When we first set out to go to the Austin Food & Wine Festival, I was looking to find the answer to, “what’s next?” However, after spending time in Austin, I started to realize there wasn’t necessarily a specific answer to that question. No one can tell the future. People can only guess at trends. But in Austin I found things that were real. I found refreshing evidence of what’s happening in the food world.
I remember a conversation I had with my brother last year. I asked him, “What’s the deal with Texas? Why is every Texan so gung-ho about where they live? You don’t see anyone from Iowa or Maine or New Mexico puffing up their chest and saying state is the only state worth living in.” Well, I can’t tell you the whole deal with Texas, but I feel like I got a glimpse of what the deal is with Texas food.
People in Texas are serious about their food. Nothing is half-assed. Everything is deliberate and thought out far in advance. But, truly, what highlights Texas food is exactly that, it’s food from Texas.
No one at the festival was frying up foie gras. No one was trying to flaunt langoustines or wow you with Kobe beef. What people were cooking was what came from Texas, from their own sweat and dirt. People were cooking with ingredients that grew up in the same plot of dirt, scorched under the same sky, and breathed the same air as they had all their lives.
As I began to notice, what I thought was a trend, I struck up a conversation with a chef about the farm-to-table movement. I noted that it seemed nearly all of the vendors were cooking with some sort of locally sourced ingredient. The chef told me that farm-to-table isn’t a trend, it’s not something nifty you just see in a magazine. He told me it was a way of life, that it was how cooking is supposed to be, and how cooking began.
I guess you never think of settlers and pilgrims waiting around for a new shipment of striped bass or wagyu beef when they were hungry. They just ate where they lived.
It’s not just important to the sustainability of an area, or even the world. It’s important to the innovation to food. Eating locally shouldn’t limit how you cook. It should inspire you to create things in ways no one has ever seen before. I could rant for hours about Rene Redzepi, the Michelin starred chef at Noma in Copenhagen, and the things he’s doing with local produce. But the bottom line of that rant is that eating only what’s in your back yard can lead you to a Michelin star. Eating where you live doesn’t have to constrict your creativity.
Eating where you are means eating fresh food that you can trace back to the seed, back to the birth, back to the inception. Eating where you are builds relationships with hard working people that have calloused hands and sunburnt backs. Eating where you are opens up the doors of innovation and creativity in a host of ways.
I could tell you about Filipino food. I could tell you about the transition back to the center of the plate. I could tell you about fresh spins on old classics. But I won’t because I don’t think that’s what was important about the Austin Food & Wine Festival.
In the end, I guess the deal with Texas is that they’re simply cooking food the way it was meant to be eaten. In the end, the big deal about Texas food is simply that. It’s Texas food.