A lot of the time, I go into a post kind of knowing where I’m going with the content. The recipe. Where I’ve traveled. Sometimes, however…opportunities arise suddenly and you don’t know what to expect but you just…go with it. That’s how I felt when I got a last minute phone call inviting me to NYC for the media launch of the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, the first luxury food festival of its kind here in our city taking place May 19-22, 2011. I’ve been anticipating this event since its unveiling this past summer and feel so passionate about the food scene here in Atlanta and throughout the South. So, I went along for the ride – a 36 hour trip from door to door – without knowing what to expect & not knowing what I’d bring back to tell you. Truly, I’m so thrilled to be able to share a bit about my time there with you…and to tell you about this festival, which I think is going to be a game-changing event for our city and the South.
Other major food regions have had the F&W treatment with stellar results. Founders Elizabeth Feichter and Dominique Love wondered for years why Atlanta – the most major city in the South & bubbling over with great culinary talent – hadn’t had one, too. That was in 2006. Officially announced last summer (you can see my post about it here), they took the show on the road to New York to help spread the word about the event with media people based there.
The evening’s festivities started off at the event space of Little Owl, a critically acclaimed and earnest little spot in the West Village. Set up minimally with some Southern touches like flour sack napkins and mint julep water glasses, this was just the perfect little jewel box of a space to let the NYC folks know about the festival. Let me say this: Little Owl is a cozy little spot which doesn’t translate to being the most brightly lit place in New York City. So…forgive me if the photos are a little dim. You’ll definitely get the idea – you can see the entire Flickr set from my short trip here.
You have to pardon my giddiness – still – but The Lee Brothers were there. THE LEE BROTHERS. I feel like I shouldn’t have to tell you about them but here we go: raised in Charleston, they felt so much nostalgia for their Southern heritage while living elsewhere that they started their own business selling southern pantry staples. Since then, they’ve become fixtures in the food world while championing Southern traditions and ingredients. They’re cookbook authors, as well. I’ll tell ya…they’re darned adorable. I sat next to Ted at dinner and found him to so knowledgeable and ever-so-charming.
People – including myself – kind of joke around about moonshine. The prohibition era whiskey that was made primarily by Appalachian distillers has kind of been like seeing a unicorn – talked about but never seen. Southern Absinthe, in a way. Always clandestine in its making, it’s really been a broad term covering anything that’s made illegally. The moonshine that people most think of – that “white lightening” in an unmarked mason jar – is now making a more glamorous comeback thanks to folks like Piedmont Distillers based in Madison, North Carolina. Based on generations-old recipes for making ‘shine, they’re now producing premium spirits under the names Catdaddy Carolina and Midnight Moon. We had a wickedly good cocktail to start the evening off crafted by cocktail crafter and blogger Payman Bahmani. I also need to give a shout out to Gina Hopkins and Judith Winfrey, two of my favorite Atlanta ladies and an integral part of Restaurant Eugene, for the brilliant wine pairings we had throughout the dinner.
Our meal kicked off with a really amazing fusion of Southern meets Pacific Northwest created by Duane Nutter of Rolling Bones and One Flew South, the incredible restaurant located in Terminal E of our city’s airport. Mixing up all of the elements of his upbringing, a perfect piece of salmon – cured in Creole spices – sat atop a Navy bean salad with hard boiled eggs and crispy parsnip chips. Wonderful combination of textures here. This dish was really what the spirit of this festival is about – showing people that Southern influences can be applied in non-traditional ways. What a way to start the meal.
Speaking of non-traditional, this is Nathan Lippy. Raised in Tampa and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he’s blazed trails in a most unusual way. He’s taken to the Internet. His multimedia presence on the Internet – he blogs, does video cooking shows, tweets like mad – is solidifying him as a rock-star to watch. Yes ladies…before you ask…he’ll be headlining a session at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.
His background and love of “Floribbean Cuisine” – Southern food meats Caribbean freshness as he says on his blog – were evident in the course he presented: Coconut Fried Chicken (marinated in coconut milk – !!!) with a side of rum and lime potato salad. I’m not even gonna lie – I ate this. You know…when in Rome. It was pretty incredible. Again, a great application and a different interpretation of what “Southern” is.
