Highlights From Aaron Franklin's First Hot Luck Festival

Hot Luck founder Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue, along with partners James Moody of The Mohawk and Michael Thelin of Feast Portland, just wrapped up a successful four-day food and music festival that featured more than 50 celebrated chefs from around the country, over half of whom reside right here in Austin.

The concept was inspired by intimate and informal gatherings–drawing on the nostalgia of foods that comfort, and then are reimagined for a new generation. Hot Luck is for anyone who can appreciate a thoughtfully curated sensory experience, minus any pretension. (Note: you'll find the words "hoedown" and "hootenanny" used to describe the event on the Hot Luck website. Boots were optional, koozies were required.)

Humble in presentation, but certainly not lacking in creativity and innovation, samplings were designed to be utensil-free and enjoyed in a picnic atmosphere.

The Whole Enchilada

Hot Luck attendees enjoy food and beverages from festival purveyors at Al Fuego on Saturday, May 20, at The Wild Onion Ranch (Credit: Jaclyn Hubersberger)

In addition to the main events, ticket holders for "The Whole Enchilada" also received access to the "Hi, How Are You?" Welcome Party on Thursday, the Hawaii, Texas Tiki Party on Saturday, and six off-site music shows with headliners The Thurston Moore Group, Black Lips, Shonen Knife, Rayland Baxter, Robert Ellis, and Black Joe Lewis.

There was so much eating, drinking, a hootin' and a hollerin' going on at Hot Luck that it would be impossible to cover it all in one post. Here are some highlights from the two main food events: The Hi Lo and Al Fuego.

The Hi Lo

On the evening of Friday, May 19, Hot Luck heated up with The Hi Lo at Fair Market, where 12 chefs shared dishes they grew up with, that inspired their beginnings in cooking. Participants ran the gamut from Aaron Franklin's (Franklin Barbecue) Mimi & Papa's Pot Roast, to Tyson Cole's (Hai Hospitality) Akami Te–bigeye tuna with watermelon and Thai chiles.

Fiore Tedesco (L'oca d'Oro) presented festival goers with Ricotta Zeppole (Italian doughnuts), while David Norman (Easy Tiger) served a Swedish rye with gravlax and house churned butter. Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie) stayed true to his southern roots with Dewberry Hills Farm chicken liver on white bread. Short ribs were served two ways: with spring onion jam and smoked mushroom butter by David Bull (Second Bar + Kitchen), and in a taco with curried mole and pickled tomatillo chapati by Rene Ortiz (Launderette).

Dessert was covered by Jennifer Tucker's (Jeffrey's) strawberry upside down cake with whipped crème fraîche, and Callie Speer's (Holy Roller) brownie waffles with cold brew ice cream, Amaro cherries, and sour cream.

Al Fuego

On Saturday, May 20, the adventure that was Al Fuego (translated, "to the fire") began with a drive to a local high school in Manchaca, Texas, about 12 miles south of Austin. From there, school bus shuttles transported attendees to The Wild Onion Ranch a few miles away. Upon arriving at the ranch, it was a short walk down the hill and through the hay to reach the 26 chefs sprawled across the area, most of whom were cooking over an open flame.

Highlights included Andrew Wiseheart's (Contigo) version of a cheesesteak, as well as Jesse Griffiths (Dai Due) wild boar suadero tacos with cabbage, pickled onions and chile de arbol salsa. Oyster's were served grilled with Alabama white barbecue sauce, tomato jam, and rib cracklins by Sarah McIntosh (Épicerie), and roasted with barrel aged beet hot sauce and schmaltz by Todd Duplechan (Lenoir).

People didn't mind waiting for the smoked pork jowl musubi with yuzu blackberry jam and smoked tare from Tatsu Aikawa's (Kemuri Tatsu-ya), which consistently had the longest line. And thank goodness for Laura Sawicki (Launderette), who came through with old-fashioned cake donuts to round out all the savory bites.

Libations were provided by two dozen or so breweries, wineries, and distilleries, including many local brands such as Deep Eddy Vodka, Hops and Grain Brewing, Independence Brewing, Austin Eastciders, and Duchman Winery.

The festival concluded with a brunch series, where visiting chefs teamed up with local chefs from Contigo, L'oca D'oro, and The Hightower, followed by a pool party at the iconic and newly reopened Austin Motel on South Congress Avenue.

Hot Luck will donate a portion of the festival’s proceeds to The SAFE Alliance, a merger of Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace that provides support to survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence.

For a full lineup of participating chefs and musicians, visit the festival website.