Food writers deliver history and humor

Lisa Donovan, the former pastry chef at Husk restaurant, with historian Jack Neely at The Biscuit Bash event that closed the Southern Food Writing Conference.

Lisa Donovan, the former pastry chef at Husk restaurant, with historian Jack Neely at The Biscuit Bash event that closed the Southern Food Writing Conference.

Using the 1900 tome called simply “Knoxville Cook Book,” historian Jack Neely illuminated attendees at the Southern Food Writing Conference earlier this month with information on just what a cosmopolitan city Knoxville was back then — at least in the food department.

It all centered on Market Square where, Neely reported, “people would claim you can get anything.”

“Knoxville was at a crossroads in 1900,” Neely said. “On Market Square they sold bear, possum and biscuit flour by the barrel. They sold Italian pasta and German sausage, seafood and Kosher food. Some restaurants were open 24 hours. But Knoxville had rough edges. It was a very stratified society.”

Neely described the Gold Sun, one of those 24-hour places where you could play “stump the waiter” and try to see if you could ask for something the restaurant couldn’t prepare. Then, there was the Vendome, a fancy French restaurant. And expensive wine bars on Gay Street and in the Hotel Imperial.

There also was a wide array of street food available in Knoxville, including tamales sold by an African-American street vendor. And hot dogs. In fact, the first time the words “hot dogs” ever were mentioned was in a Knoxville newspaper in 1893. Continue reading

Filed under: Downtown, Events, Food, Journalism | 4 Comments

Southern Food Writing Conference is full experience

Sam Beall, the proprietor of Blackberry Farm, hosted the  Southern Food Writing Conference attendees at Blackberry's new brewery in downtown Maryville. He's here with Chris Kahn, a volunteer with the International Biscuit Festival and all-around food expert.

Sam Beall, the proprietor of Blackberry Farm, hosted the Southern Food Writing Conference attendees at Blackberry’s new brewery in downtown Maryville. He’s here with Chris Kahn, a volunteer with the International Biscuit Festival and all-around food expert.

Last week, leading up to the fabulous International Biscuit Festival, Knoxville was host to almost 100 food writers, chefs, photographers, bloggers and other foodies attending the Southern Food Writing Conference. The conference, now in its fourth year, also features, as you can imagine, some of the best eating our area has to offer. And some pretty good entertainment. When you’ve got these folks here, you need to put your best foot (or food!) forward.

Alan and I attend every year, using The Blue Streak as an excuse. That’s probably the only way the darn thing actually pays off. Ha.

The conference and the biscuit festival which had been sponsored by White Lily Flour since the beginning, had a new major sponsor this year, King Arthur Flour. According to the conference organizer, John Craig, also known as the “biscuit boss,” White Lily’s parent, J.M. Smucker Company, blamed company-wide cutbacks for the decision to drop sponsorship of the Knoxville events. King Arthur was happy to pick up the sponsorship and the opportunity for visibility with the food press and 20,000 food enthusiasts who attend the actual festival. Continue reading

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Biscuit Festival expands to perfection

These delicious little biscuits named "Miss Jewel" were my favorite. They were by Flourhead Bakery/Tomato Head. They tasted like sausage balls.

These delicious little biscuits named “Miss Jewel” were my favorite. They were by Flour Head Bakery/Tomato Head. They tasted like sausage balls.

The International Biscuit Festival, held this past weekend in downtown Knoxville, was an absolute delight. In fact, if you ask me, it was the best one in the six years of its existence.

Why? Because the organizers, reacting to the many complaints about overcrowding and gridlock last year, expanded the footprint this time so that 20,000 folks could walk around and actually enjoy the day rather than being constantly jostled. In addition to Market Street, the festival spread out across two blocks of Church Avenue, leaving plenty of space between booths. For a $10 fee, you could sample any five biscuits you wanted.

And the biscuits were just fabulous. They ranged from sweet and cakey to savory and tender — with everything in between. I didn’t taste a bad one, to tell you the truth. We had out-of-town guests and I loved seeing their reactions. We — and they — couldn’t get the smiles off our faces. Continue reading

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Just another Sunday on a tilapia farm

This stunning dessert is popcorn panna cotta prepared by Chef Robert Allen for the latest Trust Fall dinner.

