ATE DAY8 of FWF+WF

Laurie James | Fort Worth Weekly

We’re less than a month away from the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, the signature four-day event that seeks to foster, celebrate, and sustain Fort Worth’s hospitality community. The FWF+WF celebrates a decade of culinary goodness this year, and there’s been a decided shift over the last few years to include more women- and minority-owned businesses. Here’s what some past and present participants have to say.

1.) Julie Eastman (center) has been involved with the festival since its inception and became executive director in 2016. The nonprofit puts on a party with a purpose: Since 2014, donations have funded more than $113,000 in student scholarships and culinary classroom equipment. During COVID, Eastman said the festival raised more than $110,000 for restaurant employee relief. And the yearly FWF+WF Craft Conferences allow local high school culinary arts students to mix and mingle with local chefs and restaurateurs and to attend panels discussing everything from pitmaster tips and urban farming to strategies for making it in the hospitality industry. A few local culinary students assist in booths at the festival, which Eastman says is “an amazing opportunity to work with the area’s best chefs.”

2.) Gigi Howell is another OG (Original Gal) who’s participated in the FWF+WF for the better part of the last decade, usually as part of someone else’s restaurant. This year, Howell is a partner owner in two (soon to be four) eateries, and you can catch up with her at two events. Howell and partner Bourke Harvey just bought West Side Café (7950 Camp Bowie West, 817-560-1996), and they’ll be at Rise + Dine Sat, Apr 6, for brunch. That night, Howell’s JD’s Burgers (9901 Camp Bowie West, JDsHamburgers.com) will serve sliders at Burgers, Brews + Blues. Her favorite part of the festival? “The city is so supportive of the food industry. We take care of our own here.”

3.) Sydney McPherson brings her signature Brute to Burgers, Brews + Blues. A specialty at Big Kat Burgers (200 Bryan Av, 817-266-5274), it’s a slider-sized jalapeno popper-style burger with buttermilk jalapeno-cilantro ranch and cream cheese infused with jalapeno-bacon jam. McPherson said her grandfather taught her to cook, and the burger is one of the most popular items coming off Big Kat’s grill. Manager McPherson’s team learned last year that they had to account for the time it takes to prep and build their featured item — too many condiments delays the presentation. McPherson’s favorite thing about the fest? “We’re excited to do this. It’s like our team building. We work so hard, but there’s a big sense of community.”

4.) Zameika Williams is a culinary instructor, owner of Luckey G’s Gourmet Bistro (LuckeyGsLegacy@gmail.com, 817-296-7961), and is also Crowley ISD’s 2023 Teacher of the Year. It’s her second year participating, and she’s one of those mom-and-pop businesses Shaskan mentioned. Her food truck is named after her grandparents, who inspired her to cook. At Tacos + Tequila Thu, Apr 4, she’ll serve “a curried beef taco on a wonton shell with whipped goat cheese.” As a culinary educator, she’s passionate about the mission of the foundation and hires youth from her culinary classes to help run her food truck in the summers. Williams calls the event “a chef family reunion — we all know each other, and I love seeing everyone.”

5.) Frances Juru owns Smackin Mac (SmacinMacFW@gmail.com, 682-812-0206), a gourmet mac ’n’ cheese food truck you can find most often at the Alliance Truck Yard. Juru, the winner of the North Texas Food Truck Challenge for Best Comfort Food, is participating for her third year. This year, she’ll provide some side action at Burgers, Brews + Blues. Juru went from being the designated mac ’n’ cheese purveyor at her family gatherings to a small business owner, and for her, her festival participation translates into an increase in corporate jobs she’s been offered over the intervening year. And she said that the increased presence of women-owned businesses at the FWF+WF “helps give us a platform we wouldn’t otherwise have and lets the community know a little bit more about women in the food industry.”

6.) Host of the Babes of Que podcast, Betina Miller (center) became involved in the FWF+WF two years ago when her family’s M&M BBQ Company brought equipment for participant Brandon Hurtado. Last year, husband Mike Miller, who owns the company that produces equipment for Hurtado Barbecue and Goldee’s BBQ, had a scheduling conflict, but that didn’t stop Betina from gathering a group of women pitmasters, including Goldee’s Cecilia Guerro and Kimberly Ovalle, and showing out. She and her group will be back at Ring of Fire Sun, Apr 7. “I love the idea of getting women out to show off what they can do. BBQ women are not catty. They’re here to help each other.”

7.) Dena Peterson Shaskan from Wines from a Broad (317 Houston St, 682-224-0056) was one of the few original female chefs participating in the FWF+WF 10 years ago. Shaskan said that by Year 2, the festival “had exploded.” Although she started participating when she was the chef of Café Modern, Shaskan’s current business ventures prohibited participation this year. “I think the FWF+WF has tried really hard to help the smaller business be able to participate. A lot of mom-and-pop places don’t have enough staff to be at the restaurant cooking the food and also staff the events.”

8.) Big Kat’s Brute is one good-lookin’ burger, and if you want to bite into it and so much more, tickets to all the FWF+WF festivities (April 4-7) at Clearfork Heart of the Ranch (5000 Clearfork Main St) are at FWFWF.ticketsauce.com. Ride-sharing will be a must. Volunteers are needed for Thursday and Sunday shifts. Visit FWFWF.org/get-involved/volunteer/ to sign up.