Though there is plenty of competition for the crown, Aaron Franklin has to be among the top contenders for king of the Austin area barbecue. As the owner, proprietor and namesake of Franklin Barbecue, the man from Bryan, Texas cooks up some of the tastiest ribs in all of Austin, with crowds gathering sometimes several hours before the restaurant opens each day. And as his stock has risen, Franklin the chef has helped elevate the Austin culinary scene to new heights, drawing national praise that has helped solidify the city’s place among elite dining destinations. Now, Franklin is taking steps to further Austin’s profile. As Texas Monthly reported, Franklin is set to help launch a new food festival in Austin sometime in 2016.
Fun and fresh
Details of the festival, which is currently without a name, first leaked during Franklin’s rare competitive cooking appearance at the September 2015 edition of Feast Portland, a multi-purpose cooking event held in the Oregon city. As Texas Monthly revealed, Franklin will serve as a co-founder of the festival alongside Mike Thelin, who helps run Feast Portland, and James Moody, who is one of the primary promoters behind the popular Fun Fun Fun music festival.
According to Thelin, the trio hope to launch the festival sometime in spring 2016, and though details are sparse, there could very well be a live music component in addition to the high-end cocktails and near-endless array of smoked meats. What is certain, though, is that this festival will have a noticeable connection to that other American culinary capital, Portland.
“Our motivation is friendship. We’re doing this in Austin because two of the three founders live there,” Thelin said. “And because Austin, like Portland, is one of the epicenters of joyful eating. That’s why Paul Qui is there when he could easily be a star in New York or Barcelona. Eating there is about celebration, not pretense. I love that about both of our cities.”
Speaking with the Austin American-Statesman, Franklin said that the festival will have at least one distinct theme: fire. He added that overall, the event will have a certain level of intimacy, as the organizers will invite only friends and others from the food world whom they hold in high regard to compete and show off their cooking skills. Finally, Franklin noted there will be a welding shop on the festival grounds, meaning chefs will have access to any number of cooking apparatuses.
Meanwhile, Austin Business Journal claimed the festival will no doubt draw inspiration from Moody’s other festival. Specifically, the Austin food festival should have loads of kitsch and character, as Fun Fun Fun Fest is noted for its unique aesthetic and accompanying artwork.
If the Franklin-led festival does indeed kick off in spring 2016, it will go head-to-head with Austin Food & Wine Festival. Set for April 22 to 24, 2016, the Austin Food & Wine Festival is organized by C3, a local events management company that is also responsible for the Austin City Limits Music Festival and concerts at venues like Stubb’s BBQ and La Zona Rosa. Despite being the only two springtime food festivals in town, Thelin told Texas Monthly that he doesn’t believe the two events will be competitors, as the new festival has a slightly different focus compared to Food & Wine.
“We’re not encompassing a region as Feast does,” he said. “But the common element with Feast is that we’ll heavily curate the talent and experience. We’ll go for the obsessive cooks – the ones that would just cook at home if they didn’t have a restaurant. Aaron’s a great example; he’s obsessed with perfect barbecue and puts everything he has into his craft.”
Even if there is competition between the two festivals, the real winner will be all of Austin. According to The Caterer, food festivals can benefit an entire city’s culinary scene. Specifically, hospitality operators and local growers all experience an economic boom during festivals; plus, these events are a way for many local, food-related businesses to market themselves and do a little public relations work on the side. Festivals are most prosperous, though, when every party works together, with each business offering promotion and partnership to other participating groups.