This stunning dessert is popcorn panna cotta prepared by Chef Robert Allen for the latest Trust Fall dinner.

Until a few Sundays ago, I had never been to a tilapia farm — much less eaten dinner in one. But now, thanks to the super creative and talented folks who host the Trust Fall dinners, I have done both.

The latest of these clandestine and fun gatherings was held at Eco-Rich Farms in Greenback, Tenn. Eco-Rich, owned by Jeff and Trish Dean, is an aquaponic farm that combines the raising of tilapia and vegetables. Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that produces foods grown with no chemicals, no pesticides, no herbicides and non-genetically modified organisms. It is a closed system housed in a greenhouse that produces fish and produce year-round without soil. It differs from a hydroponic operation, Jeff Dean explained, in that with hydroponics, you do have to use chemicals. Continue reading

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You’ve got to eat a part of it, New York, New York

My appetizer at Le Bernadin: sautéed langoustine with truffle and wild mushrooms, and aged balsamic vinaigrette

My appetizer at Le Bernardin: sautéed langoustine with truffle and wild mushrooms, and aged balsamic vinaigrette.

Whenever we return from New York, half our friends ask us what plays we saw. But the other half have just one burning question: Where did you eat?

So, we took a few notes and a few pictures and here’s a full report on last weekend — from a foodie point of view. We will place the eateries in several categories: excellent; very, very good; good; and meh.

Excellent

If there were a category even better than excellent, Le Bernardin would be in it. Our meal there was over the top by every description: taste, presentation, atmosphere and service. (And price, too. Our meal for four cost just over $1,000. And we didn’t go crazy on the wine, either.)

Located at 155 W. 51st Street, Le Bernardin is the highest-rated restaurant in New York, having received more James Beard awards than any other restaurant; holding a four-star rating by the New York Times for more than two decades; and achieving a three-star rating by Michelin, the highest rating the prestigious hospitality organization bestows. Two things to know: You are going to eat seafood there, and you need to make a reservation before you leave Knoxville. Le Bernardin, under the hand of famed French chef Eric Ripert, accepts reservations no more than a month out, however, which is when we made ours. Continue reading

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Start spreading the news!

Actor John Cullum with Georgiana Vines, chair of the board of the Clarence Brown Theatre Advisory Board, this past weekend in New York City.

Actor John Cullum with Georgiana Vines, chair of the Clarence Brown Theatre Advisory Board, this past weekend in New York City. (Photo by David Byrd)

The 2015 Tony Awards nominations came out this morning, and one group of Knoxvillians was keenly interested in them. It was the 20 folks who went to New York City this past weekend led by the Clarence Brown Theatre’s artistic director, Cal MacLean, and managing director, David Byrd.

And guess what? Two of the plays we saw — “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “The King and I” garnered 15 award nominations between them. The third play, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” was nominated for seven Tonys last year and took home two — Best Leading Actress for Jessie Mueller and Best Sound Design.

Cal really knows how to pick ’em.

This annual trip is for Clarence Brown Theatre supporters, and we highly recommend you consider it. Alan and I even added a fourth play on the front end of the trip. We saw Helen Mirren playing Queen Elizabeth in “The Audience” and absolutely loved it. It was nominated for three Tony Awards this morning.

Next year’s trip already has been set for April 7-10. Continue reading

Filed under: Theater, Travel | 14 Comments

Spring event scores a hat trick

Thank you to Lauren Miller of Moxley Carmichael for writing this guest post for the Blue Streak. -Cynthia Moxley

Everyone was welcomed by this cute sign.

Everyone was welcomed by this cute sign.

Mother Nature smiled on the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum this week. Yesterday, the historic East Knoxville garden hosted the third annual Hats in Bloom luncheon, and the weather for the outdoor springtime event was divine – breezy and cool in shade and warm in the sun.

The nice weather may have wooed attendees to the gardens after a bout of rainy days in Knoxville, but the success of this fundraiser cannot be credited to the forecast alone.

Event chair Jackie Wilson, along with the staff of the Knoxville Botanical Garden, has grown Hats in Bloom from just more than 50 attendees in its first year to about 100 in its second year to a total of 150-plus supporters at this year’s event on April 23.

