San Antonio's Culinaria simmers year-round with culinary events

by Rosie Carbo /
Rosie Carbo's picture
May 07, 2013 / 0 comments

Culinaria is not a hybrid urban supermarket. Nor is it a coffee table book series about the cuisine and viticulture of a European country. San Antonio’s Culinaria  is a wine and culinary arts festival. In a nutshell, it’s a Texas-sized smorgasbord of delectable year-round events.  


On the one hand, Culinaria is an annual food and wine festival held each May at venues in and around the city. This year, the gastronomic feast is May 15-19. On the other hand, it’s an organization dedicated to promoting the city as a destination for award-winning, chef-prepared cuisine and world-renowned wines.




“We always try to be a voice for San Antonio, which is more than the Riverwalk and enchiladas. We want people to know they can come here and have a great dining experience,” said Jason Dady, an award-winning chef, restaurant owner, and volunteer board member.    


Culinaria is a multi-faceted organization that showcases cuisine representing a confluence of cultures in San Antonio. From spicy Tex-Mex food and open-pit barbecue to white-tablecloth and international, Culinaria organizes events that attract professional “foodies” and casual diners alike.   




What’s more, the organization’s year-round events run the gamut from a 5K wine and beer run to sip and strut fashion shows. During the summer months, Culinaria holds its annual Restaurant Week, featuring discounted prix fixe dinners and luncheons at some of the city’s best restaurants. This year, the event will be held in August.     


“We do so many events throughout the year that I’m often asked ‘why are you doing a 5K run?’ or why are you doing a fashion event?’ But Culinaria is no longer just a weekend food and wine festival; it’s continually changing and evolving,” said Suzanne Taranto-Etheridge, president and CEO.  




It all began in 2000 with The New World Wine and Food Festival held on the Riverwalk. The brainchild of two staffers at La Mansion del Rio five-star hotel, the NWWFF drew a throng of devotees through 2005. Then Etheredge was hired by the board of directors to help expand and lobby for more sponsors.   


“When I got here in 2005, it was just a group of friends who had gotten together to enjoy food and wine. But as we began to have more events and more people interested, the board felt we needed a name that was more encompassing. They felt we needed to change our brand,” said Etheredge.






In 2010 the name of the NWWFF was changed to Culinaria. The annual fall event, held on the Riverwalk and at other area venues for the previous five years, was also moved at the same time.  


“The board felt it was a bad time of the year, because in the fall, winemakers are busy making wine.  So we moved it from November to May when we changed our name three years ago,” Etheredge said looking back.




In Texas, May is perfect for outdoor events. But whether Culinaria events are held indoors or out, thousands of wine and food lovers from across the state and beyond converge on the city during the year. Many visitors plan their vacations around the organization’s popular events, Etheredge said.  


But Culinaria has a mission that goes beyond creating and hosting dining experiences paired with wine, beer, and spirits. Culinaria events usually benefit local culinary students. But this year, all proceeds will go toward the garden center.


Because its stated mission is also to foster community growth and enrichment, the organization is buying prime real estate to start the Culinaria Educational Center and Gardens. Chefs and educators will be recruited to help teach children about growing their own food, eating more healthful foods, good nutrition, physical exercise, and much, much more.






“We’re trying to create a place that will tie into education. We’re getting kids from kindergarten to eighth grade because we would like to see them get away from the Chicken McNuggets mentality,” said Dady, who joined Culinaria in 2001.


“This idea for the garden center was born out of education. Knowing we were named one of the fattest cities in the country, we wanted to do something for the community. We’re just now entering into our fundraising campaign. But we should know the property’s location by the end of the summer,” said Etheredge.


Dady said he became a board member so he could offer his input in other ways, considering he and other chefs prepare the delectable creations people enjoy. Moreover, he’s equally committed to the garden center concept.


“It’s a big project that requires a lot of patience, but I’m very excited about. It’s going to be unlike anything the city has ever seen, ” said Dady, CEO and executive chef of Dady Restaurant Group, which includes BIN 555, Two Bros. BBQ, Tre Trattoria (two locations), and the DUK Food Truck.


“For me, it’s [Culinaria] very important.  I participate in a lot of food and wine events across the state, but I live here. So this event is a chance to stretch our brand and represent San Antonio as well.  But we don’t decide what we’re going to serve in advance… We don’t like being handcuffed,” he said.


Not knowing what your palate is going to savor and discover is part of the intrigue in attending one event or all the year round events. Best of all, there’s something for everyone in a city that is not known for being white-tablecloth centric.




“San Antonio has a lot of great restaurants. But it’s not a white-tablecloth dining city. I don’t think people in this market want to necessarily spend $80 dollars on fine dining on Monday and Tuesday nights. But it’s a unique market that’s more laid back then some. So we participate in most events. The only event we don’t do is “Best of Mexico” for obvious reasons,” Dady said.


That’s where Johnny Hernandez, known locally as “Chef Johnny” comes in. Hernandez has been participating in Culinaria for seven years. His frequent travels to Mexico have inspired some of his menu items at La Gloria Ice House on the Riverwalk and La Fruteria restaurant.


Hernandez recruits chefs from some of Mexico most luxurious resorts for the annual food and wine festival. The “Best of Mexico” soiree on Friday, May 17, will showcase popular Mexican street food fare. In addition to wine and beer, the outdoor event includes the largest tequila tasting in Texas. 


“Every year I host at least two chefs from Mexico. This year they’re coming from the Pacific Coast. Our brunch will feature both Mexican chefs and me this year,” he said.




Hernandez also owns True Flavors Catering and the Casa Hernan, where the “Sabado at Casa Hernan Mexican Barbecue Brunch” will be held on Saturday, May 18. The brunch will feature two chefs from the popular resort towns of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa, Paco Isordia from Hotel Viceroy in Zihuatanejo and Alexander Branch from Hotel Capella in Ixtapa.   


“This year I’m thinking of preparing Mole Negro from Oaxaca. But everyone loves the Barbacoa, Nortena, and Poblana,” said Hernandez, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America’s flagship campus in Hyde Park, N.Y.




Other noteworthy events during the five-day festival include:

•    Winemaker Dinners on May 15 and 16 at various locations around town

•    The Food Truck Competition May 16 at H-E-B Alon Market

•    Becker Vineyards Luncheon Friday, May 17 at Becker Vineyards, about an hour north of San Antonio

•    The Grand Tasting Saturday, May 18 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center Grotto on the Riverwalk


•    Burgers, BBQ, and Beer on Sunday, May 19 at the city’s iconic Pearl Brewery  


Culinaria - Grand Tasting at the Grotto

Culinaria - Grand Tasting at the Grotto



To purchase tickets to one or all of the events, go to  Or call 210 822-9555. For additional information on visiting San Antonio go to:





Rosie Carbo is the Lifestyles Editor for Wandering Educators,
and is a former newspaper reporter whose work has appeared in newspapers
and magazines nationwide. Some of those publications include People
magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio
Express-News. Some of her features were redistributed by The Associated
Press early in her career as an award-winning Texas journalist.   




All photos courtesy and copyright Rory Keeth