By Rosie Carbo, Texas Wine and Trail April 03, 2014
On Thursday, nearly 1,000 people converged on the Inaugural Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival kick-off party at Billy Bob’s Texas, the world famous honky tonk situated in the equally famous Fort Worth Stockyards.
But first, Russell Kirkpatrick, executive director and the festival’s co-founder, welcomed a select group of guests, including former mayor Mike Moncrief and his wife, Rosie, to the 81 Club for a pre-party reception.
“We’ve traveled to Aspen and other places to see their food and wine events. But I think that over the years we’ve shown that Fort Worth is ready for something like this,” Kirkpatrick told the crowd.“We have award-winning chefs and great restaurants, and we think it’s time everyone knew about it. What we want is to be the next culinary destination; that’s the long-term goal,” Kirkpatrick added.
That said, attendees began a ceremonial countdown while current Fort Worth Mayor, Betsy Price, officially kicked off the four-day festival by whacking off of the top of a bottle of 2011 Saint-Hilaire champagne with a sabre.“There are great things happening in the city of Fort Worth,” Price said, leading attendees, organizers and volunteers in an official “first toast” in accordance with the traditional French sabrage custom.
Shortly after, the crowd dispersed and headed across Rodeo Plaza to Billy Bob’s. Once inside it was easy to see that local residents were hungry for their own city-based food and wine event. “We had been to “Denims and Diamonds” in Richland Hills, but hadn’t heard about this one. So I think this is great to support Fort Worth and Texas wines,” said Fort Worth resident Byron Griggs, who together with his wife, Michelle, heard about the new festival on “the ranch” radio station.
Even before the 7 pm party time guests flocked to the mammoth designated festival area. Many female guests sported Western apparel with rhinestone-studded cowboy boots. Some men wore rugged leather boots, bolo ties, macho buckled-belts and a Stetson, the iconic Texas hat. Once they rushed passed giant neon beer and spirit signs and passed an enormous dance floor, guests received a plastic glass. This was like a rite of passage through double doors and into the massive main event.
Country rock sounds were already blaring, even though a Stoney LaRue live music concert was not scheduled until 9:30 pm. Festivalgoers seemed to enjoy the music as they made a beeline to savor chef-prepared hors d’oeuvres and sip a selection of beverages. Participating chefs included: Jon Bonnell, Bonell’s and Waters; Terry Chandler, Fred’s; Keith Hicks, Button’s; Mark Hitri,Billy Bob’s; Lanny Lancarte II, Lanny’s, Marcus Paslay, Clay Pigeon; Tim Love, Lonesome Dove; Molly McCook, Ellerbe, Dena Peterson, Cafe Modern; Juan Hernandez, Reata; Blaine Staniford, Grace, Michael Thomson, Michael’s and Donatella Trotti of Nonna Tata.
Featured Texas wines at Thursday evening’s kick-off party included Richmond-based Braman Winery, Brennan Vineyards in Comanche, Eden Hill of Celina Farm & Vineyard and Llano Estacado in Lubbock. For non-wine drinkers there were plenty of other libations such as hand-crafted beer by Granbury-based Revolver Brewing and Rahr & Sons Brewing. There was also Texas-made whisky by Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. Tito’s Vodka was there, too.
Friday evening drew an even larger crowd as more than 1,000 food and wine lovers, most donned in their best Western apparel, attended the Grand Tasting at the Renaissance Worthington Hotel in romantic downtown Fort Worth. Upon entering the Grand Tasting ballroom, guests were handed a carbon copy of the plastic glass they received the night before at Billy Bob’s. They were told not to lose it, since they needed to use it throughout the evening.
The spectacular event featured more than 100 national and international wines. More than forty restaurants from Fort Worth and Dallas, participated in the event. Award-winning guest chefs were: John Tesar of Spoon Bar & Kitchen, Tom Perini of Perini’s Ranch Steakhouse and Matt McCallister of FT33.
Local participating restaurants included: Wild Mushroom, Nonna Tata, Tokyo Café, Reata, Ellerbe, The Capital Grill, Fort Worth Ruth Chris and the Omni Fort Worth Cast Iron. Dallas-based Barter restaurant also participated. Grace, Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana and newly opened Clay Pigeon are a few of the one-of-a-kind Fort Worth restaurants that were represented, so their chef-prepared and chef-inspired creations were especially attractive.
Chef Blaine Staniford of Grace and Little Red Wasp encouraged me to try his chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped date. I was pleasantly surprised that my palate loved the sweetness mixed with a touch of salt from the Applewood-smoked bacon. Texas wineries again included Llano Estacado, Brennan Vineyards, Braman Winery and Eden Hill farms and winery. Award-winning Texas wines are available at grocery stores and liquor stores statewide.
Wines ran the gamut from well-known to up-and coming, such as Italy’s Ergo Fine Wines. One taste of this excellent Sangiovese and Cabernet blend conjured images of Tuscany’s famous super Tuscans. Spain’s emblematic Marque de Casares was a familiar international brand, but there were equally famous wines from France, Chile, Argentina and South Africa. National wine brands included those from Napa and Sonoma.
On Saturday from 10 am to 5:45 pm local and television celebrity chefs shared recipes with festivalgoers at a free daylong event at Sundance Square. Meanwhile, “Museums & Mimosas” was held for full, four-day festival package holders. The hour long event at the Modern Art Museum began at noon and focused on the David Bates exhibition.
The Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival offered a Saturday slate of events, and somewhat of an encore of Friday night’s Grand Tasting with a “Sip & Savor” event from 11 am to 2 pm at the opulent Renaissance Worthington Hotel. Bass Performance Hall was the setting for a special luncheon Saturday.
“Tastes of the World, An Epicurean Stroll Through the Arts” was prepared by Texas celebrity chefs Stephan Pyles and Jon Bonnell. With room for only 150 guests, attendees paid $500 each. The luncheon featured rare wines and performances by the city best performing artists. Edwards Ranch was the laid-back setting for the “Burgers, Brews and Blues” event from 6 to 9 pm Saturday evening. Delicious sliders were paired with 26 Fort Worth craft breweries, including Rahr & Sons Brewing and Martin House.
The four-day showcasing of Fort Worth’s finest chefs, restaurants, craft brews and spirits culminated on Sunday with a fundraiser for Meals on Wheels Inc. of Greater Tarrant County.
Two old fashioned Chuck Wagons anchored to the Coyote Drive-In formed a distinct Western backdrop to an open-air affair that included a dozen popular North Texas food trucks. Taco Heads, Daddy Bob’s Smoke Wagon, Salsa Limon, the Guava Tree Truck and several other food trucks served up their unique brand of home cooking from 3 to 5 pm and beyond. The Fort Worth festival benefits the Fort Worth Food and Wine Foundation, a nonprofit whose goals include raising funds for local grant programs, culinary scholarships, and raising national awareness about the culinary scene in Fort Worth.
Organizers are already brainstorming to see how they can improve on the first Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival. And while only the Billy Bob’s kick-off party and Saturday’s “Burgers, Blues and Brews” sold out, there’s no doubt the inaugural festival was a toast-worthy success.