With three successful years of growth, it’s no surprise that the event has scored a hat trick, you might say. A unique draw for the luncheon are the one-of-a-kind hats for sale by esteemed milliner Patricia Frankum.

Continue reading

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The sad reality of racism in Knoxville

Our friends Jim and Phyllis Nichols at a Symphony fundraiser at Blackberry Farm recently.

Our friends Jim and Phyllis Nichols at a Symphony fundraiser at Blackberry Farm recently. He is neither a waiter nor a valet nor a musician.

I really thought we in Knoxville were making progress on this racism thing. But Sunday was a wake-up call about how far we still have to go. I have to admit I am disappointed and a little depressed.

It started with the Sunday News Sentinel.

There was a prominent article about two local debutante balls – one produced by the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the oldest African American women’s organization in the country, and the Dogwood Ball produced by the East Tennessee Presentation Society. Held on the same night in March, one featured all African-American young women and the other featured all white women.

There was one big difference. Rosalyn Tillman, presentation chair of this year’s AKA Ball (and also the dean of Pellissippi State’s Magnolia Avenue campus, by the way), told the reporter that being African American is not a requirement for a young woman to be considered to be one of the AKA debs. Continue reading

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Chalk it up as a great weekend!

This was just one of the freindly -- and funny -- llamas at World's Fair Park Saturday for the Great Lllama Race. It was a hoot!

This was just one of the friendly — and funny — llamas at World’s Fair Park Saturday for the Great Llama Race. It was a hoot!

Wow, I just hope this coming weekend is as much fun as last weekend was! If you didn’t have a good time in Knoxville last weekend, you just weren’t paying attention.

Not only was there the Rhythm and Blooms Festival, which provided scores of entertainers of many kinds at a wide variety of venues, but country diva Emmylou Harris performed an intimate fundraiser for 150 folks on the stage of the Tennessee Theatre; the Knoxville Symphony Pops Orchestra played the music of Queen to a full house at the Civic Auditorium; Chalk Walk jammed Krutch Park and Market Square; and the Great Llama Race brought hundreds of humans and llamas to World’s Fair Park. It all was phenomenal.

As you know, I love Knoxville all year round. But this time of year is just the tops, when we all are shaking off the winter doldrums and we have the anticipation of all the camaraderie that summer brings literally hanging in the air. Here’s just a glimpse at some of last weekend’s entertainments. Continue reading

Filed under: Downtown, Events, Knoxville, Music | 10 Comments

Eaters ask: Where will Lenn land?

At party called "Cheers &  Beers!" celebrating Chef Joseph Lenn's 10 years at Blackberry Farm. From left, Chef Lenn; another Blackberry alum who is opening a restaurant across the street from 3 Rivers Market; and Matt Gallaher, chef owner of Knox Mason.

At the party called “Cheers & Beers!” celebrating Chef Joseph Lenn’s 10 years at Blackberry Farm were, from left, Chef Lenn; Joe Cunningham, another Blackberry alum who is opening a restaurant across the street from Three Rivers Market; and Matt Gallaher, chef owner of Knox Mason.

The biggest question among Knoxville foodies? Where is Chef Joseph Lenn’s new restaurant going to be?

As you may have seen in the News Sentinel (click here), Chef Lenn, who has been at Blackberry Farm for 10 years and has been executive chef at The Barn there since 2007, announced his resignation about a month ago. His last night was Friday. He will be replaced by Blackberry’s executive sous chef, Cassidee Dabney.

But the most intriguing part of this turn of events is that Chef Lenn also announced he will open a restaurant in the Knoxville area. I happened to be at Blackberry a few weeks ago, and I told him rumors were swirling in Knoxville about where his new eatery might be located. “That’s the most frequently asked question I get,” he laughed. I told him that one story is that it will be in Happy Holler. “Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?” he asked coyly. “I live in downtown Knoxville, so it would be a good thing for me!” I said. But he wasn’t talking.

He also wasn’t talking last Sunday at a party in his honor held at the downtown Knoxville Public House. In fact, he circulated a sign-up sheet asking for folks’ email addresses. Here’s what the sheet said at the top. “Name: To be determined. Location: We’ll let you know. Opening: These things take time…” Ha! He’s playing it for all it’s worth. Good for him. Continue reading

Filed under: Business, Downtown, Events, Food, Knoxville | 6 Comments