Culinaria Cooks Up a San Antonian Feast

San Antonians sip and savor the best of Texas and Mexico during Culinaria

Some of the events at Culinaria include wine tastings and a food truck contest.

San Antonio’s 13th annual Culinaria Wine & Food Arts Festival, which features internationally renowned vintners, top Texas wine producers, and the hottest San Antonio chefs, kicks off May 16.

"I look at Culinaria as a way to reinvent myself and reinvent my cuisine," said Jesse Perez, who left his post as executive chef of Fuego in Los Angeles, where he won a Flavors of Passion National Award (considered the James Beard Award for Latin chefs), to return home to San Antonio to pursue new culinary adventures. "I like to bring things that people might not normally see from me — a chance to play around with different techniques, different dishes."

New this year is the Barbacoa Brunch, a feast of traditional Mexican barbecues from various regions like Nortena, Poblana, and Yucateca, and a mobile food truck competition featuring 30 food trucks serving Latin, Asian, and New American cuisine.

The five-day event, which runs May 16 to 20, has wine tasting and blending events at nearby vineyards, a Best of Mexico feast May 18 that features one of the largest tequila tastings in Texas, and Burgers, BBQ, Beers & Texas, a salute to some of the most beloved Texas backyard fare and brews.

Wednesday’s events include Sip, Savor, and Shop, a combo wine-tasting and culinary feast paired with shopping along the cobblestone street of The Shops at La Cantera.

And Thursday, San Antonio’s best chefs are pairing up with local winemakers to present intimate dinners that include advice on wine selection at restaurants throughout San Antonio.

Chefs appearing at this year’s Culinaria include Jeff Balfour of Citrus at Hotel Valencia River Walk, who has been whipping up creative dishes for the past eight years at Culinaria.

"I love the more intimate events, but when you’re talking about Culinaria, that can be an event with 800 to 1,000 people," said Balfour, who cites Sunday’s Burgers, BBQ, Beer, & Texas as a highlight. "Last year we cooked in paella pans instead of a traditional grill and did a sort of a shrimp and pork boudain."

John Brand, executive chef of Las Canarias and Ostra agrees. "Burgers are approachable for everybody," said Brand. "The best burger you’ve ever had is going to be at that event."

Brand is also preparing a menu for the Winemakers Dinners. Brand is still mulling over his options for this year, but last year he made duck egg agnolotti with langostines, American sturgeon caviar, and local English pea broth; tuna invotini with Kurabota pork, beet jam, rusty goat cheese, and avocado oil; breast of Muscovy duck stuffed with duck leg confit, served with warm bitter greens, Pedro Jimenez sherry and foie gras vinaigrette, fava beans, heirloom carrots, and lavender honey; and for dessert, crispy Caraibe chocolate polenta cake with white chocolate, cajete, compressed rhubarb, and strawberry chips.