2005 Texas Wine and Food Festival

Editor David Feder urges culinary professionals to stop and smell the Yellow Rose in April.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

There's an old saying: "You can take the boy out of Texas but you can't take the Texas out of the boy." This is all too true, and it hits hardest at the tail end of a cold Midwestern winter. In a word, I'm homesick. But that's OK. Next month, two great events for food professionals are occurring consecutively back home.

Home for me is both Dallas and Austin. I grew up in Dallas but lived many years in Austin. And Austin is where you should head to first, for the annual Saveur magazine Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, from April 7 through 10. (For more information and registration details go to www.texaswineandfood.org or call 512-542-9463.)

It's the perfect time of year to be in Austin. Temperatures are warm yet mild, bluebonnets and wildflowers carpet the hills and highway medians (thank you Lady Byrd) and the people are friendly and beautiful as always. And the food, well, it's flat-out wonderful. Austin is the home to both Whole Foods Market and Central Market. I've had friends from both coasts tell me they found food items in those stores they could not find in New York and California.

But the restaurants will really knock you out. Not to knock the bicoastal contingent, but I think the restaurants of Texas show more innovation and more variety than I've seen just about anywhere. No trip to the Austin area is complete without going to Salt Lick, a barbecue roadhouse half an hour into the hill country in Driftwood, Texas. (For directions, go to www.saltlickbbq.com or call 512-858-4959.) Bring your own Shiner Bock beer and a big appetite.

In town, Austin boasts scores of great Tex-Mex joints, but three merit special attention: Guerro's, Evita Botanita and, at the apex, Las Manitas. Las Manitas, downtown near the convention center, serves the best Tex-Mex breakfast you'll ever eat, and lunch is stellar, although head there early because it gets packed fast with celebrities and politicos - George Bush included. Pay your tab at the register and don't miss the pecan pralines in the basket next to it; they are Texas heaven.

After the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, you'll have a few days to knock around the hill country, and there's no better place in my opinion than the Red Corral Ranch. This mini retreat - only 10 rooms - 40 minutes from the city (same "neighborhood" as Salt Lick, in fact) is a combination of rustic and plush that works perfectly. They also recently completed a stunning new kitchen "school" and herb garden where cooking lessons are offered and events catered.

The idyllic setting is calming and peaceful, and the food always filling and excellent. They're motto, "Nurturing people and the land," says it all. Prices for a weekend there are astoundingly low - I've been telling the owners for years they are undercharging people but they refuse to raise their prices to meet the 21st century. Learn more at www.redcorralranch.com or call 866-833-4801.

The International Association of Culinary Professionals is meeting in Dallas, April 13 through 16. This annual meeting brings together so many disciplines of the professional food world it should be considered as one of the top "must attend" meetings for anyone earning their living by - or even just living for - food.

Mingle with research chefs, restaurant chefs, cheesemakers, vintners, table top experts and food writers in the heart of downtown. For details, go to www.iacp.com or call 502-581-9786.

If you're kicking yourself for having missed Central Market while you were in Austin, there are several locations in Dallas. That week they are hosting Fritz Sonnenschmidt, a certified master chef, recently retired after 34 years at The Culinary Institute of America, where he served as a faculty member, department chair, associate director of continuing education and culinary dean. He'll be teaching some cooking classes there.

Past IACP president and current regional chair Paula Lambert's Mozzarella Company should be a stop while you're in the Big D. Her fromagerie, just east of downtown, provides award-winning artisanal cheeses to restaurants, stores and just plain folks across the country. Also downtown is the Farmer's Market, where you'll find several city blocks taken up by scores of area farmers, large and small, selling pyramids of the freshest produce.

Dallas is one of the big restaurant towns, with more eateries per capita than most other cities. The IACP program includes junkets to several of the best in the high-dollar category, but you should also visit some of the less ritzy places off the beaten track. My favorites are Mai's for outstanding Vietnamese; perennial Zagat favorite India Palace; and Celebration Restaurant, a Dallas tradition for comfort food.

This is the mere tip of the culinary iceberg in Dallas, Austin, and the Great State itself have to offer. I hope to see y'all there.

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