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Couldn’t Make It to the Hot Wells Harvest Feast? There’s More to Come


The recent Hot Wells Harvest Feast was such a success that future meals are being planned for the grounds on the ruins of the former hotel and spa.

Robbie Nowlin stands in the Hot Wells ruin.

Robbie Nowlin stands in the Hot Wells ruin.

The “first #hotwellssummernights will be the first week of July,” says chef Robbie Nowlin, who’ll be overseeing the dinner series. The exact date for the first hasn’t been set, but “It will be a pizza party with lots of beer and live music. $35 dollars a person. Wood-fired pizzas cooked outside. I will be doing the cooking with a little help from Halston Connella, Justin Parr and Josh Kirk. The toppings for the pizza will be inspired from the Hot Wells garden, of course.”

The event will be limited to the first 150 patrons.

All those recent rains have been good for the garden, which “is exploding like 10 times as much as during Harvest Feast,” he says.

The series will be held on a regular basis, less during the summer than during the fall, given the heat. A portion of the proceeds will go to both the Hot Wells Conservancy and Sala Diaz, an art exhibition space.

It’s not the only item Nowlin’s working on these days. The chef, who recently left the Hotel Valencia “to focus on my non-profit projects,” he says, is also planning a dinner series at the Flight Gallery in Blue Star Complex. He’ll be teaming with Parr, an artist, who’ll provide a visual aspect for the meal while Nowlin provides the food for that fundraiser.

And he’s continuing with his monthly #WickedNightsAtWickes dinner, which raises funds for Haven for Hope in the form of H-E-B gift cards. This month’s dinner, featuring Jason Dady, is happening Sunday.

Ready for pizza at Hot Wells?

Ready for pizza at Hot Wells?

Tickets were long gone for the event, which was announced on Robbie Nowlin’s Facebook page and on Instagram as chef_driven. You need to follow him on either page to find actual dates and times for all of the events and to get advance tickets.

All of these non-profit events will likely keep him busy for a while — until he’s ready to announce his next venture, that is.

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Hot Wells Springs to Life with a Bounteous Harvest Feast


Chris Jara offers a winning cake made with fruit from the Hot Wells property.

Chris Jara offers a winning cake made with fruit from the Hot Wells property.

Brandon McKelvey of Say.She.Ate made a fresh salad packed with fresh herbs and graced with slices of beets. Josh Cross of El Toro Taco roasted a whole goat for cabrito tacos topped with a zippy salsa. Stefan Bowers of Feast dished up mulberry soup with chicharrones and hot peppers.

Guests could walk into a part of the former spa.

Guests could walk into a part of the former spa.

Those were three of the many dishes served up Wednesday at the Hot Wells Harvest Feast in which an array of chefs from across the city showcased the finest fruits, vegetables and herbs from the gardens on the grounds of the former hotel and spa.

Planners had expected about 500 to show up for Jason Dady’s Connecticut oysters with a blackberry vinegar, Tim the Girl Mcdarmid’s felafel granola or John Fahle’s smoked salmon with dill. But organizer Robbie Nowlin, executive chef of the Hotel Valencia, said the final total was “792.”

A postcard of the former hotel and spa.

A postcard of the former hotel and spa.

That’s a good amount of money for the Hot Wells Conservancy, which is trying to keep the historic property a vital part of the community. The original resort has suffered from two fires and the sulfur springs have been blocked,  but the ruins provided a perfect setting for the evening.

The array of foods served showed off the riches grown on the property, including several dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes, tongue-tingling hot peppers, fennel, hoja santa, Swiss chard, peaches and more. Halston Conella of Cirtus brought his own wood-burning oven and made pizzas that included many of the ingredients as toppings. PJ Edwards of Gardner in Austin used several varieties of tomatoes to top a cheese-rich tart. Brooke Smith of Esquire Tavern served up a lamb paté, and Jeret Peña of the Brooklynite and the Last Word used herbs to create his own “Chartreuse” for use in one of the cocktails he and his brother, Jorel, were mixing up.

As more than one guest satisfied said, it was all good. The mosquitoes seemed to be enjoying themselves, too.

Visitors stroll the grounds of Hot Wells before sunset.