Before I get off track & ramble on about the people I met & everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) I consumed, none of us would have been there without this half of the dynamic duo that created the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival – Dominique Love. Co-founder Elizabeth Feichter was unable to attend but Dominique was such a gracious hostess. Making sure to introduce everyone and speaking passionately about all aspects of the festival, it was clear that this is her baby and she’s determined to show people the wonder of Southern cuisine.
I really wish I had a photo that showed you how insanely delicious this dish was. I really do. Actually, I’m not sure that would be possible. The creation of Andrea Reusing of nationally acclaimed Lantern in Chapel Hill, North Carolina…it’s one of the tastiest dishes I think I have ever put in my mouth: Steamed Farm Egg Custard infused with pea puree then stopped with jumbo lump blue crab & pea shoots. Chef Reusing’s signature is a fusion of Asian flavors and locally sourced Southern ingredients, which again embodies the spirit of what AF&WF is all about.
I’ve been a huge fan of Sean Brock‘s since I surprised my sweetie with a chef’s tasting dinner at McCrady’s when we first started dating. Chef Brock came out and chatted for a while & he seemed so down to earth and genuinely interested in both the source of his ingredients and our opinions of the food. I’ve eaten his cooking several times now – most recently at his new restaurant Husk, also in Charleston – and there are a few things that cannot be disputed: he is devoted to putting out a quality product – an inspired product – using ingredients that are as local as possible. I had a chance to chat with Chef Brock that evening and his dedication to helping promote the notion of eating local is stronger than it’s ever been. Here, he served Ossabaw Pork (read more about it here) with Heirloom Cereals, Foraged Mushrooms, Preserved Blueberries (mind-blowing) and Sumac.
For gourmet chocolate, there is really but one destination here in Atlanta – Cacao. This chocolate laboratory was founded in 2004 and since then has been changing the way Atlantans view chocolate. Owner Kristen Hard (yes…she’s really that teeny and beautiful) is dedicated to sustainability, social responsibility and hand-crafted products. Her chocolate salami – you read that right – is the stuff of legends and her shop is a must-visit spot when coming to Atlanta if for nothing than the interior design & the smell alone. The stunning dessert that night was varying layers of chocolate mousse with candied pecans and chocolate sauce. A stunning dessert, for sure.
While the might could have stopped right there and my whirlwind trip to NYC would have been more than complete, the party moved on to Harlem. That may seem like an odd soiree location for many of you but it’s the home of Top Chef Master’s winner and acclaimed chef Marcus Samuelsson and his new restaurant, Red Rooster. This venture – quite a departure for those who know Chef Samuelsson from his days at Aquavit – is a tribute to the community he calls home and a way for him to showcase his commitment to local ingredients. He’s cooking American food tinged with some of the international influences he’s best known for. The energy in this place is amazing and even after 11 was teeming with people & amazing smells wafting through the door.
We ate things like sweet, fresh out of the oven cornbread with a chutney-like jam. The national dish of Sweden – meatballs with dill and thinly sliced cucumber. Cake muffins topped with all the trimmings of carrot cake. What can I say? Everything we tasted was super tasty – there was this curried trail mix stuff (not pictured) that was absolutely delicious. So were the pickled vegetables. Can you see the theme occurring again? The balance of world flavors and Southern influence. It’s everywhere and Chef Samuelsson does it brilliantly.
The most important thing, though, is that we all had a chance to mingle and talk to one another. I spoke with Chef Brock a good bit and caught up with Duane Nutter. We talked about the festival and the things we were looking forward to. The openness and the warm reception that those attending in NYC are giving AF&WF is something I hope carries over to those folks who live in our city. This is a big deal, people – a way to bring attention to the food scene in our city and around the region. A way to help validate the tireless work these chefs, sommeliers, farmers, cocktail enthusiasts and food culturalists are doing to promote a way of life – not just the current food trend.
All the information you need about the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival can be found on their website. There are several different levels of pricing and packages that can be purchased. From the looks of the schedule of events for the weekend, it’s going to be quite a weekend. Parties, seminars, round-tables, cooking demos & classes – it’s gonna be tough to choose what to attend. Are you going to be in Atlanta for BlogHer Food 2011? Since it’s the same weekend, why not stay and try to attend some of the sessions happening on Sunday. For more information, schedules and ticketing information go to the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival website. You can also keep up to date on the latest info via their twitter feed.
Again, you can see full size version of these shots – and some others – here on my Flickr stream. Enjoy!