Hot Luck Returns: Aaron Franklin’s Food and Music Festival Isn’t Just About Chilling With Your Peeps

Photo by Cody Cowan / Courtesy of Hot Luck

It’s been a tough few years, especially for people in the hospitality industry. At this point in this chapter of our shared pandemic reality, we are well aware of the impact this is having on everyone in the food system, from farmers who lost their wholesale restaurant and market customers when everything closed, to waiters and bartenders who couldn’t make money when restaurants were forced to close and pivot. Not to mention the chefs and restaurateurs who saw their dreams – and their financial futures – hanging on the precipice of disaster.

According to Sarah McIntosh, CEO of Grocery, “The pandemic has made it very clear that people in this industry have no support system. It was much more obvious that there are so many people who don’t have access to health care and mental health care. Days off, paid time off, things most people have in every industry. It’s a huge industry to be so overlooked.

What better way to show hospitality workers that they are appreciated than by throwing them a four-day fundraising party that directly benefits them?

McIntosh is one of dozens of chefs participating in this year’s Hot Luck Festival, the brainchild of Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue), James Moody (Guerrilla Suit and Mohawk owner), and Mike Thelin (Feast Portland co-founder) and the younger brother chillaxed at the various high-priced food and booze festivals around the country. Instead of cooking demonstrations and panels focused on how to invest in the wine business, Hot Luck offers pizza nights, garden barbecues and live fire events complete with live music from DJs from national fame to indie rock stalwarts to local post-punk darlings (see sidebar). And it all benefits the Southern Smoke Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 2015 by Houston chef Chris Shepherd to provide financial support, health care and mental health care to those employed in the food industry. and drinks.

Aaron Franklin (l) and Chris Shepherd (Photo by Catchlight Photography / Courtesy of Hot Luck)

“When Aaron Franklin throws a party and he invites you over to make food, you don’t say no to that. … If I have to take the time to step away from the restaurant and do these things, I want to do it for something that I believe can really impact and give back to our community. – Fermin Núñez, Este

“There’s always a crisis in our industry, you always have someone – a cook, a waiter, a farmer or a dishwasher – who’s going to need help,” says Shepherd. “Whether it’s tripping and breaking a leg, sanity, whatever it is, we have to be there for it.” To date, Southern Smoke has awarded $10 million in relief to Texas restaurant workers in crisis, and it’s extremely accessible. All workers have to do is fill out an online application, show proof of employment via pay stub or W2, and briefly explain their crisis, whether it’s needing helping with rent, medical bills or the fallout from extreme weather events.

In addition to providing emergency funds to hospitality workers, Southern Smoke’s big push right now is to be able to make mental health care available to those same workers and their children. In partnership with the University of Houston and Mental Health America, Southern Smoke helps connect food industry workers with mental health students who need internship hours to graduate. “It gives our people in our industry the ability to talk to someone, and have someone learn their job as well,” Shepherd said. “I want us to be able to offer this nationwide in the next five to seven years. In the next few months we’ll be in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, California and Texas.

Hot Luck 2019 (Photo by Pooneh Ghana / Courtesy of Hot Luck)

“We understand that there is always a physical crisis”, he continues, “but we will also be able to manage mental crises to be able to make people whole”.

It is with this worthy cause in mind that attendees can enjoy three flagship events dedicated to food, fun and friendship. On Thursday, May 26, there’s Giddy Up (available only to those who purchased the now-sold-out Whole Enchilada ticket), a street-side pizza party outside the Mohawk with famed Phoenix pizza maker Chris Bianco. Other chefs tending the wood-fired pizza ovens include Fiore Tedesco of L’Oca D’Oro, Mike Diaz of Oseyo and Fermín Núñez, who will take over his soon-to-open Mexican seafood restaurant, Este.

Fermin Nunez (Photo by Andrew Reiner / Courtesy of Hot Luck)

Seafood? At a pizza party?

“When Aaron Franklin throws a party and he invites you over for food, you don’t say no to that,” Núñez shrugs. “If I have to take the time to walk away from the restaurant and do these things, I want to do it for something that I believe can really impact and give back to our community.”

Friday night announces Hi, How Are You, a casual hanging garden at Franklin BBQ with Franklin (obvi), Shepherd, pastry chef Laura Sawicki, Tyson Cole and Tavel Bristol-Joseph of the Emmer & Rye group representing his Caribbean concept, Canje.

Said Bristol-Joseph, who will bring his restaurant’s fiery jerk chicken to the table, “Hot Luck is such a special event for Austin. In the restaurant community, we all look forward to Hot Luck every year. Canje only has eight months, so we’re really honored to be among the elite chefs who will be there.”

Tavel Bristol-Joseph (Courtesy of Hot Luck)

Saturday brings Al Fuego, an intimate live fire event for 2,500 guests at the Wild Onion Ranch in Manchaca, featuring loads of established and well-known chefs like Michael Fojtasek and the best chef in our hearts, Shota Nakajima, as well as -comers like San Antonio’s Nicola Blaque of Jerk Shack and Mi Roti.

“I really love that Aaron invited me to showcase Caribbean cuisine on another national platform,” says Blaque. “There are hundreds of islands that make up the Caribbean and a lot of people just don’t understand food, but being at these events helps open people’s minds to what Caribbean food is.”

Bristol-Joseph agrees: “Kudos to Franklin, their whole organization, for caring about the community and really pushing diversity in food. I really appreciate that.”

Chef Nicolas Blaque (Photo by Jason Risner/Courtesy Hot Luck)

Indeed, if you take a look at the list of Hot Luck Festival Chefs, you see there is intentionality and dedication to inclusivity, embracing black foods, comfort food, Laotian, Thai , Syrian Palestinian and a host of other culinary dishes. approaches. There will be vegan and vegetarian options, as well as a focus on non-alcoholic beverages, which is particularly noteworthy given that catering is among the professions with the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse. .

“When you’re inclusive, you solve all the problems and don’t just stay in the same rut we got ourselves into,” says McIntosh, who will be making Pimm’s cup and blackberry cheesecake snow cones with Stacy Franklin. at the industry-only party on Sunday night. “Whenever people cause change in a positive way, it’s going to involve more people.”

In this way, Southern Smoke, which aims to support all hospitality workers, is the perfect beneficiary of a party like Hot Luck. “I love what Chris Shepherd does,” says Bristol-Joseph. “The work they do in and for the restaurant community…I truly admire their work and commitment to Texas. I’m so blessed and happy to contribute in any way, shape or form that I can because that I truly believe in what they are doing for our community.”

But supporting remarkable causes like those championed by Southern Smoke requires you to put your money where your mouth is. “You can’t take it if you don’t get your ass out and do it,” Shepherd says. “We will meet over there.” Of course, with a range like Hot Luck’s, from food to music, it’s not such a difficult purchase to make if you have the scratch. (As of this writing, there are tickets left for Al Fuego on May 28; they’re $225 and include food and drink. Kids get in for $25.)

Just be sure to pace yourself. “Wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen and drink plenty of water, it’s going to be a long time,” Franklin says. “Go there hoping to be super laid back and make lots of new friends.”


The Hot Luck Food and Music Festival runs May 26-29 at Mohawk, Franklin Barbecue and Wild Onion Ranch. All Enchilada passes are sold out, but some individual event tickets are still available. To see hotluckfest.com/tickets.