Visitors stroll the grounds of Hot Wells before sunset.

In the end, the crowd had to narrow down their choices to name the two top tastes of the evening. Chris Jara of the St. Anthony Hotel was the top vote getter for a gorgeous layered cake that incorporated fruit from the gardens. In second place was Jeff Wayne White of Boiler House Texas Grill, who was last year’s big winner; he made a Vietnamese banh mi featuring corned brisket and a spicy slaw that used some serranos from the garden.

The sun eventually disappeared behind what’s left of the pool house and the stars began to dance above as the chefs and the last few visitors let the party stretch into the night.  Leaving the party full and happy prompted one question: What’s happening next at Hot Wells?

Tim the Girl's team

Tim the Girl’s team

Jeff Wayne White tastes his own Vietnamese banh mi.

Jeff Wayne White tastes his own Vietnamese banh mi.

Josh Cross serves up cabrito tacos.

Josh Cross serves up cabrito tacos.

Ernie Estrada with Rockin' Rabbit and Piggy Rillette.

Ernie Estrada with Rockin’ Rabbit and Piggy Rillette.

Visitors check out the gardens.

Visitors check out the gardens.

 

 

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Growing Something Special at the Hot Wells Ruins


Planning this year's Hot Wells Harvest Feast.

Planning this year’s Hot Wells Harvest Feast.

Resurrecting the Hot Wells Hotel and Spa may seem a little crazy to some, after two fires in 1997 and 2011 destroyed much of the fabled resort. But that is somehow in keeping with the history of the place.

The "Gents" pool at the Hot Wells Hotel and Spa.

The “Gents” pool at the Hot Wells Hotel and Spa.

Its story begins in 1892, when the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum drilled a well in order to have enough water to operate, according to a history on the Edwards Aquifer website.

And it continues today as a project of the Hot Wells Conservancy, which was formed in 2013 “to preserve the vestiges of the historic hotel and provide educational, cultural, and environmental programming,” the site says.

But enough of history. What’s happening on the grounds of the spa these days?

Heirloom tomatoes known as blueberries.

Heirloom tomatoes known as blueberries.

You can take a yoga class regularly in the old ruins, if you’d like. Or you can join with hundreds of other food lovers on June 3 for Hot Wells Harvest Feast, a event in which you can tour the grounds while eating food grown on the property and sipping your choice of cocktails, wine and beer.

This is a fundraiser to benefit the conservancy that was created by Robbie Nowlin, executive chef of the Hotel Valencia, and artist Justin Parr, who lives on the grounds.

The concept is simple: The participating chefs, including the mixologists, have to include ingredients grown on the property in their dishes. That could mean one or more of several dozen heirloom tomatoes, peaches from the heavily laden trees, any of the many hot pepper varieties, hoja santa leaves, lovage, fennel pollen, garlic blossoms — you name it. Some of the booths will be set up inside the ruins, while the remainder will line the exterior, all under strands of Italian lights.

A few of the gardens at Hot Wells.

A few of the gardens at Hot Wells.

This year, Nowlin has more than 30 chefs lined up, and he had to turn away many more. He knows it has caused some hurt feelings, but he hopes they understand that there’s just not room to accommodate everyone at this point.

“I’m a chef,” he says, “not an event planner. But I’m an event planner.”

In the end, it’s the cause that’s important, and if you’d like to see this once-grandiose site restored or if you just want to have some fine food in a wholly unique setting, you can visit the Hot Wells Conservancy website for details. For a list of the participating chefs, click here.

A few tips if you’re making the trip to Hot Wells, 5503 S. Presa St., Wednesday or any time in the foreseeable future:

–Dress casually and for warm weather.

–Leave your high heels at home.

–Wear plenty of bug spray.

–Have a designated driver.

–Enjoy yourself.

Robbie Nowlin stands in the Hot Wells ruin.

Robbie Nowlin stands in the Hot Wells ruin.

The ruins of the Hot Wells Hotel and Spa.

The ruins of the Hot Wells Hotel and Spa.

Fennel grows by the ruins.

Fennel grows by the ruins.

Peppers grow amid the flowers.

Peppers grow amid the flowers.

 

 

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