Matt McCallister's Plans for the Austin Food & Wine Festival

By Farah Fleurima  |  April 23, 2014

This week marks the return of the Austin Food & Wine Festival, a culinary carnival that unites some of Texas’ and the nation’s best chefs and sommeliers for days of prime cuisine and vino sampling. The festivities kick off with Thursday night’s sold-out Feast Under the Stars (entry still available as part of AFWF’s weekend pass) and continues with Friday’s Taste of Texas, Saturday’s Rock Your Taco, and demos, tastings and panels all throughout the weekend.

Six DFW chefs will be representing at AFWF - well, five, kind of, with Andre Natera’s recent relocation to Austin (and it was seven initially; Tim Byres has since pulled out). This year marks FT33 owner-chef Matt McCallister’s first time at the festival, so we picked the recent James Beard Award semifinalist’s brain about what he’ll be up to, what he’ll be eating and who he’ll look forward to seeing in ATX.

Zagat: This is your first year at AFWF - how does it feel to participate?
Matt McCallister: It is always fun to promote what Texas has been doing.

Zagat: What are you most excited about with this experience? 
MM: Catching up with friends that I don’t get to see very often. We are usually trapped on a station in a hot kitchen, so it will be nice to be outside.

Zagat: You’ll be part of the Taste of Texas event - what dish will you be serving up?
MM: Texas Strawberry Soup

Zagat: Do you get starstruck by other chefs? Is there anyone you’ll be excited to see or meet at AFWF?
MM: All of the Texas locals that I have met over the years, and looking forward to meeting John Currence.

Zagat: When you’re in Austin, where do you like to go to eat and drink?
MM: Too many to list. Will definitely visit a few food trucks, like Paul Qui’s East Side King.

Zagat: Austin’s got a vastly different culinary/dining vibe than Dallas, and they’re a little bit ahead of the curve than we tend to be - any ideas on why that is?
MM: Austin is a younger city and also smaller. They are two different markets completely. I try to not think about what city I am currently in, but focus on what I can do to evolve what I do every day, and be better at it.

Zagat: You’re having a big year, in terms of honors - first the James Beard Award semifinalist nod, then inclusion in Food & Wine's Best New Chefs. Do you feel overwhelmed in a way, or pressure, or is it a good feeling? 
MM: Yes. It is a lot to take in within such a short time. It has been a fun ride; it pushes me to be better everyday. We definitely aren’t going to sit back and relax but will keep pushing forward.

Zagat: Speaking of honors, you’re also the defending Iron Fork champ, and now we know who your competitor is (Oak’s executive chef Richard Gras) - is there any kind of strategy at all you can bring to the table in a secret-ingredient competition?
MM: I never have much of a strategy. I just bring a few items and roll with it.

Scope out what the rest of our regional kitchen pros will be doing at AFWF by perusing the festival schedule, or check out this handy shortlist of where they'll be when:

Tim Love (Lonesome Dove, Woodshed Smokehouse, Queenie’s Steakhouse): Thursday, Feast Under the Stars; Friday and Saturday, Surf, Turf & Earth demo; Saturday, Rock Your Taco

Omar Flores (Casa Rubia): Friday, Taste of Texas

Matt McCallister (FT33): Friday, Taste of Texas

Andre Natera: Friday, Taste of Texas

Kent Rathbun (Jasper’s, Abacus): Thursday, Feast Under the Stars; Saturday, Rock Your Taco and a demo, "Smoking for Non-Smokers"

Blaine Staniford (Grace): Friday, Taste of Texas