Food writing conference whets visitors’ appetites

Chef Joseph Lenn and cookbook author Ronni Lundy during the dinner at J.C. Holdway to kick off the Southern Food Writing Conference.

The Southern Food Writing Conference always brings a bevy of heavy hitters in the journalism and cookbook writing world to Knoxville and this year’s conference, held here earlier this month, was no exception.

Writers and editors from Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Atlanta Magazine, The Charlotte Observer, Epicurious, Charlotte Living and Birmingham Magazine were among the 80 or so conference attendees who met here and, in the process, dined at some of our area’s finest eateries and were fed by some of our best known chefs.

I love how this conference, which starts with an optional Wednesday night dinner, extends through Friday evening and blends seamlessly into the weekend’s International Biscuit Festival. Biscuitfest organizers, also responsible for the writing conference, take advantage of the visiting food biz celebrities by having them judge the various biscuit baking contests that Saturday brings. It’s a match made in foodie heaven.

Here are a few of my favorite highlights from the more than two dozen conference sessions. Hey, thank me later. It’s a tough job, but someone had do it.

  • Erin Byers Murray, the managing editor of Nashville Lifestyles magazine, noted, “Every good Southern story involves a road trip.” She also advised, “Write as you go,” something I need to take to heart. She’s written a book on oyster farming and currently is working on a book about grits.
  • Food writer Adrian Miller, who also describes himself as “a recovering lawyer,” told others to, “Write the book you want to read. Don’t edit yourself as you go. Just write. Set a writing goal for yourself. Share your dreams with others.”
  • Carrie Morey, the owner of Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, swears by White Lily Flour. “White Lily makes me look really good,” she said. “If you don’t have White Lily, I wouldn’t make the biscuits.”
  • Jennifer Cole, formerly of Southern Living and Travel & Leisure, is now a freelance food writer. She related the secret to her success. “It’s all about diversification,” she said. “You have to balance projects that pay the bills with the projects that feed your soul.”
  • Shaun Chavis owns a public relations firm in Atlanta that focuses on food. She is an independent cookbook editor and helps people write them. “Food and story are two powerful influences,” she said. “Cookbooks are valuable because they tell stories.”
  • Toni Tipton-Martin is a food writer and activist in the area of African-American cooks, who often through history have not gotten the credit they deserve. The first African-American cookbook was self-published by Malinda Russell in 1866. It contains a dozen recipes for gingerbread. “Gingerbread is known as a celebration food for the enslaved,” she related. I did not know that.
  • Three folks from Scripps Networks Interactive were there to tell us that culinary tourism is on the rise — especially among millennials. Here are the top destinations, in order, they said: Italy, Spain, France, Greece, USA (California), India and Thailand. Also, vegan retreats are on the rise.

OK, here’s the conference. We started at J.C. Holdway Wednesday night. The chef owner is Joseph Lenn, former executive chef of The Barn at Blackberry Farm.

Some appetizers were set out when we arrived: pork belly biscuits, deviled eggs, benne seed crackers, chicken liver mousse with sourdough bread.

But this was my favorite appetizer: smoked catfish dip with barbecue chips.

Deviled eggs and shaved Benton’s ham.

Mary Constantine of the News Sentinel and her husband, Matt Graveline, were there.

The meal was served family style. Isn’t this salad beautiful? Buttercrunch lettuce, pickled red onion and buttermilk dressing.

Here’s Ronni Lundy with my friend,Gay Lyons. I’m reading Ronni’s book — “Victuals” — now.

Polly Ailor and Laurens Tullock bought slots at this special dinner, although they didn’t attend the conference.

Our friend Melinda Meador, left, came in from West Tennessee for the conference. She’s with Sara Rose of Bush Brothers.

This is my very favorite thing on J.C. Holdway’s menu — potato gnocchi, chicken confit and hen of the woods mushrooms. It’s their version of chicken and dumplings and is a dish Chef Lenn developed when he was at Blackberry Farm.

Chef Lenn’s parents, Emily and Jerry.

John Craig, center, with Scott and Annette Brun. Craig is the founder of Biscuitfest and the Southern Food Writing Conference. The Bruns both are with Scripps.

Holy cow! Geechie Boy grits, ramps, sock sausage, sorghum and Hollandaise sauce.

And then, this happened! Nicole Ging arrived with braised Southern natural beef shank with onions, carrots and potatoes!

My friend Bill Lyons was happy!

So were Tom Weiss and Sharon Cogburn.

