BUFFALO GAP — “Salute to the Classics” began as the theme to the 2015 Buffalo Gap Wine & Food Summit. On Tuesday, a documentary of the same name debuts at the 22nd Annual San Antonio Film Festival.
It is a documentary that goes behind the scenes of the Wine Summit and three of the most influential chefs in the Texas Southwest cuisine movement who crafted the food at the event — Stephan Pyles, Dean Fearing and Robert Del Grande.
“It’s been a longtime dream to bring those chefs together,” said Lisa Perini, who, with her husband, Tom Perini, is one of the founders of the Wine Summit, which takes place at Perini Ranch.
The Wine Summit was founded in 2005 by the Perinis, the late Fess Parker of Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard and Dr. Richard Becker of Becker Vineyards.
The chefs for that first event were Jeff Blank from Hudson’s on the Bend in Austin, Matt Martinez from Matt’s Rancho Martinez in Dallas, Michael Thomson of Michael’s Restaurant in Fort Worth, Grady Spears, author of “Texas Cowboy Kitchen,” Paula Lambert from The Mozzarella Co. in Dallas, Pam Goble of Candies by Vletas in Abilene, and of course, Tom Perini.
Since then, renown chefs such as French Chef Jacques Pépin, Francis Mallman of Argentina, and Jon Bonnell of Fort Worth, among others.
Pyles, Fearing and Del Grande, like cowboy chef Tom Perini, are all James Beard Award winners, one of the most prestigious culinary awards in the world.
Lisa and Tom Perini also wanted to share the event with a larger audience than could be accommodated at the 2015 Wine Summit.
Tom Perini gives full credit to his wife for the idea for the documentary.
“You’ve got to remember, Lisa is very innovative and creative,” he said. “She’s always looking for new and exciting things for the Wine Summit.”
He said she came up with the idea and pursued it.
She approached the Texas Beef Council, one of the sponsors of the Wine Summit, which put her in touch with David Barrow, an Austin filmmaker and big proponent of the local farm-to-market movement. He had directed “True Beef,” which the Beef Council helped sponsor.
Barrow got into filmmaking almost accidentally. When he was a photography student at Baylor University, one of his professors gave him an HD digital camera and asked him to learn how to use the video aspect of it and come back in a week and teach the professor how to use it. Barrow did and he was hooked.
“That’s what sparked it,” he said. He has a second film, a full-length romantic comedy, “Second Impression,” premiering at the San Antonio festival next week. He was the cinematographer on that movie.
Barrow’s interest in food began in San Francisco some years ago when he followed a girl, who happened to be a chef, to the City by the Bay. He started doing chef and food photos and videos, which ignited his interest in the culinary world.
He eventually returned to Texas and in 2011 he was involved in the founding of The Homegrown Revival in Austin, which promotes “local and sustainably grown foods by educating consumers” through dinners, videos and cookbooks. He also made a film called “Farm-City, State” about growing food to feed Austin.
When he got the call about the Perinis and the Wine Summit, it was a bit serendipitous.
“It’s an interesting thing,” Barrow said. In 2014, while working on “True Beef,” he drove through Buffalo Gap on the way to the Panhandle and stopped by Perini Ranch. “It just happened to be the Friday of the Wine Summit.”
The chefs that year were Pyles and Mallman. Mallman was smoking whole lambs on individual racks around a ring of wood and hot coals.
Barrow said Mallman’s cooking method looked very visual and it seemed like a “really cool festival.
“A couple of months later, the Texas Beef Council introduced me to Lisa and Tom,” he said.
“There was an evolution of conversation, obviously, with Tom and Lisa, what they wanted and where they wanted to go.”
One spark of inspiration was an article by Patricia Sharpe in Texas Monthly in August 2014 called “And They Said, ‘Let There Be Cilantro.'”
Sharpe went back to the early 1980s when a group of young Texas chefs, including Pyles, Dearing and Del Grande, were experimenting with local flavors and Texas regional produce and protein. It was the beginning of the Southwest Cuisine explosion.
Lisa Perini asked Barrow to read the article, which he did.
“She was very supportive of me putting my own slant on it,” Barrow said. “What these guys had started, had been told.”
But, the real impact, especially on the chefs who came after Pyles, Fearing and Del Grande, had yet to be explored.
Not only did Barrow and his small crew film the chefs behind the scenes at the Wine Summit, he also visited each chef at his restaurant.
“When we were at the event, we were a fly on the wall. We allowed things to happen,” Barrow said, adding that they shot 15 to 20 hours all told for the 29-minute movie. He made sure that the food was highlighted, but he wanted more. “We also wanted to document the whole thing.”
He also brought in Chris Shepherd, James Beard Award winner and owner of Underbelly in Houston, to interact and cook with Del Grande at his restaurant, RDG + Bar Annie, also in Houston. Shepherd also talks about how the three chefs opened the door for himself and other chefs who followed them and took the flavors and ideas even further.
Barrow spent well over a year on the film and when asked his favorite thing, he didn’t even pause.
“Getting to hang out with Tom,” he said immediately. “Tom’s a riot.”
Barrow’s grandfather was an old Texan and one of his favorite people in the world.
“There are so many similarities (between the two), it was an instant relationship,” Barrow said. “I feel like I could talk to Tom about anything. I really respect and like him.
“And Perini’s makes the best steak I’ve ever had.”
In the film, Tom Perini speaks about when he first opened his “Texas joint,” Perini Ranch Steakhouse, in 1983, coincidentally the same time Pyles, Fearing and Del Grande started shaking things up. He says that cowboys came in their boots and cowboy hats and drank beer and shots of whiskey with their meals. Now, they come in and still drink beer and shots of whiskey, but also order a nice bottle of wine — still wearing their spurs.
It’s been an interesting evolution to see.
“It’s a degree of sophistication,” he says in the film. “I think thee three chefs were very instrumental in elevating what we call Texas food or Texas Cuisine.
“They have elevated this so that other people, other chefs are doing it. You find Southwest Cuisine all over. I think it’s a great addition to the state of Texas.”