out the slide show above the story to see all the grilling fun!
Lastly, how were the steaks? Let's just say I was too busy eating to take notes.