I was so full, I couldn’t even look at the wood grilled Sunburst trout with endive and bacon vinaigrette.

I did take one bite of the buttermilk pie with creme fraiche. It was delicious.

My friend Sara Rose packed up some bones for her very lucky dog.

I love the look of J.C. Holdway at night. I headed home to get some sleep because Thursday would start at 8 a.m. and end at 11:45 p.m.! (I’m telling you, it’s a rough life!)

Breakfast Thursday at the East Tennessee History Center where the conference started in earnest. Watermelon pizza!

Or, you could have biscuits! (I had both!)

Carrie Morey, owner of Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, showing us how it’s done.

Erin Byers Murray of Nashville Lifestyles magazine was one of the morning speakers.

And, before we knew it, it was time for lunch. We were directed to Pretentious Brewing Co. in the Old City where proprietor Matthew Cummings and his business neighbor, Chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro of Olibea, were teaming up to provide a meal.

Pretentious Beer Company at 131 S. Central St.

As folks continued to blow glass behind the bar (literally), we were offered smoked Mexican blond ale. Matthew said he and Chef Jeffrey had come up with it to complement the meal. It contained flavors of smoked peppers and lime. Very interesting.

You could buy tap handles for $100 each.

This white cheddar with radishes was wonderful.

It was crowded, but we didn’t care.

We piled our lunch plates with “beer can” chicken tinga, Mule Foot hog Cochini ta Pibil, citrus black beans, sorghum grain “Spanish rice,” collards, snow pea slaw, salsa verde potato salad, mushroom escabeche, red and green salsas and house pickles.

Matthew Cummings, left, and Jeffrey DeAlejandro.

Then, it was back to the East Tennessee History Center for more sessions.

One of the highlights was a touching video about Yassin Terou, the Syrian-born owner of Yassin’s Falafel House, which is located at 706 Walnut St., in downtown Knoxville. Terou garnered a standing ovation when he appeared after the video to answer questions.

Yassin Terou.

Here’s the video:

Another highlight, of course, was the little bourbon shooters that were passed out mid-afternoon!

Chadwick Boyd, a consultant who has worked with the Southern Food Writing Conference since its inception, passes out bourbon.

Coming up in the next Blue Streak: food writers visit Blackberry Farm, Lonesome Dove Bistro and other area gems.


Filed under: Downtown, Events, Food, Journalism, Knoxville, Media. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Food writing conference whets visitors’ appetites

  1. Alan Carmichael, on May 30th, 2017 at 1:41 pm said:

    You are right. This conference is making Knoxville look very, very good.

  2. Cynthia Moxley, on May 30th, 2017 at 1:49 pm said:

    I feel that I am obligated to cover it (read: eat at it!), don’t you?

  3. Sara Rose, on May 30th, 2017 at 3:28 pm said:

    The writers and journalists who attended this event are every food publicist’s dream. Fabulous event!

  4. Cynthia Moxley, on May 30th, 2017 at 3:31 pm said:

    Sara: I’m so glad you could come! You are right. It’s a great crowd. And everyone is so nice because they have so much in common and so much to talk about.

  5. Deborah Sams, on May 30th, 2017 at 3:31 pm said:

    Love your organization in this article because it was a LOT to cover! Fun to relive everything again. Looking forward to the next parts too!

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on May 30th, 2017 at 3:33 pm said:

    Thanks, Deborah. Working on part two now! I wish we didn’t have to wait a whole year to do it again!

  7. Rusha Sams, on May 30th, 2017 at 7:14 pm said:

    It was a fabulous conference, filled with great information, food, and the chance to meet some of the greats in the industry. Sorry I had to miss dinner at JC Holdway, but your pics and descriptions almost made me feel present at the table. Oh, how I yearn for that braised Southern beef shank. As always, thanks for taking notes and pics and putting it all together so well.

  8. Cynthia Moxley, on May 30th, 2017 at 10:19 pm said:

    Rusha: I was so happy you were there! Doesn’t it make you proud of our hometown?

  9. Georgiana Vines, on May 31st, 2017 at 9:01 pm said:

    I’m so glad you put the video about Yassin Falsfel in this report. It was fabulous. What’s the date for 2018? Need to sign up.

  10. Gay Lyons, on June 1st, 2017 at 3:44 pm said:

    The dinner at JC Holdway was fabulous. Not usually a dessert person, but that buttermilk pie may have been my favorite dish of the evening.

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