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A Taste of Austin, TX

Get to know the vibe of this Tex-Mex town

It's almost time: next week, event pros across the globe will be gathering under the hot Texas sun for Catersource + The Special Event, held in the increasingly popular city of Austin.

While this city was a well-kept secret for a while, recent years have seen it grow in population and tourism. Voted No. 1 place to live in America several years in a row, this booming city is a trendy spot for bachelorette parties and tech startups. It’s also a fantastic foodie spot.

Special Events got in touch with a couple of established catering companies in Austin to get the inside scoop on this food scene. Here’s what you need to know when you arrive for Catersource + The Special Event this February.

Special Events (SE): What is unique about the Austin food/catering scene?

Lindsey Ganther, Sales & Client Services Manager, Contigo Catering (LG): 
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Austin's food scene is incredibly diverse, offering a wide range of culinary experiences. From traditional Texas barbecue, Tex-Mex, gourmet food trucks, and a growing international food presence, the city is leaning into its reputation for being open to culinary experimentation.

Leslie LaSorsa, General Manager, Crave Catering (LL):
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Unique are the long standing family traditions in barbecue and Tex-Mex food, plus the funky newcomers all trying their thing usually in food trucks…so now we have this eclectic mash up of fried chicken, ramen houses, world class sushi, Indian, Venezuelan, Thai, and Vietnamese, and so much of this is done very farm-to-table.

SE: What types of food/dishes is Austin known for?

LG: Oh boy! So much. To list a few: 

  • Barbecue: Central Texas-style barbecue. Brisket, beef ribs, and sausages are staples. 
  • Tex-Mex: Tex-Mex combines elements of traditional Mexican cuisine with influences from Texas. This fusion has resulted in a distinct and beloved regional cuisine known as Tex-Mex, the spicier the better!! 
  • Honorable Mentions: Kolaches*, breakfast tacos, crawfish boils, and Franken Tacos (creative and unconventional taco combinations).

*Editor’s Note: Kolaches are sweet Czech pastries, like Danish pastries but denser in consistency.

LL: Texas Oak Smoked Barbecue and Tex-Mex, tacos, chili con queso

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Tiny tacos atop a lime vessel from Crave Catering are certainly popular in Texas. Photo courtesy of the caterer

SE: What are the flavors of Austin?

LG: What comes to mind is spice! Austin's food scene is bold and spicy! You can find dishes with varying degrees of spiciness, from mild to fiery hot. And when it's not hot enough, you can always count on a trusty jalapeno to dial up the heat! Even our barbecue sauce has a kick to it!

LL: Salsa and barbecue sauce, smoke and salt, margaritas and Old Fashioneds

SE: Name three words that describe the general aesthetic of the food scene in Austin.

LG: Eclectic. Vibrant. Innovative.

LL: Accessible. Comfortable. Come-back.

SE: How has the food scene changed in Austin over the years?

LG: A few things we have noticed are: 

  • There has been a diversity boom in this city, with an increasing number of restaurants and demand for caterers to serve international cuisines. This opens the door for lots of creativity with the creation of unique dishes that fuse diverse flavor profiles and ingredients.  
  • Austin's food scene has gained national attention, with numerous restaurants, food trucks, and chefs earning countless awards, solidifying the city's reputation as a culinary destination. We are seeing so many corporate groups and destination weddings who want to experience this for themselves! 
  • The food scene in Austin has evolved to reflect the changing tastes and preferences of both residents and visitors; the same trends we see in local restaurants translate over to the catering requests we see daily.

LL: I’d say it was much more straightforward with barbecue, Tex-Mex, and Southern comfort (did I mention chicken fried steak is a staple in the food repertoire, along with mashers and gravy?).

The imagination of these two Austin, TX caterers—how they plate, how they combine colors and textures to create an appeal that goes beyond flavor—makes it one of the primary reasons they were selected to chair events at Catersource + The Special Event in February 2024. We are delighted that they will be able to wow our attendees and provide the hospitality that is paramount to their businesses to people from across the U.S. and abroad. Photos  courtesy of the caterers

SE: What are the challenges you face with heat when catering outdoors? How do you overcome them?

LG: Boy oh boy! The heat in the summers is something you never get used to. While our industry does slow down significantly in the hot months, we still do produce events for our clients. We love live-fire cooking, and in the summer, it can get over 200 degrees near the fire table. We have policies in place to make sure our staff is safe in exhaustive environments, such as using fans, portable coolers, rotating AC brakes, and more. But it still is ever-challenging.

LL: We can handle the heat as it relates to food through equipment and menu design (how about no charcuterie at 5:00 p.m. for cocktail hour) and perhaps a few displays on ice blocks. It’s mostly our staff we have to take care of. We not only have inclement rain plans but also inclement heat plans that require coverage such as tents and fans. We also supply ice water, cold cloths in a cooler at the resorts, and several options for staying hydrated, including frozen electrolyte pops, Gatorade, and tons of water, as well as additional uniform options during the hottest months.

SE: Does Texas having its own power grid affect your business at all?

LG: Not necessarily. There is always a potential to lose inventory when power is out, but that is not often. And since we are in the event industry, we have a generator on standby!

LL: It hasn’t really, except back during the Snowpocalypse of 2021. That shut the metro Austin area down for well over a week. We haven’t really thought about the fact that Texas is on its own power grid…but I guess I’ll add it to my list!

SE: What do our readers need to know about Austin food before they head to Texas for our conference in February?

LG: We are not meat and potatoes people (unless it's brisket and potato salad)! We are constantly pushing the envelope and never want to produce boring food. In our industry, we continually strive to remain on the cutting edge, crafting delectable dishes that mirror our city's deep passion for culinary excellence. We are all foodies and will preach it till we are blue in the face. 

LL: Make reservations before you come! Even though most places aren’t fancy, the hot spots get booked up. And when in doubt, grab a Whataburger and roll down to Lady Bird Lake and enjoy! It’s all about the ambience; soak it in.

Get a Taste of Austin's Catering at Catersource + The Special Event

Crave Catering is this year’s official Catering Ambassador of Catersource + The Special Event, to be held in Austin, TX February 12–15, 2024. Also in attendance will be Lindsey Ganther and Contigo Catering, co-chairing the Opening Night Party. Keep your eyes open for more details about this evening event!

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